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Will Internet-Of-Things Era Customer Care Suck? An IoT Customer Service Challenge

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Most agree that the Internet-of-Things is on it’s way but whether it arrives in 2 years or 20 is anyone’s guess. But when you step back and look at it from 50,000 feet, connecting more and more devices with affordable wireless connections just seems like a no-brainer. It will have a huge impact across many industries, businesses and in our personal lives. What will we see from the IoT in the next 5 years? No one can say for sure but it is coming and we are starting to see the way it will change our lives.

For now, we see two clear segments of the IoT. The first is the Industrial Internet-of-Things – the IIoT – which includes monitoring and automating industries that have been quite manual until now. Things like smart meters, oil pipeline monitors, manufacturing equipment communication, etc. are being rolled out to make businesses more efficient. The end users of the IIoT devices and services in these industries are trained and are paid to have the patience to figure out how to operate and manage systems like these.

The second side of the IoT, the consumer side, includes smart home appliances, connected cars, smartphones, tablets, fitness tracking devices, etc. The users of these devices and services are consumers, people just like you and I, and the vast majority of them do not have extensive backgrounds in setting up and operating complex systems. In fact, consumers that are the looking for IoT devices and services are doing so to make their lives simpler, to entertain them or make them more productive in some way. These consumers want more time to do the things they love. What they clearly don’t want is to spend one minute of their time learning how to get the benefits from these new IoT devices and services.

This leads to two distinct types of customer service required to service the IoT. For the IoT, the users are going to need support products like the sysadmin tools that have been available to the enterprise market for decades. Sure they’ll need to invest time in learning and troubleshooting the new devices and services but they get paid to do it and business will be able to justify the expense by offloading manual tasks to more efficient automated systems.

Consumers on the other hand are in for a tough time adopting and integrating this wonderful new technology if all they have are today’s crop of customer service tools. Just as consumers don’t want to spend their time with extensive training, they also don’t want to spend their spare time troubleshooting technology. They expect technology to entertain them, make them productive or just stay hidden and make life better in some way. When something goes wrong, they will be frustrated and may decide that the effort in troubleshooting is not even worth it so they’ll just abandon using the product or service.

Imagine this scenario – you’ve bought a new connected washing machine and it knows your location and and your utility company. It has access to the variable water and energy prices and can minimize your utility bills by washing at optimal times. Sounds great, until one day you see “error 4302, contact your system administrator” on the display. Will you dig up a user manual online or start searching forums to see what other people are doing when they got that code? (I’d personally rather get a root canal.) Will you invest your scarce time in trying to get it working or will you just go back to doing laundry at the end of the day when you think the prices are cheapest? Multiply this scenario by 20, 30, 50 or more connected devices in your home and you can start to see the challenge coming our way.

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