If you believe the hype about the Internet of Things (IoT), we are entering a world that’s seamlessly connected. From smart homes and wearables to connected cars and smart cities, the IoT enables innumerable ways for devices to share data and handle tasks on our behalf.
But what happens when the system breaks? Who’s responsible for providing customer care when multiple devices automatically “talk” to one another but are vulnerable to equipment failures, cyberattacks, and connectivity issues?
There’s no easy answer. That’s why human support is integral to an IoT world. People rise above the technology to connect the many service points across different devices with context.
The fragmented IoT landscape
In two years, 20.4 billion IoT devices such as smart TVs, fridges, and security cameras will be deployed, up from 11.2 billion connected devices in 2018, according to Gartner. For context, the human population is expected to reach 7.8 billion by 2020.
Companies flooding the market with connected devices create a highly fragmented IoT ecosystem. This fragmentation has become one of the challenges in providing customer care for IoT devices and applications.
For example, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, and 5G are just some of the common wireless networking technologies that are available for IoT-based solutions. Each of these wireless protocols has different characteristics that were designed for specific applications. As a result, consumers may have dozens of connected devices that operate across various communication networks with multiple data inputs.
Consider this scenario: An IoT-enabled printer is connected to Amazon’s Alexa, which lets you know when it’s time to order more toner. However, something goes wrong. The toner arrives in a battered box, the container is leaking, and it’s the wrong type of toner.
Who’s responsible for the problem? Is it the company that manufactured the printer, the toner company, Amazon, or the shipping company? Who will understand all the pieces and provide customer care? You would most likely have to contact several customer service centers to rectify the issue, which makes for a poor experience on all fronts.
Problems like this are only going to become more common and more complicated. There are already tens of thousands of different ways for smart devices to connect and interact with one another in a home or business on a constant basis. That creates myriad, unpredictable service points that represent a very complex headache for companies.
Trouble-shooting IoT issues requires the ability to extract data from connected devices, analyze the various types of data input, identify patterns and insights, and develop standardized protocols and applications.
The process becomes even more complex when factoring in differences in equipment OEMs and operating systems. Finally, cybersecurity is another issue, since each connected device is a potential weak spot for fraudsters to exploit.
Support in an IoT world
Artificial intelligence-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service technologies address some of these challenges, but companies can’t automate their way out of the problem. Humans are needed to provide intuitive support that’s available around the clock.
For instance, Best Buy offers a Geek Squad 24/7 tech support plan. Depending on the plan, subscribers receive features such as unlimited access to online, phone, and in-store service, as well as assistance with device installations, tune-ups, and repairs. The services include assistance setting up a smart doorbell, router placement tips, and other types of smart device support.
Expect to see more white-glove support services like this, where in addition to setting up IoT devices, trained specialists handle a wide range of customer support issues. Returning to the toner example, customers who pay for IoT support could have an associate connect the dots for them.
For instance, if suppliers, sellers, and other partners agree to a standardized record management system like blockchain, the associate can review quality checkpoints on the toner’s journey to the customer to identify and resolve the problem. The associate could then give the customer options, such as to reorder the toner or receive a refund.
Providing superior service
Another reason humans are needed to provide IoT support is that most customers simply want a human connection. In fact, the Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Research report found that when service issues arise, 73 percent of customers prefer human interaction to a digital channel.
And as IoT support issues grow more complex, this is an opportunity for companies to stand out by providing higher levels of quality engagement.
For example, let’s say your car is designed to make an appointment with the dealer when it needs to be serviced. However, a database malfunction causes many cars to make appointments that aren’t necessary. A customer support outsourcer’s AI system could detect the anomaly and flag it so that IT can fix the issue. At the same time, the affected customers would receive text messages or emails informing them that there was a problem with the appointment, but it’s being fixed and associates are standing by in case they have questions.
When something breaks, customers want to know that they’re being cared for. And instead of angering its customers, the car company becomes the hero by proactively handling a problem before it snowballs into a larger issue.
Connecting the data dots
To support an IoT customer base, companies must provide reliable service 24/7. But the intersection of brands in an IoT world presents a significant challenge for companies trying to serve customers. Customer support is no longer about individual manufacturers, suppliers, retailers, and internet service providers offering their own products. It’s about delivering on customer expectations for an uninterrupted service experience across the connected environment, while adding value to drive loyalty.
While there isn’t a simple way to accomplish this, start by identifying the key touchpoints along your product’s customer journey and where it intersects with other devices. Then determine what areas your support team is best suited to take on, and where you may need to scale through a partner.
The onus will be on creating the best support teams, regardless of location or brand. Companies are already building remote workforces with central hubs in key cities and the IoT will only accelerate this trend.
Also, as more care centers are distributed between IoT companies, collaboration will be essential. Technology will play a large role in facilitating this. Messaging apps and SaaS tools that allow for easy online collaboration will have a big part to play, not to mention tools for streamlining data across multiple platforms and permissions.
IoT adds many more layers to the customer’s experience with a brand—product complexity compounded by customer expectations and technology and network functions in an effort to work effortlessly. Disruptions are inevitable. When they happen, it’s important to have the right systems, tools, and teams in place to guide customers through this complex journey.