Lenovo is turning to its longstanding partnership with IBM to improve its customer service with blockchain and AI-powered tools. Under the new, multi-year agreement, Lenovo will use IBM's tools to assist customer service agents and technicians within the Data Center Group -- supporting Lenovo's ThinkSystem and ThinkAgile platforms.
Lenovo's relationship with IBM dates back to 2005, when the Chinese tech firm acquired IBM's PC business. In 2014, Lenovo purchased IBM's x86 server business. Last year, Lenovo signed a $240 million deal with IBM to improve the customer service experience within its PC division.
The new agreement leverages blockchain to create a more secure and transparent environment for the purchasing and distribution of critical hardware and software equipment for Lenovo's data centers. Additionally, IBM will provide Lenovo with a Client Insight Portal for data analytics and trend analysis.
Lenovo's more than 19,000 field agents will get access to augmented reality tools, which will help them work in real time with customers and IBM professionals to diagnose problems and find solutions for machines requiring repair.
Lastly, Lenovo call center agents will get support from IBM's Virtual Assistant for Technical Support, which uses natural language capabilities and contextual recognition to personalize customer conversations. It taps into customer history and preferences, product manuals, technical documentation, and any other information available to call center agents to assist with calls.
The overall goal, according to Laura Laltrello, GM of Lenovo's Data Center Group, is "to deliver a personalized and seamless experience."
Research from vendors like Zendesk show that younger generations in particular are seeking more personalized customer support experiences and are generally optimistic about the benefits AI can bring to this area. According to Salesforce data, use of AI by customer service teams is projected to increase by 143 percent over the next 18 months.
Meanwhile, IBM points to its own research to show how pricey and inefficient current customer service operations are: More than $1 trillion is spent on 265 billion customer service calls each year, with 50 percent of those calls going unresolved.
IBM also said on Thursday that Regions Bank, a Fortune 500 financial institution, has signed up for the Watson AI platform to augment its customer service capabilities. Specifically, Regions Bank is using the Watson-enabled Banker Assist tool, which lets associates search for information via an AI-powered search bar, to help customer support staff provide more consistent answers and faster resolution times.
Additionally, Regions is using WatsonAssistant to answer some routine customer calls directly. Over time the assistant will be trained to understand a customer's tone and when they should be transferred to a live agent.
Photos: From the first PCs to the ThinkPad – classic IBM machines