We live in an amazing age. After all, who would think something like poor automobile braking performance could be addressed by a firmware update? Innovations like this continue to occur around us and more and more of our lives are guided by a combination of hardware, software, and the flow of information across the internet.
I was reminded of just how amazing yet frustrating things can be when I recently received an email from my internet service provider. They recognize that many of their customers are taking advantage of the connectivity of their high-speed internet service, and building their smart homes … but that a little assistance might be needed. And they are willing to offer that assistance.
The email illustrates the great opportunities companies have, thanks to the Internet of Things (or IoT). Gartner predicts 20.4 billion IoT “things” will be in use by 2020, with 63% of that representing things in use by consumers. IoT delivers new capabilities and information to consumers and businesses, such as smart thermostats, security systems, and, yes, over-the-air fixes to car braking systems. This also creates new means of servicing customers, both when they are experiencing a problem as well as when a problem might be looming.
IoT enables new levels of visibility into connected services and devices. With IoT, companies gain the ability to monitor the health and status of their customers’ services and devices. This makes proactive service possible.
Only a few years ago, the loss of television or internet service meant calling customer service. No longer. Modern telecom providers are now monitoring all aspects of their infrastructure, not only watching for outages but also the telltale signs of an issue. This means they can take action before a problem occurs, keeping service online and negating the need for customers to report issues. The result is a more reliable experience.
That same visibility generates a lot of data. Some of that data obviously indicates a problem is happening or will soon occur. Much more of that data might seem random and not useful, but it holds potential value. It can be analyzed to continually drive improvements to products and services.
Using a telecom provider again as an example, does a new television receiver model generate more service calls than others? Is it a problem with the hardware or software? Is it something that can be fixed easily at the customer’s location or should that receiver no longer be used (and even recalled)? And most importantly, what is the most customer-focused and cost-effective means of addressing this issue? These types of insights are possible through ongoing analysis of service operations.
The field service opportunity
Up until now, the benefits of connected devices and services I’ve described have been preventative. The unfortunate reality, though, is that more hardware and software entering our lives means there will be times a customer may be unable to perform steps customer service has prescribed, or the issue requires hands-on treatment by someone with more technical knowledge. In those circumstances, a field service technician must be dispatched.
Most companies might treat the need to roll the truck as an added cost of service. Though expenses are incurred, savvy companies will use these onsite service engagements to their advantage. Consider the following.
When a field service technician walks through the door of a customer, it’s a different type of service interaction. It’s more personal, for one thing, because the technician is in the customer’s home or business. And though there may be some tension in the air since they are there to address a problem, additional positive outcomes for the customer beyond fixing what the technician came for are possible.
Sticking with the telecom provider example, a visit by a technician might start as one to address an issue with the customer’s television receiver. Through the course of the service call, the customer reveals their internet service also seems slow–is there something the technician can do about that, as well?
Though the telecom provider’s routine monitoring might show the customer’s internet connection as healthy, it doesn’t take into account the experience inside the home. Perhaps the technician finds the customer has over twenty devices connected to their home network, all competing for bandwidth.
This is great insight into this specific customer, but also the telecom provider’s customer base in general. Remember, data is valuable. Over time and other technician visits, the telecom provider might find their customers are typically connecting twenty or more devices to their home networks. This detail helps them develop future services as well as any needed changes to infrastructure.
As the technician examines the situation, they determine the root cause of the issue. Perhaps the customer’s WiFi router is creating a bottleneck because it was not designed to handle so many devices. Or maybe their current internet package does not provide the bandwidth necessary. This creates an opportunity to sell new products and services to the customer and this hypothetical in-home visit by a technician is now not all about cost.
For this one customer, it also means a better customer experience. They have a solution to improve their internet speed. More importantly, the speed issue might not have been as easily diagnosed had this customer contacted customer service. Why? Because a customer service agent sitting in a service center lacks that same level of visibility available to the technician.
The smart, connected future
I will admit I am contributing to those 20.4 billion connected things Gartner has predicted. I appreciate the ability to manage my house’s temperature and lighting, both when I’m home and away. And I have already had to upgrade my WiFi router.
We do live in an amazing age. For those adopting new technology like me, it can be both exciting and frustrating. Luckily, companies are seeing an opportunity to provide the additional services necessary to help customers overcome the obstacles, making greater customer satisfaction possible while also driving new sales and greater understanding of customers’ future product and service needs.