IBM Grooms Watson for Customer Service

NASHVILLE—IBM today revealed the IBM Watson Engagement Advisor, a cognitive computing assistant that taps into big data in customer support scenarios, during a keynote presentation today at the IBM Smarter Commerce Summit here.

Initially introduced in the realm of health care, Watson, which relies on deep natural language processing and analytics capabilities, is on the cusp of development as a cross-industry product designed to support companies' agent-assisted and self-service customer interactions across any device, such as smartphones and tablets.

Manoj Saxena, general manager of IBM Watson Solutions, says the Engagement Advisor can step in as a "completely self-service consumer exchange so that customers do not have to deal with long hold times and begin the (customer service) process over on different devices." IBM now has about a dozen early user companies on Engagement Advisor, including USAA, Nielsen, and Telstra.

Over the next five years, a combination of market trends and disrupters due to social media, mobility, the cloud, big data, and advanced analytics, along with the burgeoning and connected Millennial population, will force businesses to rethink customer engagement, Saxena notes. "I think it allows us to build a solution like Watson on top of the Smarter Commerce [portfolio]."

Using IBM Watson, which could be compared in theory to Apple's popular Siri voice-activated assistant, consumers can "Ask Watson" questions directly from a Web or mobile application. Here, the Watson Engagement Advisor not only presents reasonable answers, but supplies relevant sources of information. The solution was designed with the omnichannel customer experience in mind, and customer data travels with customer requests wherever they interact with a company.

On the company and agent side, IBM Watson keeps support professionals from searching public domains such as Google and Bing for answers to customer questions, and "is delivered within the context of brands that run IBM," according to Saxena. Watson, he says, has the ability to understand in context how agents should be engaging with customers and keeps all search-and-response data in house to keep improving the customer engagement model.

Along with IBM Watson Engagement Advisor comes a services component that can typically have a company up and running with the solution in 45 to 60 days. Despite Watson's start in the healthcare space, retail and telecommunications could be growing adoption areas for the product, with the possibility to integrate the advisor with broader commerce and IBM digital marketing-driven solutions like Tealeaf, Unica, and Coremetrics.

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