The Software Society

How digital technology is changing our culture and economy

IBM applies its Watson data analysis software to customer service

The software may aid agents or work directly with customers to provide answers

IBM’s Watson technology is software that can analyze large data sources (“big data”) and extract connections, drawing conclusions and summarizing key aspects of the information in that data. The technology goes beyond keyword search by using semantic information that uses the meaning of words and phrases. Watson, named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, was built to be a computing system that “rivals a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed, accuracy and confidence,” according to an IBM press release. In February 2011, IBM and Nuance Communications announced a research agreement to explore, develop and commercialize the Watson computing system’s advanced analytics capabilities in the healthcare industry.

IBM is expanding the range of Watson’s efforts to customer service with the Watson Engagement Advisor that will assist customers through Web chats, email, smartphone apps, and SMS. An “Ask Watson” feature allows consumers to ask Watson questions directly from a smartphone or notebook computer in a conversational style, either with typed text or spoken words. Speech recognition may be added through partners such as Nuance.

The early adopters include Australia’s ANZ Bank, Nielsen (market research), Celcom (mobile operator), IHS (market research), and Royal Bank of Canada. ANZ Bank is going to start deploying Watson at its private wealth group, beginning with insurance offerings. Joyce Phillips, CEO of ANZ’s global wealth and private banking group, explained, “Imagine if you could sit down with an adviser and, in the time it takes to make a cappuccino, Watson will pull up all of your accounts, read all the fine print, and tell you what kinds of insurance protection you’re missing or where you’re overcovered.”

Some early customers will use Watson internally to help agents answer customer inquiries. The technology may also be used by some to support mobile or Web apps that interact directly with customers. The inquires can be posed in natural language, e.g., “How many megabytes do I have left on my mobile plan?” IBM said in an announcement to expect the first Watson-powered consumer apps in the second half of the year.

According to IBM, almost two-thirds of the 135 billion unresolved customer service calls each year could have been resolved with better access to information. The company estimated that the search for answers by agents averages six to eight minutes per call.

Sources of information for Watson analysis will come from data such as catalogs, training manuals, product disclosures, terms and conditions, emails, customer forums, and call center logs, as well as publicly available feeds and reviews from sources like Yelp. In IBM’s tests using its own call centers and proprietary data, Watson delivered a 40% reduction in search time for information.

Nielsen, known for its TV ratings, intends to employ Watson in its service used by Madison Avenue media planners who buy TV, radio, print, and Internet spots based on audience metrics such as reach, cost, and frequency. They’ll be able to query the system with questions about how much to spend on which medium to meet their campaign goals.

This isn’t Watson’s first foray into customer service. In March, Citigroup announced it had entered into an agreement with IBM to explore possible uses for IBM Watson. Under the agreement, Citi said it would examine the use of “deep content analysis and evidence-based learning capabilities” in IBM Watson to help advance customer interactions and improve and simplify the banking experience.

IBM has broad visions for the use of Watson. In a speech at a meeting of the National Venture Capital Association, Virginia M. Rometty, IBM’s Chairwoman and CEO, said, “We’ll launch an ecosystem where Watson is a service and you build applications around it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *