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Our experiences building chatbots using IBM Watson

Alex Robbio


February 20th, 2019

While chatbots have a long history, it is in recent years that businesses have really started focusing on them. Personally I’ve noticed how executives are much more keen on exploring their opportunities than they were just a few years ago. I believe this is down to the rapid advances in technology, and witnessing how leading companies have created chatbots which are impressive in terms of how they interact with people, and can build powerful customer experiences. Facebook opening its Messenger platform in 2016 to developers to build chatbots was a major spur for their growth. Other major platforms such as Skype and WeChat have had a similar effect.

Just in my personal experience, recently I was staying at a small, modestly-priced hotel, and was surprised to see them offering their own chatbot over Facebook Messenger- enabling you to easily check your bill, or if you had ordered something from the restaurant, you received notifications on how your food was being prepared. Larger hotel chains such as Marriott and Hyatt have been experimenting with bots and artificial intelligence for a while.

Meanwhile, here at Belatrix we’ve been particularly interested in seeing how chatbots can help people with disabilities. Already back in 2016, we were exploring their potential – for example, in helping visually impaired people understand their surrounding environment. My colleague Marco Arce, Belatrix’s segment head for banking and financial services, meanwhile has just published a fascinating article exploring the use of chatbots for banks and financial institutions.

Launching Belatrix’s chatbot and virtual assistant services

More recently, we have launched our dedicated chatbot and virtual assistant services, due to the demand we’re seeing from clients. We’ve been working with chatbots for a while on an as-needed basis for clients, but we felt it was time to now build a dedicated service to bring our expertise together in one place and one offering.

Partnering with IBM Watson

As part of this, Belatrix has partnered with IBM Watson to help create chatbots for our clients (Belatrix was recently recognized as one of IBM’s most innovative partners at their major IBM Think conference in San Francisco). IBM Watson, is IBM’s AI software platform, which enables developers to more easily integrate AI and deep learning capabilities into applications via APIs. Some of the bots and proof of concepts that our artificial intelligence center of excellence has been working on in the financial services sector include:

  • Banking product inquiry bot. Here customers could provide their credit need and the bot suggests the best product that fit to their needs. It also provides a simulation of different loan installment plans.
  • Credit request bot. Here customers could request financial credit and the bot asks information according to the type of loan the customer is requesting. The bot captures their ID from a snapshot.
  • Account balance and queries for debt installment bot. Here the financial services organization envisions a scenario where the bot is integrated to robotic process automation (RPA). It involves the bot getting the information from the companies’ loan system using a robot.

These chatbots are based on the IBM Watson Assistant, and use natural language processing, voice recognition, speech to text, and image recognition.

Building an effective bot however is not easy. While the technology has matured dramatically, thus making the technological implementation easier, you have to be laser-focused on what the customer experience will be. They also require a high level of expertise when building more complex bots with sophisticated conversational abilities.

We have just published a new whitepaper on chatbots and virtual assistants, and I recommend reading it here. If you would like to find out more about our chatbot services, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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