How the Internet of Things Will Lead a Customer Service Revolution

The very concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) brings with it significant promise for the consumer: a promise of ease of use and simplicity; a promise of time savings and efficiency; and maybe even a promise of complete confusion when things don't go as planned.

As with all technology, connected devices don't always operate as intended. Issues, ranging from set up complications to battery life, can get in the way of a frictionless IoT experience. And in these situations, it's almost more infuriating for the consumer because that very promise of simplicity seems far from a reality. To make matters even more complicated, determining where a customer should turn for support isn't always all that obvious. Take for example a universal remote. You follow the step-by-step instructions to connect the remote to your thermostat, your television, your lighting system, and even your kitchen appliances, but somewhere along the line something goes wrong. Who do you contact for support? Panasonic, the maker of your television; Philips, the manufacturer of your Hue lighting system; or Logitech, the maker of your universal remote? The answer is not all that clear.

The changing role of the contact center agent

Despite the rise of new support channels, like self-service, and an increase in tech-savvy customers, the Internet of Things is proving to require more contact center agent help, not less. In fact, a new IDC report on the IoT-connected consumer found that a majority of contact center survey respondents anticipate a 10 percent to 50 percent increase in the agent population in the coming years to help address the complexity in support requests.

An increase in the number of agents is not the only change brought forth by IoT. The very nature of the customer support role itself is evolving to solve for the more multifaceted problems associated with connected devices. Highly skilled agents will need to be familiar with not only the product and brand, but the entire ecosystem of connected devices, just as the Panasonic-Philips-Logitech example highlighted.

This means agents will need to tap into a greater knowledge base that can help solve for any and all combinations of issues, while also delivering support via the channel preferred by the customer. Agents must recognize and acknowledge that while one customer might prefer to be directed to an online self-service solution, another could require more in-depth guidance over the phone.

Privacy and security

IoT also leads to an increased need for privacy and security training as troubleshooting for IoT-related issues will require greater access to customer information. Contact center agents will need to use screen-sharing or gain remote access to successfully identify and solve for the complex problems at hand. With many consumers highly interested in IoT-enabled products and services for the very purpose of safety and security (i.e. home monitoring), the protection of their personal data needs to be emphasized, and the proper security procedures need to be in place to ensure a positive customer experience.

Evolving KPIs

For all of the changes brought forth by IoT, there are a few things that will remain the same. First among them is the high expectation for a smooth and seamless customer experience. Despite the added challenges related to connected devices, customers will continue to expect a consistent experience across the different channels of interaction. They will also expect customer service agents to be motivated, personable, and ready and willing to solve whatever problem comes their way.

These heightened customer expectations, coupled with the added complexity of IoT-enabled devices, means that the measurement of success needs to move beyond a simplistic time analysis. Metrics like average handle time and first call resolution will become obsolete with customer support calls taking longer and requiring additional resources to resolve problems successfully. Emphasis on overall customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS) will become the norm as companies and their contact center outsourcing partners prioritize accuracy over speed.

Providing IoT customer support certainly has its added complexities, but it also has opportunities. IDC estimates that 35 million American households today have some kind of multimedia home networking application, yet only 31 percent are taking full advantage of their digital capabilities. Further, nearly 16 percent of users reported not knowing how to set up and fully use their devices, and 24 percent felt that their digital devices had capabilities that would be useful, but they were unsure of what they were. There is a huge opportunity for forward-thinking companies to differentiate themselves through service excellence by helping customers fill in these gaps.

Those who are proactive, knowledgeable, and willing to go above and beyond for their customers will no doubt prove successful. However, delivering exceptional customer service in the IoT era will require a willingness to look beyond a single product and instead, focus on cross-product and cross-brand support capabilities. By embracing new service models, agent training, and success metrics, contact centers will be better equipped to support the IoT-connected consumer.

Michael Ringman is chief information officer at TELUS International, a global business processing and IT outsourcing company.