News & Insights for the AI Journey|Monday, March 25, 2019
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IBM, Lenovo Bring Watson to Call Centers 

IBM and Lenovo continue to expand their ongoing relationship beyond computing to include the automation of mundane but revenue-saving call centers and other customer support services.

While the enterprise applications covered in the agreement are decidedly back-office, the estimated size of the multi-year deal is substantial: $240 million. IBM did not specify the exact length of the services agreement. The companies have been working together since 2005.

The deal expands the reach of IBM’s Watson cognitive services into ubiquitous call centers with the goal of automating customer services. A Watson-based agent would provide customer service workers with information about a caller and the issue they are calling about. The service is augmented with natural language processing and “contextual recognition” capabilities as the automated agent pinpoints the reason for the customers call and a possible fix.

IBM said Thursday (Oct. 18)its Watson-based platform is designed to decrease service costs for Lenovo (OTCMKTS: LNVGY) by integrating the IBM’s customer engagement and field services with its standard package of cognitive tools.

The company sees the mundane but potentially profitable customers service market as a logical use case for cognitive technologies. IBM cites industry estimates that half of the 265 billion customer service calls each year go unresolved. Poor customer service is estimated to cost companies about $75 billion in lost revenues.

Among the problems is quickly identifying the source of a customer’s problem, then wading through technical manuals, new product releases, machine data and service histories in search of an answer that will resolve a customer’s issue. Under the agreement, the partners said the Watson agent would deliver that data to an agent’s fingertips during the service call.

The package includes Watson platform for assisting customer agents, a weather alerting capability and the integration of augmented reality to help explain repairs to Lenovo computers.

The agent assistant analyzes customer history and preferences and matches them to product manuals and technical documentation. It then feeds in social media content like FAQs and forum postings.

The service package also combines augmented reality with instructional videos. That capability would allow customers to share video in real time that field agents could use to explain repairs. IBM said the capability would allow agents to “virtually draw on top of the video and explain the repair steps.”

Meanwhile, a weather alerting system helps to schedule service windows.

The field services and remote call center capabilities are available for Lenovo customers in the North American, Europe-Middle East-African and the Latin American markets,

The deal with Lenovo follows disappointing quarterly results for IBM, which earlier this week reported declining third quarter revenues. The 2.1 percent decline from a year earlier sent the company’s stock (NYSE: IBM) to its lowest point in a year.

The slide was led by a 5 percent decline in cognitive solutions revenue, prompting one observer to assert that the IBM unit should be called “cognitive solutions and a bunch of other unrelated stuff.”



About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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