Real world experience – IBM’s Paul Papas talks customer experience and artificial intelligence

IBM Interactive Experience, the digital marketing arm of the American multinational tech company, has made many future-looking strides as it positions itself as one of the new breed of digital agencies. Global leader Paul Papas speaks to The Drum’s Stephen Lepitak about the company’s focus on customer experience, and why artificial intelligence is the future.

It’s a bright and crisp November morning as The Drum leaves the subway exit opposite the new multimillion-dollar headquarters of IBM Interactive Experience to speak to its global leader Paul Papas. The vast building at Astor Place in downtown Manhattan is also the new home of the tech company’s celebrated artificial intelligence computer system, Watson.

Last year the agency began its strategy of growth in the US and the UK and continued to produce data visualisation for major live events such as Wimbledon – a client the company has worked with for over a quarter of a century. Other brands on its books have included Jaguar Land Rover, Mexican bank Banorte, Nationwide and Air Canada, and it partnered with Coca-Cola for the drink giant’s loyalty programme.

Experience is at the heart of what the agency is setting out to achieve, in response to the need from marketers according to Papas.

“For marketers, everything today is revolving around how they can create a next generation customer experience which is differentiated, more personalised and transcends digital and physical.

“Everyone has recognised that customer experiences have reached a new level of differentiation. People have endless choices. As quickly as you swipe your finger along a tablet screen is as fast as our clients can lose customers. It’s that easy. So if an experience that a customer has on a mobile isn’t rendered beautiful, personalised, easy to navigate and intuitive, they are going to swipe their finger one eighth of an inch and be onto the next thing and never come back.”

Papas argues technology has now caught up with the rhetoric that has been around for many years – marketing to an individual or a market of one.

“The capabilities have caught up, so marketers can act on that. The marketers who understand big data and analytics and understand how to use the technology and apply design are the ones who realise that vision, which is what makes the job fun.”

The “fun” element for IBM Interactive Experience staff, according to Papas, is to find the right starting point for each client, as they each have different needs and are at different stages of the digital marketing evolution, and then working with them to explore different approaches in how they can adopt new and emerging technologies using internal workshops.

However, data analytics and the problems faced around the continued proliferation of channels are the main problems that chief marketing officers feel most underprepared for and continually need assistance with – identified by research conducted by the agency into the views of several hundred chief marketing officers globally.

Cognitive brilliance

We move to talk about another developing digital trend that IBM finds itself at the forefront of – artificial intelligence and Watson, with the super computer recently catering its own moving in party, taking recipes from its recently released cookbook.

Papas doesn’t mince his words when it comes to Watson, sating “it’s the future, it’s incredible”. And although IBM has yet to “scratch the surface” of what is achievable with Watson, he is unfettered in his vision of the possibilities.

“The power of that cognitive capability and the capability of the system to learn over time, and then personalise an interaction based on its learning... it’s super exciting.

“It’s not a question of if, but when, and when it does happen it will change everything. It’s clear to see that it’s starting to happen already if you look at the work we are doing with Watson for Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and some of our banking clients to drive customer engagement.

“The when is now, so it’s a question of how fast will this spread,” he asserts.

“What Watson gives marketers, which I think is one of the coolest things in the world, is that ability to envision and think of every marketeer’s dream – to make every interaction a delightful experience and make every interaction personalised and rewarding, to maximise the impact of every direction.”

According to Papas, artificial intelligence such as Watson will allow marketers to replicate customer experience perfectly across all geographies, rather than relying on training staff for consistency.

“When you engage with Watson, you are engaging with absolutely the best and most informed person in the company. The ability for that capability to support every employee interaction and expose that directly to customers and to have that supporting a human-to-human interaction, that is a marketers nirvana, delivering expert personalised experiences in real-time wherever our customer wants it.”

This issue was first published in the 21 January issue of The Drum, which you can purchase at The Drum store.

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