IBM today released Watson Assistant AI and automation features aimed at streamlining the contact center user experience by enabling virtual agents to address customer problems faster.
The move marks a deeper foray for the century old technology company into the fast-growing and lucrative contact center market in which IBM -- whose Watson brand is one of the most well-known AI platforms -- competes with modern tech giants AWS, Google and Microsoft.
Some of the latest capabilities are based on a new partnership with IntelePeer, a communications platform-as-a-service vendor. Contact centers can plug phone numbers that IntelePeer provides into Watson Assistant to automate virtual agent responses and enable more voice recognition capabilities.
The new IBM Watson Assistant features are important because enterprises want AI and machine learning tools for their contact centers that can intuitively accommodate often chaotic interchanges between customers and human and virtual agents, said Dan Miller, lead analyst and founder of Opus Research.
"There are constant shifts in the topics that come up in conversations between companies and their customers or prospects," Miller said. "The update should reflect the changing characteristics in demand at this point. Enterprises are looking for ... a different set of answers in each case."
Long AI history
The latest evolution of Watson Assistant reflects why enterprises continue to rely on IBM's brand of AI technology, Miller said.
It's largely because of IBM's legacy, he said.
Miller said IBM's AI engines and processing capabilities are on par with those of Google, based on speed, the volume of information they can ingest, the variety of models and algorithms they can be used to develop, and the speed at which they can respond to customers' questions and problems.
"IBM has formidable chops in conversational AI and a bunch of APIs that are designed to support customer care," he said.
Dan MillerLead analyst and founder, Opus Research
IBM said the new tools and IntelePeer connection will ultimately improve the experience of its customers.
"What IntelePeer is going to give us is [that] it's going to make it easier for customers to get up and running faster," said Brian Loveys, director of product management for data and AI at IBM.
Another new feature is the Watson Assistant Agent App, which provides customer service agents with transcriptions of the conversations between virtual agents and customers. Loveys said the app provides a seamless handoff to human agents.
Also, Watson Assistant's search skill can now retrieve specific answers to customers’ questions from long passages and provide the context of where the answers came from.