Watson caters to the customer

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Michael Haydock
Michael Haydock

I was fortunate to be in the audience during the taping of the historic Jeopardy! match pitting IBM's Watson computing system against the game's all-time champions. As Watson proved its speed and accuracy in 
answering questions across many different categories, it was clear this type of groundbreaking technology will benefit a broad range of industries. 

Watson is a big deal because it understands language as it's spoken by you and me, versus computer language. It can evaluate the equivalent of hundreds of millions of pages of material and provide the correct answer to a question in three seconds or less. Just imagine how a retailer could use this new technology in marketing to customers. 

If there's one thing that today's merchants have, it is lots of data — terabytes of it — ranging from customer purchase information to product specs. For most retailers, that information is scattered throughout countless 
databases. Many of the merchants I talk to use bits and pieces of data, but they are just starting to think about how they can use all of it to better understand and market to customers. They may have rudimentary analytics systems in place — the kind that recommend, "People who purchased this item also purchased X," but these systems fall short of meaningful personalization.

This is a big reason the average customer so often gets the feeling that his favorite 
retailer doesn't know him at all: "I've bought three TVs in the last six months from that store. Why would they send me yet 
another e-mail about a sale on TVs when what I really need is a new tablet computer?" There are analytics systems available now that get retailers on the right path to understanding this data. Moving further in that direction will only carve a surer path for marketers. Watson-like technology could be immensely helpful in the areas of guided selling and guided customer service. It could be integrated into a merchant's databases, CRM, analytics and order management systems.

This kind of technology could analyze customer information in its totality and provide the best response: "Tell John about the availability of a new product with a specific 
warranty plan and free installation. Give him this message in the evening as a notification on his iPad app, and offer pre-purchase with free delivery." 

In the same way, it would empower salespeople to interact more effectively with consumers by giving them real-time coaching about individuals and could vastly improve customers' experience. There are many shoppers out there who feel like retailers just don't understand their needs, and this type of technology could be the answer to this long-standing marketing challenge.


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