IBM and LivePerson have teamed up on what the companies are describing as an “out-of-the-box integration of bots and AI with human agents” that combines the talents of IBM’s Watson Virtual Agent technology with LivePerson’s LiveEngage platform to essentially help chatbots get smarter with increasing customers interactions.
The partners are pledging to allow customers to get new bots up and running within a few days ability to customize bots based on their own unique corpuses of data – from product manuals to customer service guidelines. These bots can be informational, personalized, and transactional - quickly addressing the most commonly raised customer service issues, but also ready to elevate issues to a human representative as necessary.
IBM and LivePerson plan to operate a Cognitive Care Center of Excellence to enable brands to drive this change at scale, the companies said. Though not specifically aimed at retailers, LivePerson told Retail Dive the partners already having conversations about implementations of the integrated solution with several retailers.
We often have described (and even above described) Watson as artificial intelligence, but Adam Orentlicher, Director, Horizontal Applications, IBM Watson, offered a different take in an e-mail exchange with Retail Dive: "At IBM, we are working on 'augmented intelligence' versus 'artificial intelligence," he said "It’s the critical difference between systems that enhance and scale human expertise (augmented intelligence) and those that attempt replicate human intelligence (artificial intelligence.)"
That presents a much different way of thinking about AI's impact on retail than we have thought about it before, and it's central to how we should think about the evolution of chatbots in retail, from one-dimensional automated middlemen to being one tool that is part of the broader, varied way in which we interact with retailers and brands.
"There is a growing sense that chatbots and other AI solutions are no longer nice to have, but key technologies in the customer experience that allow businesses to make more informed decisions," Orentlicher told Retail Dive in an interview. "The ability for a customer care solution to easily switch between virtual and human interaction is important as well. We see bots and AI as augmenting, rather than replacing human intelligence, and more organizations are putting this unique relationship to work across industries. In retail and customer service, while an AI-enabled bot can answer many questions and provide basic information, there are certainly more complex customer inquiries that require human interaction."
Though IBM and LivePerson remain at the early stages of getting this integrated solution into the hands of retailers, IBM Watson on its own already has had impact in the sector. IBM last year was chosen to use Watson to power the new Staples Easy Button to order supplies, track shipments and enable product recommendations, among other capabilities. "In addition to facilitating simpler interactions with customers, cognitive capabilities built into the system will help the Staples Easy System learn more about each businesses’ preferences over time, including their preferred products and quantities," Orentlicher said. "Eventually, the system will even be able to make product and services recommendations based on the customer’s current needs."
LivePerson's LiveEngage platform, like IBM Watson, already is being used by some retailers, though implementations of the combined solution in retail could take a little longer because of some of the unique complexities posed by retail, according to Chris Vennard, who led the integration of LiveEngage and IBM Watson from the LivePerson camp.
"The breadth of products offered by most retailers is a challenge," he said. "You want to be sure that from all those possible products you can make a thoughtful recommendation. Retailers also have more interactions [with customers] that could potentially lead to a purchase or an up-sell opportunity where you would want to get that human agent involved. Sales and service just often blend together more frequently in retail."
Those challenges call for a new generation of chatbots that are ready to handle customer demands, but also are smart enough to ask for help when they need to.