Building Chatbots Is A Cinch With IBM Watson Conversation Service

Chatbots today are all the rage. Every service or website or product company today has entire strategies built around them. These AI powered interactive agents are quickly adding a layer of intelligent contact with client, prospects and leads alike. Chatbots have changed the CRM and social marketing in a big way. IBM Watson Conversation is a service that makes building chatbots very simple for enterprises and developers alike. Let us take a look at this today.

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Consumers today are more demanding than ever. They are on the go and always connected. They like instant messaging and instant gratification. The easy-to-use digital communication tools they grew up with set the standard for how they prefer to interact. And more specifically, they do not have the time or patience to wade through long and windy IVR menus or to talk to human agents for long durations. This means that conventional methods of improving customer service and enhancing customer engagement simply won’t cut it.

“Millennials have no desire to call up 1-800 numbers, to try and find a phone number and go through that process,” Brian Loveys, Program Director for Watson Emerging Technologies, explains. “Customer engagement today is driven by the consumer wanting to get questions answered or tasks done much faster and much easier. That’s one of the reasons why organizations are adopting conversational applications.”

These kinds of applications have been problematic for companies, however. The traditional model of creating a virtual agent requires experienced developers to build complex systems that rely on carefully hand-crafted rules. In addition, agents like this are hard to manage and tend to break over time – not ideal for delivering the optimal customer experience. In short, building a chat agent is costly, complicated and time consuming. The maintenance and upgrading these agents is also a windy task. Not to mention the fact that the quality of NLP that these agents can exhibit and handle is limited by the capability of your development team and the platform that they decide to use. In effect, the enterprise has limited control over many important factors when using conventional methods to build chat agents.

It must be said that innovations in natural language processing are helping virtual chatbots become more accurate and responsive. But knowledge of how to create a chat bot with this kind of capability has been limited to highly skilled developers with machine learning expertise. This often leaves newer and leaner organizations unable to build a bot and participate in the emerging conversational commerce trend.

Watson Conversation changes all this. The service effectively simplifies chat bot building and makes it a cinch. Enterprises now have a ssimple, scalable and easily accessible way to build chat bots.

“With this new service, a lot of the machine learning concepts are now obscured from the user, so non-technical, non-machine-learning experts can now start to build these conversational solutions,” says Loveys.

After working with customers and partners (such as Wayblazer, who pioneered the development of Connie, a hotel concierge robot piloted by Hilton), Loveys and his team came to realize that developers and business users need to collaborate in order to build a chat bot.

“Developers are absolutely required because front-end and backend integration are typically necessary. But the other aspect to this is the business user,” he states. “Now, using Watson Conversation, the business user and the developer can co-create a chatbot, using the same simplified tooling.”

Of course, “simplified” doesn’t mean “simple.” Under the hood, the Watson Conversation chatbot API is built on sophisticated natural language understanding algorithms that can detect intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what the user is referring to) from within a communication. The Watson chatbot can then use multi-step responsive dialogs to guide consumers through step-by-step processes.

There are many users of this platform ranging from SMEs to large product companies that have already consumed this service to build chat bots that are helping them to have better interactions and customer support conversations. Let us look at one of them that has succesfully harnessed this service and is now helping others do the same.

As a business-to-business (B2B) marketing services agency with a bias toward technology, Volume Ltd. began by building web applications for large technology companies. The organization continues to foster strong relationships with its earliest customers because of its ability to drive innovation within customer relationships and applications. Therefore, to remain a competitive industry leader, the company constantly strives to introduce cutting-edge technologies into new and existing customer applications.

Although Volume was already highly inventive, its chief executive officer (CEO), Chris Sykes, a self-proclaimed futurist who has a fascination with technology, was looking for innovations that change lives and support people in an automated, controlled and consistent ways. The company sought to further optimize incumbent applications to help customers speed processes, boost revenue and improve productivity.

Intrigued by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, Sykes began paying attention to various providers’ cognitive offerings. In February 2015, Sykes had the opportunity to see the IBM® Watson™ cognitive computer in action at IBM’s Customer Experience Centre in South Bank, London. “It was sort of a revelation,” says Sykes. “We saw cognitive applications and smart machines as the next generation of content delivery mechanisms—from books, the internet, mobile, et cetera—yet in a controlled and consistent way. That’s when we realized what we could achieve with technology like Watson.”

When the Virtual Consultant application relaunched in mid-2015, it was the first cognitive learning platform and sales optimization application in the market. The project also proved a turning point for Volume. Inspired by the application’s success, the company established the Volume.XO Centre of Excellence for Cognitive Computing and Machine Learning with renewed focus: to find opportunities to drive digital disruption by developing new cognitive solutions to help customers speed processes and improve productivity. And now they help other enterprises harness the power of cognitive AI and Watson Conversation to optimize their processes and productivity.

So, if you are a startup, an SME or a large corporation, IBM Watson Conversation service is just right for you to quickly and easily build a chatbot for your business. It is simplified and the service is free to start with. Given the fact that it is backed by IBMs expertise in the Cloud, AI and Cognitive portfolio, it is a good and reliable bet. We will be following this very closely in the coming days.

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