Two active U.S.  military members "Ask Watson" separation related questions as they prepare to transition to civilian life. IBM's Watson Engagement Advisor will answer military separation-related questions on topics such as job searching, home purchasing, military benefits and more. IBM and USAA are working together to redefine how a digital assistant that interacts, learns and gains value over time can create exceptional digital experiences. (Credit USAA)
Two active U.S. military members “Ask Watson” separation-related questions as they prepare to transition to civilian life. (Credit USAA)

Fresh off of six months of training with a team from USAA, IBM’s Watson is poised to answer questions from USAA’s members in the first commercial use of the artificially intelligent computer as a consumer-facing application.

Famed for his ability to supply the questions to answers read by game show host Alex Trebek on the quiz show “Jeopardy!,” Watson’s first task for USAA will be to respond to questions about military separation, IBM and USAA jointly announced Wednesday.

“Eventually, members will be able to ask Watson about many of the products and services offered by the enterprise,” USAA said in a separate announcement on its website.

In the joint statement, the San Antonio-based financial services provider for the military community and the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant explained that USAA is offering IBM’s Watson Engagement Advisor in a pilot to help serve military men and women as they transition from military to civilian life. By accessing Watson, USAA members will be able to ask questions related to the transition experience. To prepare for his new role, IBM Watson analyzed more than 3,000 documents on topics exclusive to military transitions. And he has been trained by USAA staff to answer 2,000 questions, according to the announcement on USAA’s website.

“He (Watson) currently knows only what he’s been taught,” according to Sana Kai Johnson, one of Watson’s teachers from Military Transitions. “The information he can answer will evolve. If he gets questions that he cannot answer, we will teach him.”

Eric Engquist, assistant vice president of Military Transitions, explained that USAA selected the military separation topic “because it provides a singular focus with a finite audience—about 150,000 leave the military each year.”

Why turn to the cognitive computing space at all?

“We’ve had persistent challenges with delivering advice through the digital channels,” says Neff Hudson, vice president of Emerging Channels. “What we’re trying to do is create a network, a system where digital gets adept at providing advice.”

According to USAA, out of the 700 million digital interactions members have with the company each year, nearly 94 percent allow members to complete their transaction by themselves.

Digital platforms should be able to provide better context, support or guidance on how to avoid a future problem, Hudson said. He added that offering better insight and information through the digital portal helps shorten calls for service representatives and offers more context to calls coming in. It also reduces the amount of paperwork surrounding member interactions.

“Creating guidance at scale just makes us so much stronger as an organization. That’s really the payoff. I feel like we’re on the right path,” Hudson said, underscoring the firm’s commitment to members in the website announcement.

Over at IBM, Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM Watson Group, said that “USAA’s innovative application is a prime example of how Watson’s cognitive intellect has the potential to empower individuals and organizations.”

While USAA is the first to commercialize the use of Watson as a consumer-facing application with its pilot, Watson has been busy in the three years since his “Jeopardy!” victory. In healthcare, for example, IBM is co-developing an application with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and partnering with WellPoint, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. The computer helps to assess treatments for lung cancer and manage health insurance decisions and claims.

Going forward, IBM suggests that IBM Watson Engagement Advisor, the tool being used by USAA, will further enhance customer experiences of different types of companies and that it “can fundamentally transform the way individuals and companies interact over the lifetime of a relationship.”

“The rise of the digital consumer has spawned a range of online, mobile and social-media consumer trends that require organizations to deepen their interactions with customers and transform the way they provide marketing, sales and service,” IBM says. “Consumers expect brands to know them individually, deliver personalized interactions and self-service options anytime, anyplace.”

IBM Watson Engagement Advisor can be used by customer service agents or can sit directly in the hands of consumers, delivered through the cloud and via mobile devices, IBM says.

Additional benefits to the customers that use this include helping organizations to better understand customers based on their past history and gaining insights from big data to make evidence-based, informed decisions.

Sources: USAA, IBM

Topics Trends