As a customer support agent, you have a lot of people talking to you. I’d understand if you didn’t want your appliances talking to you too.
Talking appliances is what a lot of people think of when they think about the Internet of Things (IoT). But there’s more to the IoT than a toaster that’s too smart for its own good, and it can even be helpful to customer support.
So what is the Internet of Things?
According to Wikipedia, the Internet of Things refers to the idea that a future development of the Internet involves a reality “in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.”
What does that mean in real life? Imagine a vacuum cleaner. Now imagine that it’s hooked up to the internet. How does that help you? It could mean that your phone lets you know the air filter needs to be replaced before your next vacuum sesh. It could mean your phone lets you know that this other attachment would pick up more cat hair from the sofa than the one you’re currently using.
“We are in the midst of a revolution in computing,” Martin Geddes wrote this year in the Future of Everything, about the IoT. (Okay, but when are we not?)
“Ubiquitous and cheap sensors tied to machine intelligence” is driving this one, Geddes wrote. Sensors are what tells your vacuum cleaner how much cat hair it’s picking up and how clogged the filter is. The cheaper and more widely available those sensors get, the smarter our “things” (vacuum cleaners, toasters, desks) become.
So how are companies implementing the Internet of Things?
Who’s taking advantage now?
In 2015, there were fewer than 5 billion Internet of Things devices in use worldwide, according to Gartner. By 2020, that number will be around 21 billion. In a survey by MIT Sloan Management Review, 53% of respondents reported seeing Internet of Things as important to their organization’s strategy today. Even more, 68%, said that it will be necessary for success.
So where is the IoT? Well, it could be in your candle.
Every innovation should solve a problem. According to the National Fire Protection Association, candles caused 3% of reported home fires, 3% of home fire deaths, 6% of home fire injuries, and 5% of the direct property damage from home fires in the US between 2009 and 2013. Home structure fires started by candles caused 86 deaths, 827 injuries, and $374 million in direct property damage.
In 11% percent of the home candle fires (and 30% of the associated deaths), falling asleep was a factor.
Enter LuDela, the world’s first “real flame smart candle.”
The LuDela candle takes instructions from your smartphone and executes them, and takes data from its environment and transmits it to your smartphone. This candle can tell if it tips over or if anything gets too close to the flame and will extinguish itself in either case. You can also put it on a timer to ensure it goes out if you go to sleep. And you can’t even light it if it thinks the environment is unsafe. It also features a child lock. “You know, in case junior gets bored of playing with real matches and decides to flash up the ridiculous electronic version instead,” Gareth Corfield wrote of it for The Register.
Okay, that’s kind of a silly example.
The IoT could also be in your car. Reuters reports that Europe’s biggest software firm (SAP) and a German car parts maker (Robert Bosch) are teaming up to put everything from screwdrivers to cars on the internet.
What’s the promise of IoT for brands?
According to Jessica Groopman, writing for the Altimeter Group, there are a few main ways utilizing IoT can be a win-win for brands and consumers.
Connected, communicating devices help consumer-facing professionals (in fields including marketing, support, sales, and product) achieve their goals. These goals include:
- Brand awareness
- Customer insight
- Contextual relevance
- Customer satisfaction
- Product efficiency
- Customer loyalty
- Company innovation
How does IoT help achieve these goals?
First up is context, according to Groopman. The ultimate goal of marketing is to deliver the right experience in the right context for the right audience. Leveraging sensors and customer insight can make this easier.
A huge blind spot for marketers and product people is the gap between what happens online, which is comparatively easy to track, and what happens offline. Tracking previously “offline” interactions with a brand provides unprecedented insight into the customer journey. Monitoring how customers interact with your content and how they use your products offers empirical data on how customers actually behave, whereas previously we only had access to how users said they behaved.
Let’s go back to the vacuum cleaner. In a typical scenario, you can know which piece of content or ad tends to be the last thing a prospect engages with before buying the vacuum. You can also use data science to deduce which malfunctions tend to be associated with the greatest volume of customer service tickets.
But what if you as a customer support agent could get a warning before a malfunction happened, and pro-actively reach out to the customer with an offer to repair or replace? What if you could do that for every customer?
The IoT creates “the world’s largest focus group,” in Groopman’s words. Having accurate, empirical, real-time data on your customers’ behavior, along with your products and services’ actual performance means you can use that data to improve your products and services and delight your customers. In a world where customer loyalty has such a massive impact on revenue, this can make or break a business, and will be a major point of differentiation going forward.
How do you get value out of it?
All of the following advice is going to be a little future-focused. But it should be helpful to be thinking about as you organize your teams and create your data governance policies.
1. Share the (data) wealth
The organizations that manage to extract the most value out of IoT are the ones that are good at sharing the data across their value chains, according to MIT Sloan Management Review. Who’s included in your value chain? It’s almost definitely your customers.
The most common IoT data flow is between companies and customers, according to MIT:
Out of the 1,480 organizations who responded to the survey, 46% of them actively share IoT-generated data with customers.
But your value chain also includes suppliers, developers, and customer support. It can even benefit you to share IoT data with your competitors, as 17% of respondents do.
Chris McFarlane, CEO of PrintFleet, explained that he exchanges IoT data with competing printer companies using a buggy whip analogy. “Competitor information lets you know whether you’re making the best buggy whip and if anybody even wants buggy whips anymore,” McFarlane told MIT.
Of the options, the lowest hanging fruit for IoT data sharing is suppliers. That’s what the partnership between SAP and Robert Bosch is enabling.
If you’re a SaaS company, one of the best ways to begin to see benefit from IoT data is to set up a system to share user data from your software directly with your developers.
For customer support teams of SaaS companies it could be really useful to receive notifications of errors directly from the users’ software in addition to user-created tickets.
There are tons of potential sources for IoT data, and ways to use it, as demonstrated in this graphic from Prophet.com.
2. Analyze the data
Another finding from MIT Sloan Management Review is that being good at parsing data makes an organization three times more likely to benefit from the IoT. It also increases the likelihood your organization sees IoT as an opportunity instead of a threat by 5%.
Of course, like all analytics, the demand for skilled workers greatly exceeds the supply. Companies reported that analytics expertise was their greatest challenge for implementing IoT initiatives.
This relates very closely to 4 Steps to Better Customer Support Through Data Science in that the steps to both are very similar. To get good at good at parsing data from IoT, you need to:
- Decide what your most pressing questions are
- Identify the pressing questions data can answer
- Extract and analyze the data
- Make a recommendation
3. Listen to the data
If the data is telling you that customers tend to cancel their plans after X happens, look at improving X. If the data is telling you that Y piece of content moves customers from prospect to lead, make more pieces of content that look like Y.
Alright, so the ubiquitous and cheap sensors tied to machine intelligence are definitely on their way to a device near you. What’re you gonna do about it? Customer support is all about understanding customer needs, and the Internet of Things can make that easier. The three steps to making that happen are:
- Share the (data) wealth
- Analyze the data
- Listen to the data
Are you excited about the Internet of Things? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!
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