IBM Amplify 2017, Day 2: Speakers Tout the Potential of Watson

LAS VEGAS — On day two of IBM's Amplify conference, various companies shared how they are using Watson's artificial intelligence capabilities to set the foundation for a new era in customer engagement.

"Our job is to really help prepare you for what you'll become," Ginni Rometty, president and CEO of IBM, said to kick off Tuesday morning's Chairman's Address at the Mandalay Bay. "And in my mind, you'll become cognitive enterprises. It will be in your applications, in your processes." These companies, she told attendees, will leverage data to uncover insights, and that is what will "separate the winners from the losers."  

Rometty invited select customers onstage to discuss the ways in which they are future-proofing their businesses with the aid of technology. Among them was Bill Cobb, president and chief executive officer of H&R Block, who spoke about evolving the institution's approach to income tax preparation. Late last year, the company began to pilot a system designed to foster better engagement during these interactions, which are often viewed as tedious by customers.

According to Cobb, a problem for H&R Block has been that traditionally, tax preparation appointments haven't allowed for much active input from the customer, and the result is that they tended to fiddle with their phones or simply tune out. However, after adding to each workstation a monitor equipped with a Watson-powered interview engine situated on IBM's cloud, customers are able to get  more involved. The company reported a two-point increase in overall client satisfaction, a two-point intent-to-return increase, and a three-point price-to-value increase. It has helped "increase web traffic" and "retail appointments," Cobb said, noting that 70,000 preparers have visited the 11,000 U.S. locations running the program, with 28 days left in the tax season.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, offered commentary regarding the vendor's recent partnership with IBM and what it will mean to the 5,000 joint customers who benefit from their combined united data and technology offerings. "A great customer of ours is KONE, the elevator company," Benioff said. "We've been working with them for years, and so [has IBM]. You just heard about how the Internet of Things is really starting to take off, and every elevator and escalator is connected. And what that means is that Watson is paying attention to the predictive fail rates associated with these devices." It can say, "'Gee, is that elevator or escalator doing all right, or is it about to fail?' Because these kinds of things indicate that there's going to be a problem. And then, because we are managing the CRM information, we're able to put that together and roll that service truck and team to fix that in real time. That's a pretty big shift in how business operates."

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