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IBM Watson Brings Big Data Smarts to Customer Service

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Posted May 22, 2013 By Pedro Hernandez     Feedback

Watson is venturing beyond trivial pursuits. IBM's Big Data analytics powerhouse now powers a cloud-based customer service solution.

IBM's Watson supercomputing technology is taking on a new role, and this time it has little to do with trouncing Jeopardy contestants.

Big Blue is rolling out Watson Engagement Advisor, a cloud-delivered IBM Smarter Commerce service that leverages Watson's Big Data crunching capabilities and innovations in natural language processing to help consumers quickly resolve issues and get answers about products and services. The IT giant boasts that its one-click "Ask Watson" feature helps businesses provide faster, data-driven customer support, marketing and sales services.

After making waves in healthcare, Manoj Saxena, general manager of IBM Watson Solutions, asserts that Watson's knack for finding answers fast will resonate in this era of connected consumers.

"Customer engagement is a natural fit for Watson, which can instantly create a strong bond between who customers are as individuals, and what types of information will help them reach their goals. The end product: users will come away feeling known as people, empowered as consumers, and engaged as satisfied brand ambassadors who are willing to champion the business to friends and family," said Saxena in a statement.

Watson Engagement Advisor arrives amid a big demographic and technological shake-up. According to the company's data, half of the workforce by 2020 will consist of millennials, who IBM claims will use "paychecks for major purchases that require top-flight customer service."

IBM also found that 65 percent of the 1,700 chief marketing officers that the company polled felt unready "for the growth of choices that today's empowered consumers have for communications channels, such as smart phones and tablets." And by 2016, IBM says there will be more mobile devices than humans walking the earth -- 10 billion devices, according to the company.

The technology can also serve as a customer service representative, of sorts. Ask Watson can deliver answers directly to customers through any channel, including a website chat window or mobile push alert, sparing them Web and forum post searches. It also leverages Big Data analytics to tailor the experience to an individual customer and deliver in-context support and troubleshooting services.

"We at IBM foresee a dramatic improvement coming in the way people interact with organizations and the role computers will play. The cognitive systems of the future will provide deep reservoirs of knowledge and sharp insights combined with an understanding of needs of the individuals they’re serving," wrote Saxena in a blog post.

Before donning its customer service hat, Watson has both bulked up and slimmed down.

Since Watson first appeared on TV, system performance has improved by 240 percent while taking up 75 percent less space. Whereas Watson once occupied the equivalent space of a master bedroom, it now fits in a single, Linux-based Power 750 server the size of "four pizza boxes."

Currently, a handful of enterprises are using Watson Engagement Advisor. They include ANZ Banking Group, Celcom, IHS, Nielsen and Royal Bank of Canada.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Enterprise Apps Today and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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