Ian Collins Issue: North America I 2016
Article no.: 8
Topic: Is your customer service ready for the IoT?
Author: Ian Collins
Title: CEO & Founder
Organisation: CrowdCare
PDF size: 216KB

About author

Ian Collins is CEO and Founder at CrowdCare and Director at ThinkData Works and groupie. Ian is a wireless industry veteran and successful technology entrepreneur. He started his career as an engineer for Rogers and continued in the industry working with Telezone, Sprint, Bellcore and Telus. Ian founded his first company in 1994 and has founded seven companies since then, including ClickFree, MobileDiagnostix (Acq.Bitfone/HP) and Wyrex, and helped raise over US$100 million in venture capital. Having spent the last 20 years founding software ventures, Ian is passionate about creating great products that are easy to use and make life easier.

Ian Collins holds an MBA in International Business from McMaster University and a B. Eng from Ryerson University.

Article abstract

Companies that charge ongoing fees have the biggest customer service challenge, with even higher expectations. Churn is extremely expensive and driving down churn is always a top priority for any company charging a recurring fee. Poor customer service experience has proven to be a key driver of churn so providing customers with fast effective customer service is absolutely key if you want to thrive in this type of business. 

Full Article

The IoT customer service challenge

Most people agree that the IoT is on it’s way. Sure, it might be overhyped like many emerging technologies, but connecting more and more devices with affordable wireless connections seems like a no-brainer. What will we see from the IoT in two years or 20? No one can say for sure but it is coming.

There are two clear sectors to the IoT. The industrial side will be made up smart meters, oil pipeline monitors, manufacturing equipment communication, etc. where users have been trained in the management and use of complex systems. The consumer side will be made up of smart home appliances, connected cars, smartphones, tablets, fitness tracking devices, etc. These devices will be in the hands of consumers who do not expect to require any training to get the benefits from these devices and services.

This leads to two distinct types of care required to service the IoT. For the industrial IoT, we’re going to need tools that are the equivalent of the sysadmin tools that have been available to trained operations staff for decades.

Consumers on the other hand are in for a rough ride given today’s care tools. Consumers don’t want to spend their spare time troubleshooting technology, they expect technology to entertain them, make them productive or just stay hidden and make life better in some unique way. When something goes wrong, customers will generally abandon a product before investing many hours of painful troubleshooting.

Imagine a simple scenario when your connected washing machine has access to the variable water and energy prices and can minimize your utility bills. For this to work it will need an internet connection, know it’s location and your utility companies. Now what will you do when you see “error 4302, contact your system administrator”. Will you be up for investing your scarce time in trying to get it working, or will you just go back to doing laundry at the end of the day when you think the prices are cheapest? Multiply this by 50 or more connected devices in your home and you can start to see the challenge coming our way.
High customer service expectations

Customer service expectations are obviously not equal across all products. The most simple categorization is into two buckets, one time payment items and ones that require ongoing payments.

If you’ve paid for an item once, possibly years ago, your expectation of customer service is reasonably high. Reviews drive purchases more than ever and customers tend to write more negative reviews than positive so solving a customer problem still makes good business sense for companies in this type of business.

Companies that charge ongoing fees however, have the biggest customer service challenge with even higher expectations. Churn is extremely expensive and driving down churn is always a top priority for any company charging a recurring fee. Poor customer service experience has proven to be a key driver of churn so providing customers with fast effective customer service is absolutely key if you want to thrive in this type of business.

Wireless carriers got a taste of this 15 years ago when smartphones first hit the market. Most were caught off guard by the new wave of difficult smartphone and mobile data questions that flooded into their contact centers. It took years to catch up and many took a nasty hit to their CSAT numbers.

Many companies have ambitions to charge recurring fees for IoT products and services, but do they understand how demanding customers are going to be?

An emerging opportunity for service providers

When customers have problems or questions, all they really want is a quick, painless effective answer. Customers are probably already in somewhat of a bad mood given that their products may have failed to deliver the service they expected, so why further irritate them with a painful support process. They really aren’t interested in a “relationship” with their service provider, they just want to get on with their lives and spend as little time as possible sorting out their issue.

Answers today are not easy to find and will only get more difficult with the complexity of the IoT. Depending on the type of question you have, you may turn to Google or a forum for a technical question or a service provider web site for a billing or account question. All of these choices will require a lot of patience while the customer navigates web pages or app screens and sifts through all of the info to find the specific piece of information they are looking for.

No company has yet staked out the position as the destination for quick and painless answers. Most service providers are delivering the same old self-care products to their customers such as, bill presentation, account management, simple troubleshooting tools and device how-to libraries. These tools are all helpful but still require customers to navigate through a lot of data to find their own answers. This won’t be enough to keep customers happy in the new world of the IoT.

Creating this destination and building awareness of this place where customers can ask questions and get great answers is a massive opportunity. All IoT products and services will go through the standard product life cycle that begins with technology as the attraction and ends up with customer service as the only differentiator after the products all become commoditized. Investing in customer service from the outset and delivering a unique and compelling experience when something goes wrong will set the stage for a loyal customer base.

The key to enabling exceptional customer service for the IoT

Google has trained the world with over one trillion searches each year that if you want an answer to any question you just type or speak your question just the way you thought about it, using your own natural language. This is the norm of 2016 and delivering anything else will be seen as a lack of appreciation for the customer and their time. This is the ultimate form of self-care, which research has consistently confirmed as the preferred method of getting answers.

The trouble with search is that it will return thousands of results to any question asked resulting in a lot of time and energy required by the customer to find a relevant answer. This isn’t seen as a problem when the service is free, we don’t pay Google so we accept that we’re going to have to invest our time digging through the results looking for the relevant pieces. On the other hand, if you’re paying a recurring fee to a service provider then a more personalized set of answers that can be consumed in a few minutes is the expectation.

To take the position as the trusted source of quick and effective answers without adding a cripling amount of human resources, service providers will need something new. The usual suspects like enterprise search, forums, device guides, and mobile chat are all great products, but won’t lead to the exceptional customer experience that can lead to significantly increased customer satisfaction. The latest breakthroughs in virtual assistant technologies can deliver this kind of breakthrough.

Service providers are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this opportunity with their access to customers and their ownership of all of the data to make this a reality. No other organizations in the IoT landscape has this unique set of ingredients to quickly create this kind of support system. They keys are allowing customers to ask their questions naturally and leverage big data to provide rich context to personalize answers.

Service Providers to the rescue

Customers clearly want great self-care tools. The consumer IoT wave is definitely building. New technology makes the most effective self-care the world has ever known possible and service providers are in a unique position to offer these new self-care tools and become the trusted source for answers.

Ever since massive amounts of technology were put into the hands of consumers decades ago, we’ve had a support problem. After decades with all of this technology, we’ve become accustomed to our technology just not working some times and investing our precious time in solving these problems. We are now on the verge of a fundamental change and can see a day in the future where our personal technology, in our homes, cars, clothes etc… will be exponentially more complicated but will actually work almost all of the time.

It’s sad that this actually sounds a little crazy. Anyone in the tech industry will be skeptical that this will ever happen, that’s how pervasive our support problem is, we don’t even believe any more that there is an answer.

The companies that deliver this change will reap significant rewards from higher customer satisfaction and loyalty. Support of this nature will eventually become the new norm, customers will come to expect it for all IoT products and services. Any service provider not delivering support in this way will be seen as a dinosaur.

Example:
Contextual self-care addresses 90% of customer issues through self-serve

By implementing contextual self-care as part of their customer service app, a Tier 1 wireless carrier in North America gave their customers the ability to ask questions using natural language and quickly diagnose, analyze and resolve common issues, all without escalating to a live support rep. The results were 90% of customers were able to address their issue through self-serve using the app and 85% of customers polled preferred self-care over contacting a live rep.

Beyond just diverting calls to their contact centre and delighting customers, the carrier was also able to gain great insight into their customer behavior and needs:
• 30,000 unique questions accounted for 50% of all customer questions
• Questions were split 50/50 between billing/account and technical subjects
• The exact make and model of phones that drove the most questions