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MachinetalkThe Social MachineThe Internet of Things: A Competitive Advantage in Customer Service

The Internet of Things: A Competitive Advantage in Customer Service

“By the time the phone rings, there’s already trouble. When that manager is called or his department is reached, it’s because someone is disappointed, angry or stuck. Illness, broken promises or a real urgency have led to this new conversation even taking place.”  -Seth Godin

Seth Godin, author of 14 books, every one of which a best seller, publishes a blog post every morning. Each post offers insight into business practices that help organizations breed loyal customers—the key to a thriving business in today’s world. Today’s post, “Let’s start with “sorry’”, provided advice for organizations on the way they conduct customer service. He explains that by the time a customer calls an organization, there’s already frustration and trouble.

Godin makes a great point, as customers, we know that picking up a phone and working through a phone tree to get a problem solved is frustrating. It’s even starting to feel quite archaic as the rest of the world evolves.

No matter what organization you run or belong to—large, small, public, private, B2B or B2C—one priority should be blatantly clear: your customer service needs to evolve.

As so many have discussed, a key tool that can help evolve customer service is social mediaSocial media grants companies the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with customers and potential customers. By listening, we can find out what’s off-putting about a service, frustrating about a product or missing from an experience altogether. Over half of consumers now use social media to directly reach out to companies to report satisfaction, problems and ask questions, says Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media report.

But, with social media being an obvious play for businesses, what’s the next step in differentiating customer service?

In today’s world of cutting-edge technology, we can listen even further. We can do that by connecting products, or maybe more widely recognized, by utilizing the Internet of Things. While many have talked about the Internet of Things, few have identified it as a way to better customer experiences—where it really has the opportunity to shine.

By “listening” to products and enabling them to tell the service team when they’re having problems, it’s very possible to avoid the need for a customer to pick up the phone at all. It sounds very futuristic, but it’s very possible to connect products into business processes now.

One way to enable connected products through business process is to give products a voice, maybe even through a pre-existing structure like a CRM. Let’s use hot tubs as a connected product example (yes, hot tubs). First, the hot tubs are equipped with sensors that capture data such as temperature, humidity and pH. Through a dashboard, the company can compare sensor data to social data. They can look at social sentiment compared to sensor readings and drill in where there may be problems. The system also lets the company monitor their product 24/7—at any time they can check on the product’s status and performance. They can drill down to each specific hot tub, understanding its exact situation at all times. The data is so specific that they can look at a map of the wiring on a hot tub and identify and troubleshoot issues remotely, before the customer notices. When there is an issue that must be solved by a technician, it’s the organization letting the consumer know—instead of the frustrated consumer calling into the organization. The hot tub owner can sit back, relax and feel confident that they’re getting the maximum quality out of their product with uninterrupted service (now that’s something I’d tweet about).

This is just one of millions of use cases for better customer service through the Internet of Things. And, while customer service improves, so does the ease of the job of the organization. Instead of reactively handling issues, customer service becomes a proactive and even preventative activity.

The Bottom Line

We will continue to see companies work to evolve customer service and become completely customer centric from the inside out. It’s a must- those who lose sight of the customer truly risk going out of business. In 1977 Sam Walton said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everyone from the chairman down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”  That statement has never been more true than today. So, I encourage you to capitalize on the technologies that enable you to listen—to both people and products—and you won’t have to say sorry.

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