As a small or midsize business (SMB) owner (or manager or IT administrator), you already have plenty of things to occupy your time. So, when some “new thing” becomes all the buzz in the business world, you might view it with the skepticism to which busy people are entitled.
This approach to time management is effective, but imperfect. It may minimize false alarms and save time wasted on things that never pan out.
But it also means you risk overlooking things which truly are relevant to your business and really do deserve your time and consideration.
One such “thing” is the internet of things (IoT) and it’s probably arriving faster than you expect. As per one estimate:
“By 2020, internet-connected things will outnumber humans with a ratio of 4-to-1, creating new dynamics for marketing, sales and customer service.”
From “Internet of Things Scenario: When Things Become Customers” Gartner, Inc. Published March 2015 (Content available to Gartner clients)
This sounds so grand and complicated—is it relevant to smaller businesses? Absolutely.
When it comes to adapting to a world where everything will have an IP address, SMBs have several advantages over enterprises, chief among them being their relative agility, both in terms of internal processes and how quickly they can realign themselves to change.
In this report, we’ll discuss how the meaning of customer service will change when these internet-connected things become customers.
We’ll list some steps SMBs can take right now to prepare for the changes ahead. These preparations will improve the quality of service you offer today, while getting you ready for whatever changes tomorrow might bring.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
IoT Continues Where the Internet Leaves Off
It’s hard to overstate the influence the internet has had on the business world. It’s transformed the dynamics of customer interactions and impacted nearly all aspects of business.
However, despite the feeling that recent changes have been large and significant—and they have been—it’s likely that the biggest transformations are yet to come.
Whether these transformations become competitive advantages or disadvantages will be determined largely by how well customer service departments respond to them.
No matter what the future brings, it’s safe to say that customers will still value their time and will continue to reward companies that provide the best customer service and experience.
the IoT will do the same for network-connected things
Image from “Internet of Things Scenario: When Things Become Customers”
Gartner, Inc. Published March 2015 (Content available to Gartner clients)
Consider a typical customer service interaction with one of your present-day customers. It might be:
- An email asking how to extend a software license
- A phone call asking how to connect a device to a Wi-Fi network
- A live chat request asking how to reset a device
Now imagine the series of questions the customer service agent might need to ask before they can begin resolving the request. (Remember that each question takes time to ask and answer, lowering operational efficiency and degrading the customer’s experience.)
- Which version of the software do you have? Is this for a personal or business license? Is the software installed on more than one machine?
- Did you get an error message when trying to connect? Is the Wi-Fi signal strong enough? Were you able to connect previously?
- Have you reset the device before? Have you applied all the software updates?
In our current reality, it’s necessary for companies to ask questions like these. And in most cases, the customer is the only one who can answer them.
However, in an idealized IoT future, these questions will be unnecessary. The devices themselves will be able to communicate directly with the company, either continuously, at set intervals or on demand.
At the very least, this means the service requests above will be completed faster, with no need for the agent to gather all the information. It will already be in the system, providing context for the agent.
In more advanced scenarios, the devices may resolve the issue before the customer is even aware of it. The IoT will open the doors to many new and creative forms of proactive customer service.
Customers Are Still First—Just Not Always Human
Businesses that design their services and workflows from a customer-first perspective realize two valuable advantages:
- They’re better able to meet consumer expectations and preferences, and they are rewarded for this in the marketplace.
- Each interaction becomes an opportunity for the company to better understand its customers, because they have the right customer support systems in place to capture in-context feedback as it’s given.
As the IoT future materializes, customer-centric organizations will discover a third advantage: They’ll be ahead of their competition in their ability to effectively use data from connected devices to improve service interactions.
More advanced customer service and customer experience platforms are already designed to bring together customer data from multiple, disconnected sources and channels.
Businesses that use these platforms and take advantage of their available functions now will have a head start when it comes to handling the inevitable increase in data. In the process, they’ll need to contextualize information about customers and their connected things.
Greater Data, Greater Data Responsibilities (and Opportunities)
Consumers will have great expectations for all this data. Not only will they expect it to inform and improve their customer service interactions (as described above), but they’ll also have great expectations for how companies handle it.
So, how should companies handle it? With great responsibility, of course!
Companies that sell internet-connected devices will be responsible for ensuring they operate safely and securely. Emphasis on will be, because for now, many companies sell unsecured devices, and do so with relative impunity.
But it’s not hard to imagine a future where internet-connected device manufacturers will need to adhere to standard minimum security requirements.
shown on map from downdetector.com
While the denial of service attack referenced above was noteworthy for its size and scope, it’s also worth noting that it blew over quickly, and no companies faced any real repercussions from it.
Imagine though, what kind of backlash a company would face if its IoT devices started leaking mass amounts of customer data. That would quickly turn into a public relations nightmare—as it has for a few unfortunate online businesses—and we’d all be reading about on social media.
As the IoT increases the amount of data flowing to companies, consumers will become more concerned with how that data is handled.
Customer relationship management (CRM) and customer service software is fully capable of handling data from a variety of channels, using long-standing industry standards. An additional IoT channel can be integrated into these systems, letting companies centralize the data they collect, making it far easier to secure.
These systems not only make data easier to collect and secure, but they also make it easier to analyze it. Many CRM and customer service vendors already include basic data analysis functionality in their platforms.
Salesforce, for example, acquired data analytics company BeyondCore to integrate basic BI functionality into their sales and service platforms.
Put Customers First Now to Be Ready for IoT
It’s not only strapped-for-time SMBs that overlook new opportunities and impending challenges in favor of the “wait and see” approach.
The cable TV industry, for example, probably wishes it had taken the internet’s potential competitiveness more seriously a little sooner. (On the other hand, Netflix and Hulu are glad it didn’t.)
For all the changes the IoT is expected to bring, there are many things we can expect to remain unchanged. For example:
- Customers will still value their time and devalue companies that waste it, for example, by asking too many questions on service calls.
- Customers will expect their personal data to be used to improve their own customer experiences, and not mishandled or leaked.
Many customer service solutions on the market today can help prepare you for the changes expected tomorrow. And, even if those changes don’t pan out as expected, the steps taken to prepare for it will be appreciated by today’s customers.
If you’re ready to act now and improve your company’s approach to customer service, you can start reading reviews and researching products here.