IBM’s Watson was a runaway winner on Jeopardy, but that game show victory wasn’t the ultimate goal for Big Blue’s analytical monster. It turns out that IBM is focusing Watson’s power on a new domain, customer service.
IBM will be rolling out an “Ask Watson” capability that provides customers with answers across several channels: Web chats, email, smartphone apps and SMS. Companies will eventually add a voice recognition front-end to Watson, which will allow Watson to answer direct calls. Initial users of the service include Australia’s ANZ Bank, Nielsen, Celcom, IHS, and Royal Bank of Canada.
My take: Yes, yes, and yes! Self-help analytics such as Watson will become a critical, mainstream capability for most large companies.
Natural language processing (NLP) has reached the stage where this type of self-service analytics can provide enormous value for customer service. We already see companies making use of virtual agents/assistants from companies such as VirtuOz and Oracle in narrow domains. Think of a smarter version of Apple’s Siri, an application that can tap into all of the company’s databases to understand who the customer is, what products and services she may own, and any previous interactions that she’s had with the company. Using that information, an analytical powerhouse like Watson should be able to deal with an increasingly larger portion of customer issues.
Will Watson and its peers be able to handle all customer service inquiries? No. But they can be smart enough to understand what they don’t know and transfer the request to a human agent.
The bottom line: Prepare for more interactions with Watson and his friends.