IBM’s Watson becomes customer service agent

22nd May 2013

Not satisfied with being a Jeopardy! winner and aspiring oncologist, IBM’s supercomputer Watson is set to take on a new role as super customer service agent.

IBM announced that it will begin rolling out Watson’s capabilities – dubbed ‘Watson Engagement Software’ – as a customer service bot to replace automated customer service technologies.

With the ability to understand human language and context, Watson can resolve issues in the same way a human service agent can. When customers ask a query via either speech or typed text, the supercomputer can then sort through a wealth of unstructured data to determine the best answer.

The supercomputer also has the capability to learn as it goes, keeping track of customers’ likes and dislikes to deliver the most favourable solution according to each individual’s preferences.

The ‘Ask Watson’ feature will be available to customers across multiple channels including email, text, and chat and can be accessed across devices including PCs, tablets and smartphones to provide a consistent customer experience.  

According to IBM, US organisations spend $112bn on call centre staff and technology each year, yet half of the 270bn customer-service calls made go unanswered.

Organisations trialling the technology so far include Australian bank ANZ, Nielsen and Royal Bank of Canada.

Joyce Phillips from ANZ Bank, which is going to start deploying Watson at its private wealth group, said: “Imagine if you could sit down with an adviser and, in the time it takes to make a cappuccino, Watson will pull up all of your accounts, read all the fine print, and tell you what kinds of insurance protection you’re missing or where you’re overcovered.”

So named after IBM founder Thomas J Watson, Watson was built to rival a human’s ability to answer questions posted in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence in order to improve decision-making within a variety of industries.

Watson rose to fame last year after competing on US game show Jeopardy! against two humans – and winning. Since then, it has helped Citigroup in a customer service capacity, analysing customer needs and process vast amounts of real-time financial, economic, product and client data, and assisted healthcare providers in deciding how to treat cancer patients.

Following the news that ANZ will adopt Watson’s technology for customer service, Forrester analyst John Brand says that whilst Watson is valuable, we shouldn’t overstate its value or capabilities.

“IBM’s Watson is an evolved collection of technologies wrapped with some deep human expertise. If you’re trying to sell the message of deploying more advanced technologies within your organisation, then “buying Watson” might just be an easy sell. If you’re expecting an easy implementation of some very sophisticated technology though, you may just be a little disappointed,” he says.

Nucleus Research recently pinpointed IBM’s supercomputer Watson and its ability to manage large volumes of unstructured data as a technology that can drive ROI from CRM, particularly in regards to sales management. 

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