The explosive growth of device connectivity, wireless technology, cloud computing and advanced analytics has driven the Internet of Things (IoT) from vision to reality. Devices with embedded sensors are enabling advanced, automated communications for businesses and customers. These connected devices are driving deeper engagement, providing new experiences and opportunities, creating new revenue opportunities, and enabling better business insight.
The IoT will have a profound impact on customer service. It will affect everyone from consumers to business leaders. Customer experience has become the brand differentiator, and the IoT will further refine customer interactions and increase consumer expectations. Using the IoT, customer care organizations will be able to receive, gather, analyze and respond to events from connected devices to significantly reduce customer effort, enhance customer experience, build trust, create stronger relationships and earn brand loyalty.
The IoT will proactively eliminate common issues, including long wait times, inflexibility and a lack of proactive care. Other benefits will include immediate access to important maintenance information, faster repairs and IoT-directed self-service.
According to Gartner, more objects will be IoT-enabled in just three years and 5 percent of all customer service cases will be autonomously initiated by connected devices. Problems will be solved proactively with devices providing information on status, location, functionality or customer preferences. These products may even go beyond real time to future time, providing insight to forecast potential issues. Consider some of the following potential uses:
- Home automation: Numerous IoT-based home management products, such as the thermostat, smoke detector and security camera from Google Nest, enable consumers to control devices from virtually anywhere. Support and service issues for some products can be initiated by the device, creating greater customer experiences.
- Healthcare: The IoT is extending healthcare provider reach by monitoring patients’ heart rates, blood pressure and more. The patient experience is improved through early detection and convenience.
- Utilities: Graphic displays and analytical tools help users better manage their energy use. In this case, the IoT is providing information that enables the customer to better manage services and reduce costs. Automated reminders and suggestions increase customer satisfaction.
Driving the IoT to its full potential of improving the customer experience will involve a number of technical, procedural and cultural changes in most organizations. Some examples include the following:
- Investing in data-gathering technology and analytics. Using the IoT to drive better customer experiences and higher value transactions — i.e., reducing customer effort, increasing brand loyalty and increasing spend — means collecting, understanding and using the data generated by the IoT to proactively address customer needs. Organizations will need robust data-gathering and analytics platforms to collect the data produced by the IoT to gain insight into who the customer really is and what they really want.
- Anticipating and better managing call complexity. With automation and advanced self-service options, fewer customers will contact customer care with basic questions. However, customers will have far more detailed, sometimes highly technical requests. Customer support agents need skills beyond reading from a script, and must be prepared for heavy troubleshooting across multiple channels. Contact centers require agents with advanced skill sets as well as robust knowledge base systems that are easily accessible.
- Anticipating agent/device communications. Customers already expect omnichannel service via phone, email, web and social media. Gartner estimates that at least 50 of the 500 largest businesses in the world will be using video extensively in their customer service practices by 2018. Beyond video, customer care may someday occur directly through the device. Smart devices will report problems to the contact center directly through the IoT, and the interaction (and resolution) may happen entirely between the device and the customer support agent, with no customer involvement.
The IoT will change the way we work, play and live. More and more devices and objects will not only be connected to each other and consumers, but also to the organizations that support them. The opportunities and challenges are immense in the world of the data-driven enterprise.
Sean Erickson is the executive vice president, chief marketing and infrastructure officer for Sitel, a provider of outsourced customer care innovation.
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