IBM Amplify 2017, Day 1: Cognitive Computing's Goal Is 'One-to-One' Customer Engagement

LAS VEGAS — Cognitive computing technologies—those that can understand, learn, and reason about subjects to surface insights from vast amounts of data, and exemplified by IBM Watson—are the key to personalizing customer interactions, speakers concurred on day one of IBM’s 2017 Amplify conference at the MGM Grand.

"In the past, we understood our customers in terms of objective facts and figures," said Katie Linendoll, an Emmy-winning television personality who's covered technology on NBC's Today, CNN, and CBS, to kick off Monday afternoon’s keynote session. But today, companies "can create a uniquely individualized customer experiences based on what customers are actually thinking and...feeling." Through the process of crunching massive amounts of information, businesses can actually discover the "why" behind consumer decisions.

For instance, by employing advanced sentiment analysis tools to scan text for tone and personality clues, firms can work to understand why customers tend to buy a specific brand of coffee, prefer one sort of vacation over another, or gravitate toward a particular app. Watson, said Linendoll, "helps us unlock the minds of our customers to help us understand the life choices that they're making. And in this cognitive era, we can understand why and what's happening in any audience."

Michelle Peluso, IBM's chief marketing officer, agreed, highlighting the fact that cognitive technologies enable marketers to navigate "dark data"—data that's been collected and stored but not otherwise used, making up 80 percent of the world's data—and understand what makes each individual unique. "Each of us is significantly more than the last dress we bought, the last deposit we made," Peluso noted. "That’s the real promise of cognitive—understanding your social profile, your personality, your intent—all the things that make you you."

Harriet Green, general manager of IBM Watson's Internet of Things division, asserted that the vendor is uniquely situated to lead this transformation across industries, and at scale. "We are the leaders in cognitive computing because we invented it," she stated. Watson's tools have the potential to help companies "spot trends in nanoseconds, discover opportunities to capitalize on brand-new markets, and optimize merchandising to maximize sales and markets," she said. It can also allow them "to personalize millions of interactions in real time, and streamline fulfillment with precision, driving collaboration to quickly capture opportunities, and to be alerted to potential issues and prevent lost sales."

Kareem Yusuf, vice president of offering management and development at IBM Watson's customer engagement unit, explained how the company has been integrating the Watson capabilities throughout its Customer Engagement platform (a platform covering Commerce, Marketing, and the Supply Chain). "We've been hard at work enriching our platform with not just the core functionality that you need, but also embedded cognitive expertise," Yusuf said. This way, the system can work to get smarter over time (similar to how a human might) to solve real-world problems that plague practitioners.

Melanie Butcher, director of user experience at IBM Watson Customer Engagement, demonstrated how a marketer might chat with a Watson virtual assistant to manage a campaign. The intelligent assistant has the ability to learn terms and phrases and other information from individuals and teams. It can help analyze the correlation between sentiment in email subject lines and open rates to drive future improvements, for instance. And, like any "assistant that's on its first day of the job, it only knows so much, but it's going to continue to learn and improve over time," Butcher pointed out.

"We've begun this journey with our marketing customers, but soon, supply chain analysts, merchandisers, and others will be able to use Watson's assistance to help them more effectively and efficiently accomplish their tasks as well," Butcher promised.

IBM Watson customers shared the stage with Green to outline some of the benefits they hope to gain from cognitive computing moving ahead. Mindy Grossman, CEO and director of HSN, for example, said that "Watson is going to be critical for us" in its efforts to boost engagement and reach new customer segments that interact with the brand across channels.

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