The Internet of Things (IoT) is a phrase that acts as shorthand for the way that so many of the machines and devices that we interact with on a daily basis are now connected to the web. Once, internet connectivity was the privileged condition of our computers and smartphones. But these days, the advent of cloud computing, as well as advances in sensor technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) have driven huge growth in the number of “smart”, internet-connected devices in the home and workplace.
From smartwatches to smart fridges, in recent years many of the machines that we rely on have been designed for greater intelligence. When combined with the rapid digitization of our social and economic lives at multiple levels, the implementation of the IoT is automating many of our daily tasks and enhancing the experience of a whole host of products and services.
For customer service, and the contact center industry specifically, the IoT has the potential to completely change the way companies and their customers engage with each other. With the number of products falling under the IoT umbrella increasing by the day, and with the number of IoT devices set to reach 135 billion by 2030, contact centers, like so many other aspects of contemporary business, are already adapting accordingly.
Here are the top five ways that the IoT is changing the contact center industry in 2021.
Source: World Economic Forum
1. Customer Service Workers are Better Informed
With the IoT, customer service workers have the ability to access device data without the need for customers to go through lengthy and unnecessary diagnostics. The more data a smart object generates, the better the picture customer service representatives will have when it comes to troubleshooting. And scaled up, the same process of collecting information from smart devices can generate useful big data for business purposes other than customer support, too.
Contact center staff can maintain up-to-date profiles on a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that is synced up to the relevant customer’s IoT smart data using some form of Platform as a Service (PaaS). They can then have access to vast quantities of potentially useful information generated by smart products themselves. And because so many contact centers operate with an online phone service, the entire setup is now predisposed towards the easy sharing of data between device and agent.
The IoT allows customer service agents to directly interpret the product’s own record of its functioning. There is no need for the customer, who might lack technical know-how, to attempt to properly explain a product malfunction. Instead, agents can address what went wrong, when, and how the issue might be resolved using smart data.
What’s more, with an ongoing stream of issue reports and measurements going directly to the company that administers support, many issues can be preemptively dealt with before they become a problem. Better informed customer service teams enable a more proactive approach to technical support. This approach can ultimately prevent the need for expensive call-outs and repairs, leading to happier customers and more efficient use of company time and money.
Image source: Pixabay
2. Contact Center Staff are Becoming IoT Data Experts
For products that aren’t connected to the IoT, remote customer service revolves around communicating troubleshooting and problem-solving advice clearly, as well as connecting customers to the necessary experts if the problem is not one they can easily solve themselves.
Today’s contact centers act as information hubs and key switchboards, directing incoming communications to their desired destination and requiring highly organized digital asset management. As the products that people communicate with contact centers about become smarter, the kinds of skills contact center staff are trained in is changing, too.
Now that devices can relay their data directly to contact center staff and technicians, strong data analysis becomes an integral part of the job. Employee training and software interfaces are evolving to fit the new, more data-centered approach in which IT literacy is more important than ever.
Data security and compliance with privacy legislation, such as GDPR, is also a growing issue for contact centers. With the IoT generating a wealth of potentially sensitive material, staff now have to deal with the threat of data breaches and the potential misuse or loss of customers’ personal information. The new landscape of privacy law adds a whole extra layer to the job of providing high-quality customer support.
Image Source: Pixabay
3. Smart Data is Building a More Cohesive Omnichannel Customer Experience
In the contemporary business environment, more than ever, customers experience the entire lifecycle of their experience with a brand as a single multifaceted journey. Customer journeys today necessitate engagement with different aspects of a business through multiple channels.
Omnichannel customer experience refers to the way customers these days engage with the various marketing, sales, and after sales contacts in their ongoing journey with a brand. Using a combination of channels that includes websites, apps, email, online video call, and live webchat, customer service should be a seamless multimedia experience.
Image Source: Pixabay
The IoT creates the possibility of different people and things communicating with one another behind the scenes of a product’s day-to-day use. Accordingly, it initiates the seamless interaction of various elements of the customer experience.
The stream of smart data that the IoT generates can be used to enhance the omnichannel experience by ensuring a smooth customer journey that isn’t encumbered by having to input the same information at multiple touchpoints. Combined with the effective implementation of CRM systems to share records between the parts of a business that a customer interacts with, smart data can save time and reduce friction between different interactions.
4. Smart Products are Automating Their Own Maintenance
While we are all used to our iPhones automatically sending bug reports to Apple, a similar process is becoming the norm for the rest of the IoT. Our internet-enabled technologies are now equipped with an ever-increasing array of sensors and monitors. This has facilitated the burgeoning practice of self-reporting and autonomous maintenance for all kinds of smart devices.
Software updates and routine communications between devices now happen without any input from the user being necessary. If changes to a product’s operational status do occur, letting users know can be as simple as them receiving a notification on their phone.
The concept of self-maintenance is expanded by the IoT to include not just things like software updates and error reports, but the full automation of processes like restocking and re-ordering. For contact centers, this removes many tasks from their workload but also creates new areas where difficulties may arise. Problems in the self-maintenance procedure itself can go unnoticed without vigilance on the part of human contact points, who might need to step in to prevent further complication.
Image Source: emsd.gov.hk
5. Remote Customer Service is Being Streamlined
As contact center staff become experts in interpreting IoT data, helping to facilitate automated maintenance and a seamless omnichannel customer experience, the entire business of customer service is streamlined. The need for customers seeking help to be bounced between different specialists in different departments is diminished by the changes made possible with the IoT.
Smart technology can mean that the first point of contact made when a customer reaches out is the only one they need to make. Smart data and smart systems can direct customers to the right person to begin with, reducing hold time and making the entire process of call center scheduling more efficient for everyone involved.
The IoT has also familiarized us with the idea of chatbots as user interfaces for our technology. Increasingly utilized by contact centers, chatbots are intelligent computer programs that can carry out certain conversations, either through textual or auditory means. Thanks to the popularity of products like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, the prospect of talking to a machine no longer feels alien and the technology has come on leaps and bounds from its clunky early iterations.
Significantly, tasks otherwise carried out by human contact center employees can be delegated to chatbots. Many contact centers already use chatbots for basic problem-solving, or an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to direct customers to the relevant department. With the ease with which accurate technical information about a given product’s status can be communicated over the IoT, chatbots become an even more powerful tool for customer service.
Bring on the Smart Contact Center
It is inevitable that contact centers of all kinds will have to adapt to the IoT. Whether your product is ostensibly “smart” or not, it would be misguided not to adapt to the digital economy and incorporate the best technological solutions into your customer contact model. Transformation doesn’t need to be daunting. With a range of hardware and software innovations available, as with all businesses, contact centers must evolve.
The changes outlined here show that the IoT is a well-established and quickly expanding domain. Not so long ago, the idea of a car that could connect to the internet might have seemed outlandish, but now it is commonplace. With this in mind, you should be asking yourself if your company is ready to meet the demands of ever-more intelligent products, and the kinds of customer support that they will require.