Just Ask Watson: IBM Unveils the Watson Engagement Advisor

According to IBM, 50% of the 270 billion customer service calls placed each year go unresolved. But Watson can help, according to IBM at the Smarter Commerce Global Summit in Nashville, Tenn.

Made famous by its February 2011 jaunt on the television show Jeopardy!, the cognitive supercomputer will now be available to help brands create more relevant customer engagement experiences, said Manoj Saxena, general manager of IBM Watson Solutions. He referred to the release of this customer service solution, called Watson Engagement Advisor, as “the commercialization and launch of Watson for everyone.”

“If you look out at the next five years, you’ll see a super-convergence of major technologies coming together at one time—Big Data, the cloud, analytics, mobile, and social—creating a significant disruption in the market,” says Saxena, who also noted the growing population shift toward consumers brought up amid digital technologies. “10,000 workers are retiring every day, soon to be replaced by millennials who have a whole different sense of how they want to interact [with brands].”

Watson Engagement Advisor, which is available in hosted, on-premises, or cloud-based deployment models, learns from its interactions with consumers, said Saxena. “Watson can take questions in natural language, by typing it in or speaking, which makes for more natural conversations,” he says. “Watson is also able to give you not just answers, but also the evidence and sources they’re based on.” Additionally, Watson can provide omnichannel interactions; conversations begun on a smartphone, for example, can be picked up at the same point on a tablet later.

Harnessing Big Data is the true motivation behind Watson’s more general release. Several IBM clients are already using Watson, including the Royal Bank of Canada, the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), MetLife, and Nielsen.

“Businesses are dying of thirst in an ocean of data,” said Saxena. “Watson serves as a desalination plant [providing the context].”

Context is especially important in the call center because customer service is connected to sales, customer engagement, and loyalty over time, said Saxena.

“Customers are sharing more and more information about themselves in the form of tweets, on Facebook, with reviews, email, through call centers—but at the same time, the quality of customer service is going down,” he says. “Customers are frustrated. They’re sharing more information with you but getting less from you.”

This is what makes Watson necessary for marketers, said Craig Hayman, general manager of industry solutions for IBM’s Software Group. New research from IBM surveying top marketing leaders released at the summit found that for CMOs, customer experience remains a top priority.

“This all leads back to Watson,” said Hayman. “CMOs that have become more data-driven are getting more engagement and more profitability out of their customers.”

The more engaged customer will spend up to three times more with a brand, and is two times more likely to recommend that company to others—but that won’t happen without stellar customer service, said Saxena.

“This is the beginning of a very big shift for Smarter Commerce and IBM,” said Saxena. “Expect more solutions sponsored by Watson as we take this forward.”

IBM claims a company can have Watson up and running within six weeks, and start generating ROI within six months. In what Saxena calls “Watson 2.0,” IBM is planning to expand Watson’s linguistic skills to include romance languages in the next several years, as well as begin looking into how to accommodate character-based languages like Chinese. Watson is currently available only with English taxonomy.

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