IBM launches Watson customer service smart bot

The IBM Watson Engagement Advisor can scan a big data repository and return an answer within seconds

Yoking cognitive computing with customer service, IBM has launched a system that can reference large amounts of unstructured data to help companies better field customer phone calls.

The IBM Watson Engagement Advisor uses IBM's Watson, the artificial intelligence software the company developed to compete on the Jeopardy game show two years ago.

According to IBM, the field of customer service is in dire need of improvement. Of the 270 billion customer service calls that are handled annually, approximately 50 per cent go unresolved. "Many customers engage with a brand through the call center," and because call centers tend to frustrate customers, the company's brand suffers as a result, said Craig Hayman, general manager of industry solutions for IBM's Software Group, during a teleconference announcing the package.

The Engagement Advisor can help answer questions, offer suggestions to aid in the purchasing process, or to help customers troubleshoot issues. Just as it was able, in a few seconds, to scan, review and select the best answer for Jeopardy questions, so too should the Watson technology be able to quickly provide relevant information for customer inquiries, drawing from a large amount of information.

Unlike most commercially available customer service chat bots, the Engagement Advisor can also learn over time how to better respond to human inquiries, said Manoj Saxena, IBM general manager in the IBM software group, during the teleconference. It can also accept questions in natural spoken language, provide references to back its answers, and work across multiple platforms, such as a computer and a mobile phone, Saxena said.

Companies could use the technology either to assist human customer service representatives as they field calls, or have it interact directly with customers through an online chat client via the "Ask Watson" feature. IBM will host Engagement Advisor as a service, or it can be deployed on premises. A Watson-based system can now be run on a single IBM Power 750 server running Linux.

A number of companies are already testing the technology, including ANZ Bank, the Nielsen market research company, Malaysia's Celcom mobile network and the Royal Bank of Canada.

Since Watson's triumph on Jeopardy, IBM has managed to optimise the code base, gaining a 240 per cent improvement in system performance. The company is putting the technology to work in a number of different commercial fields, including health care and cancer research.

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