Texas launches virtual assistant to help with unemployment claims

Posted at 12:52 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 13:52:11-04

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has launched a new automated virtual assistant to help Texans sign up for unemployment insurance (UI). The artificial intelligence-enabled chatbot can instantly answer many of the most common questions about the UI process. The program is expected to greatly relieve the pressure on the TWC UI website and call centers, which have seen activity spike to unprecedented levels in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our top priority is to eliminate the backlog, get Texans registered and on the path to getting the benefits they need,” said Ed Serna, TWC executive director. “We know people are hurting, and many are facing an uncertain future. A lot of Texans are applying for benefits for the very first time. That can be hard, and even though we’ve greatly streamlined the process, the sheer weight of the demand right now is unprecedented.”

TWC’s tele-centers’ record call volume in previous crises was around 60,000 calls a day. Calls during the COVID-19 crisis rose to the millions within a week. TWChas hired new workers to augment the traditional workforce, reallocated staff from other TWCdepartments and added hundreds of new phone lines.

“Larry the Chat Bot” is an automated program that allows individuals to enter information relevant to their claims in a chat with a virtual assistant. “Larry” was programmed to initially understand the most common questions that people using the UI website have. This small subset of questions consumes a large portion of the call center workload. With its artificial intelligence matrix, “Larry” will “learn” more questions and more ways to help Texans over time, resulting in a much more efficient UI application process.

“This new technology is a huge step to speed up the claims application process and get Texans the help they need faster,” said Ed Serna, TWC executive director. “Automation not only makes the process work much faster, it empowers our tele-center staff as well. By taking the strain off our tele-center workers, it allows our highly trained staff to focus their effort on the more complex problems that require a human touch.”

TWC developed and launched “Larry” within a very short time period, working with a consortium of private partners. “Larry” is named for former TWC Executive Director Larry Temple, who passed away in 2019.