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What is Customer Service in 2017? Part 1: Internet of Things

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Customer service in 2017 is hot! In fact, “Customer experience has never been hotter,” according to customer experience author and speaker Blake Morgan. “CEOs now want to be involved in customer experience and generally someone in the c-suite has been allocated to lead it.”

The first hot customer service trend for 2017 I want to discuss is the Internet of Things (IoT).

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Yes, people have been predicting the Internet of Things since, well, the internet was invented, really. Actually, IoT predictions predate the internet, albeit they weren’t called that.

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As Capterra guest writer Rick Delgado wrote for Freshome, “The Jetsons was an animated sitcom created by Hanna-Barbera 50 years ago. It’s depiction of home automation technology probably sparked lots of today’s innovators to create what they saw on TV as children.”

The market for IoT

Last December TechRadar reported that by 2020 there will be 34 billion connected devices and by 2017 global investment in IoT will hit $7.3 trillion. Things are getting connected, from keyless padlocks that record every open to crops that can text farmers when they’re thirsty.

Gartner Analyst Erik Heidt predicts that soon IoT will be a cornerstone of many organizations’ digital business strategies and we’ll have tens of billions of connected “things.”

Morgan: “IoT will completely change the game for companies – all of our products and devices will soon be connected, and this is good and bad.”

The good is the data we’ll have. People absolutely hate repeating themselves to customer service. “We want to shout from the rooftops when we call our bank and repeat the same 30 questions every time, with every department,” Morgan writes.

One promise of IoT is that objects themselves can report their malfunctions to customer service. In addition, product teams can see how people are using their products. Knowing which features people use, when they use them, how long they use them, etc. means companies now have the data they need to improve and even personalize user experiences. Imagine your Crock-Pot telling you how long you have until your chilli goes bad.

Challenges for IoT

The bad is also the data we’ll have. In 2016 a hacker knocked hundreds of thousands of internet connected devices, such as web cameras and routers, offline, in addition to internet services including Twitter, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Imagine a hacker taking your Lively personal emergency response button offline before breaking into your home. Or accessing its data, which includes your eating, medication, and sleep habits. Other threats are stealthier, like drained batteries resulting from denial of sleep attacks.

Gartner Analyst Nick Jones warns that IoT technologies, services, and vendors are still, by-and-large, “immature,” which makes investing in the space risky. “The IoT introduces a wide range of new security risks and challenges to the IoT devices themselves, their platforms and operating systems, their communications, and even the systems to which they’re connected (such as using IoT devices as an attack channel),” Jones writes.

Information security isn’t the only new problem big data from IoT poses. Those tens of billions of connected “things” will be producing amounts of data that are hard to fathom. All that data will need to be processed and analyzed by someone, and by someone I mean machine learning algorithms because there aren’t enough people to do it.

Uncertainty around data access and ownership may pose another problem for IoT businesses.  Jones offers an IoT ship engine as an example. “Is the data from a ship’s engine the property of the shipowner or the engine manufacturer?”

Tips for implementing IoT

Jones recommends implementing IoT modularly. Which just means in small pieces. In software, modularity means using software (and hardware) that has small interchangeable component parts, aka modules.

So one way you could implement this advice is subscribing to standalone software that adds IoT functionality to your product instead of building it into your core product. The benefit is that if you discover a security vulnerability in the IoT functionality, you can more easily remove or disable it without disabling the whole product. Or let’s say you build IoT functionality in and then a vendor comes up with clearly better technology. If IoT is a module, it should be relatively easy to swap one module out for a newer, better one.

Modularity is a good idea for any new functionality. For another example, take time tracking software. Mobile tracking is a sought-after feature. But phone OS are constantly changing. Buying a module that makes your time tracking system work on mobile means it’s easier to upgrade in light of mobile OS advances than if your mobile functionality is built into your time tracking software.

Implement this by investing in standalone apps and microservices that connect to your product via APIs.

Layering can help with IoT data security. In software, layering refers to who gets to see your information. So you’d put your least sensitive data on the lowest layer where the most people can get to it and most sensitive data on the highest layer where only a few can see it. So imagine for example that you sold a smart door and a watch that unlocks it. You might build it so the ability to unlock the door remotely is a layer above the ability to unlock the door in-person. Then a layer above that you can put the ability to enter your parents’ house, maybe by making sure both houses can positively identify you.

For data analysis, consider moving away from the traditional IT approach. Instead of collect-and-store today, analyze tomorrow, it may make sense to invest in ways to analyze data in real time. The reason for this is twofold.

Storing that much data might not be feasible. Also, sending data elsewhere to be stored and analyzed might be too slow or eat up too much battery life. You also may need to invest in new data analysis approaches because you’re analyzing new kinds of data. For example, time series data may require filters and Fourier transforms. And you may need geographic information processing for data from location-aware, internet-connected things.

Keep in mind when building IoT functionality that it means you’ll have to do a lot more monitoring and management. Questions you’ll need to stay on top of include:

  • Is my device still alive?
  • How much battery is left?
  • Is my device still online?
  • Is my device up to date?
  • Is my device malfunctioning?
  • Is my software malfunctioning?
  • Why did my device or software crash?
  • Is my device in good shape physically?
  • Are my device and software secure?

Conclusion

Will your customer service teams be implementing IoT in 2017? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

Looking for Customer Service software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Service software solutions.

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About the Author

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz helps B2B software companies with their sales and marketing at Capterra. Her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. She has been quoted by the New York Times Magazine and has been a columnist at Bitcoin Magazine. Her media appearances include Fox News and Al Jazeera America. If you're a B2B software company looking for more exposure, email Cathy at cathy@capterra.com . To read more of her thoughts, follow her on Twitter.

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