Will IBM Watson help customers make better choices?
IBM Watson, the natural language processing platform that once won Jeopardy, has taken a job in customer service. The North Face has implemented solution provider Fluid’s Expert Personal Shopper (XPS) software, which uses Watson as its basis for decision making.
When customers visit the XPS page on The North Face website, they are greeted with the question, "Where and when will you be using this jacket?" The customer’s answer leads to further questions about the product and its intended use. Customers can answer the questions in plaintext (ordinary language), rather than having their answers restricted to a menu of choices. The responses help to refine the product selection and guide the customer towards the jacket that best suits their needs.
XPS currently only supports searching for jackets. If a customer responds to the initial question looking for shoes, the program returns a message indicating that Watson hasn’t been trained to deal with shoes and directs the customer to The North Face’s website.
The use of natural language processing to help streamline customer service inquiries is a growing trend. Earlier in 2015, TechCrunch reported a solution called DigitalGenius, which acts similarly to XPS only through text message rather than a web interface. DigitalGenius is meant to answer repetitive customer service questions. Last year, Motherboard reported on artificial intelligence platform Amelia from IPSoft, intended for the same purpose.
Advocates see the technology as having the potential to free customer service to focus on more complicated questions. Detractors worry it could lead to job cuts. In fact, the Motherboard article reported that overseas call centers were concerned that lower-tier support now outsourced abroad would be more easily managed through a natural language processing solution.
But in the case of XPS, it’s not a resolution the customer is looking, just a product suggestion. One wonders how helpful a program could truly be in this regard. Processing plaintext input is one thing, but Watson doesn’t have a sense of what looks good. At least, not yet.
- The North Face, IBM and Fluid Launch New Interactive Shopping Experience Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) – The North Face
- Your Personal Intelligent Shopper Beta – The North Face
- DigitalGenius Bring Artificial Intelligence To Customer Service Via SMS – TechCrunch
- The Artificially Intelligent Call Center Operator – Motherboard
Could a recommendation engine like Watson/XPS become a valuable part of customer service, or is it just a novelty? Are other uses for natural language processing, such as answering common call center questions, a good or bad thing for business?