The Internet of Things (IoT) is a funny phenomenon. While the phrase connotes “interconnectedness,” the truth is that these new gadgets, applications, interfaces, and systems aren’t nearly as interconnected as we expect them to be. Think about it. Why do we have these “things”? We want our lives to be easier; we have connected “things” to gain control and convenience. “Things” allow us to do something, achieve multiple tasks and glean useful, actionable information.
They allow us to shop, research, activate, change, transfer, call, watch, monitor, control, and so on, and we expect to be able to realize those tasks wherever and whenever we want – even remotely. Sure, the “things” we’re using to accomplish those tasks work well individually (for the most part), but how many of them work well together and do so consistently? Who can help us make that happen? Who will help when any or many are not inter-operating as expected?
Today, customer service and support for connected devices are primarily focused on the device or system purchased, solely supporting the product at hand by the brand that built or sold it. Tablet companies can push updates to a specific device and provide video chat support, but most can’t or won’t help connect that device to the smart thermostats in a customer’s home. A home security or smart lighting provider can assist with the use of its app on a smartphone, but can that same provider assist with the use of an aggregator solution that initiates a series of activities?
For instance, if a smartphone app recognizes a consumer is pulling into the driveway, which activates the garage door, which triggers the lights and deactivates the security system, can that lighting provider help when the lights don’t go on?
Connected technology is impressive, but it leaves us wanting more from the products themselves, and the brands that make and sell them. The optimization and integration of devices remains cumbersome and disjointed, and as connected “things” venture further and further away from traditional technologies for which some level of support is already provided, toward products and packages like Internetpowered toothbrushes, crock-pots, and home security systems, the support gap will only grow.
Simply put, this disconnectedness is a byproduct of impressive innovation without the service and support transformation necessary to underpin the real-world use of those interrelated applications. Manufacturers and retailers are not to blame here. Supporting the IoT is no easy feat. In fact, according to Gartner, the IoT – excluding PCs, tablets and smartphones – will grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020.
With far fewer IoT devices today (research suggests an average of five to nine devices and technology services in every U.S. home), there are already tens of thousands of different ways that these devices and services might connect and interact with one another in a single home or small business on any given day or week. That creates countless, unpredictable service points that represent a very complicated technical headache for end users. Just imagine the number of phone calls, chat sessions, text messages and self-help searches that will be necessary to reconcile consumers’ configuration, activation, integration, backup, and security needs across this diverse network of devices by 2020. Now imagine how difficult it could be to establish and maintain a positive customer experience among all that possibility, especially if the definition, scope, and delivery of technical assistance and support don’t change from the current parameters. The necessary cross-brand integration presents both a huge challenge and a significant opportunity for companies in the IoT business.
Tech support is no longer about individual manufacturers, retailers, telcos, and internet service providers’ product sets; it’s about a continuous service experience of the full connected environment to deliver on consumer expectations, while adding customer value to drive loyalty.
Which companies will be the first to remove their blinders and start thinking – and acting – beyond their own brands and their traditional scopes of service to help consumers experience the control, simplicity, and convenience the IoT has to offer?