While we've heard in the past about Watson's work in the medical field, it became clear that Watson had plenty of other capabilities as well. We've seen some of these previously, including work in call centers, but a new report from Sci-Tech Today puts Watson in a new role in customer service, a development that expands Watson's capabilities still further, and represents a potentially major new sea change in the way call centers operate.
Watson has been all over of late, from his appearance on Jeopardy that humbled two of the game's all-time greatest players to a host of new fields. But with this new endeavor, Watson is teaming up with USAA, a fairly major name in financial services, particularly for current and former members of the United States military. Watson is being put to work here more specifically in part of what's called the Watson Engagement Program, a system that will allow military personnel to get necessary information about civilian life before making the transition from military to civilian.
In aid of this, Watson has been consulting over 3,000 documents on subjects about the transition, so reports suggest he will be suitably equipped to take on the issues likely to be faced by those making the jump. Watson will be able to, at last report tackle just about anything from issues of insurance to home buying to even eligibility for military benefits, so there will be plenty of room here for the supercomputer to truly shine. With over 155,000 military personnel a year making the move to civilian life, at last report, the end result suggests that Watson will have his work cut out for him.
This is something of a risky move for USAA, who is already well-regarded for its customer service capability. So putting Watson on customer service is either a move that will support or augment that reputation...or potentially, destroy it. For a firm that already has an excellent reputation in customer service, it must be particularly careful in terms of new hires, and Watson is perhaps the most high-profile new hire the company has made yet. If this works out—and it certainly seems like it would—USAA may have set an interesting, and itself potentially disturbing, new paradigm. See, if this does work, then there's not much to stop other call centers out there from making the jump to maybe a handful of regular people and a couple sufficiently powerful computers to handle the load. We've seen the kind of power that machines can have in customer service thanks to the interactive voice response (IVR) phone tree system that allows for some simple questions to be answered remotely, but this is one of the first times that it's been possible to completely replace humans in customer service, especially if Watson's early forays turn out to work. It would still be a good idea to maintain a human backup presence for emergencies, but if this works, we may see quite a great deal fewer customer service jobs opening up in the near future, a development that could have grave ramifications for the wider economy.
Only time will tell just how well Watson handles his new gig at USAA, and if he catches on elsewhere but this could represent the beginning of some very big changes in the near-term future, and may well ultimately shake up the way business is done in other fields as well.
Edited by Maurice Nagle