Hey Spoke, I have a question about my PTO

Day-to-day benefits tasks are going digital.

Spoke’s new software update uses AI to field employee benefit questions, freeing up HR managers to focus on in-depth benefits strategies.

Spoke expanded its AI capabilities in late April by adding a new feature called contextual knowledge, which provides personalized responses to employee questions. The software, released in 2016, is meant to help employees get faster responses to their workplace questions. Employers including makeup company Glossier, food delivery service DoorDash and shoe company Allbirds are all Spoke customers.

Emily Wang, head of product at Spoke, says the tool learns what type of information is relevant to an employee in order to provide a response to an inquiry. If an employee asks Spoke for information about PTO, for example, instead of returning with a document outlining the company’s entire PTO policy, the tool will tailor the response to that specific worker and how much time off they are alloted.

“You can really control what your employees are seeing what’s relevant to them,” she says.

See also: New tech helps HR pros practice hiring and firing — in virtual reality

Spoke has a web app, and is also integrated in the messaging tool Slack, Wang says. Through Slack, employees can send a direct message to Spoke or mention it in a public channel. HR and benefits administrators also have the ability to reroute any questions they receive on Slack directly to Spoke, Wang adds.

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Programmers work at the Maluuba Inc. office in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. Several leading Canadian researchers and professors have defected to U.S. tech companies such as Google. Already members of the country's AI community are trying to protect what they helped build. A startup called Maluuba, which makes technology that helps computers talk, is opening a research office in Montreal; the University of Toronto has opened a startup accelerator and this fall launched a program dedicated to AI research. Photographer: James MacDonald/Bloomberg

“[You can message] Spoke like you would a regular human,” she says. “Natural language processing is one of our core strengths.”

Tools like Spoke can help free up already overburdened HR departments from spending too much time responding to basic employee inquiries. Wang says the HR departments using Spoke have seen about half of their requests being auto- resolved by the tool.

See also: The HR tech disconnect: are there too many digital tools?

HR and benefits departments are increasingly relying on digital tools as a way to handle day-to-day activities. More than half of workers in a survey from PwC say they prefer digital interactions for common HR tasks. To enroll in benefits, 52% of employees say they prefer the task to be primarily digital, while 22% say they prefer a combination of digital and in-person interactions, PwC found.

Technology companies and benefits providers are rapidly responding to this need. Many have released digital chatbots and virtual assistants that are meant to make it easier for employees and HR departments. For example, Businessolver has Sofia, a AI-enabled personalized benefits assistant, that can respond to workers benefits questions. Health and wellness platform HandsFree Health offers Wellbe, a digital voice assistant that workers can use to get information about their health benefits.

Wang says that Spoke plans to continue to advance its AI capabilities moving forward. She says they want to meet people where they are and find ways to get the most relevant information to each worker.

“That’s the type of behavior that’s going to actually solve the employee's problems,” she says.

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