March 22, 2017 | Written by: Matthew Wilson
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Just under three-fourths of US citizens get tax refunds every year, according to H&R Block CEO Bill Cobb. For H&R Block customers, the number is higher; it’s closer to 85 percent.
Now that IBM Watson is helping H&R Block tax professionals guide customers through the filing process, the company is aiming to make that number rise even further.
Cobb joined IBM CEO Ginni Rometty on stage at IBM InterConnect Tuesday to explain just how H&R Block teamed up with IBM to get Watson working on taxes and how the whole process works.
“I think this is one of the best examples of two brands coming together where they worked seamlessly,” Cobb said after showing the ad that aired during this year’s big game. Rometty added that H&R Block is “a wonderful exemplar of continuous transformation.”
Cobb shared that, after the 2016 tax season, H&R Block research found that customers were looking for more engaging experiences. So he called IBM on his landline phone and asked how Watson could make that happen while still keeping tax professionals at the center of customer relationships. In June 2016, teams from both companies were working on a solution. Just eight months later, ads for the service were running on TV.
“Anyone who says IBM doesn’t work quickly, I’m here to tell you, IBM works fast,” Cobb said.
The cognitive interview
Here’s how the process works: a customer walks into an H&R Block office and sits down in front of a screen–where previously they usually just watched a tax professional type away. A tax professional begins the usual interview, asking about life events, potential deductions and possible credits.
Throughout that process, Watson is listening in, referencing 600 million data points and the entire US tax code, creating a “knowledge graph,” which outlines all the areas where there might be a savings.
After the interview, Watson displays a massive chart of all the possible deductions and credits, and the tax professional goes through that chart with the customer, explaining all the different ways to increase the refund.
Even before H&R Block with Watson was branded, when it was just a pilot program, customer satisfaction was ticking up, Cobb said. Now it’s rising even more.
Tax professionals are responding positively, too, he said.
“This makes them feel like they’re really on the cutting edge,” Cobb said.
Cobb said Watson is “a beautiful fit for the nature of our business” and is likely to expand into other areas of H&R Block’s services, such as digital tax preparation.
Learn more about Watson on IBM Cloud.