IoT, the Cloud, and Customer Service: The Need for Speed

Your grandpa's customer service started with customers writing letters and advanced to making calls or sending email. But with the advent of social media, everything about customer service changed. The need for speed in customer service became essential particularly as unhappy customers came to realize that posting on social media got them attention and resolution faster. That's partially because companies don't want #fail associated with their brands online.

Why? Ask CMOs. It's bad for brand reputation and taints the millions spent on marketing campaigns. Not only that, social media is like cave paintings: What's written online lasts for millions of years and can be seen by hundreds to thousands of people, many of whom might have become customers had the company not shown that it doesn't care about its customers by not responding to them online.

So when did customer service turn into customer experience? It started with social media and the profileration of customers with digital devices at their fingertips. According to Pew Research, 64 percent of American adults now own smartphones. That's nearly doubled since 2011, when it was 35 percent.

With billions of digital devices in their hands, customers expect to get service on their mobile devices, communicating consistently through a number of channels—social networks, online communities, Web, chat, phone, email, and text. They expect to be able to switch devices and channels and still want companies to keep the context of their conversations intact so they don't have to repeat themselves.

Not only that, customers expect to get their issues resolved or questions answered in one contact. They expect companies to know them—identify who they are; know their previous activities, interactions, purchases, and preferences; have access to all of the data needed to resolve the issue; and at the same time, keep their data safe.

Being able to do all of this isn't just important to customer service, and now marketing. Sales also needs to care because unanswered issues affect revenue. Customers will abandon online purchases if they can't quickly get their questions answered.

Indeed, customer service now includes marketing and sales, and an all-encompassing need for an end-to-end customer experience, in any channel, on any device. Customers want their answers in the right channel, at the right time, with the right information. Not being able to offer this presents a huge dilemma for companies that don't have all their channels connected, that don't work on any device, and that aren't integrated with their various data sources to create awesome customer experiences.

How have some companies solved these issues? Some have transitioned their contact centers into customer experience centers using cloud-based solutions to optimize engagements across digital/mobile devices. These solutions come with advanced, cross-channel messaging functionality so customers can start an interaction on one device and continue it on another, allowing continuity and continued personalization of the interaction.

And with Millennials increasingly preferring self-service, companies are realizing self-service is not a list of FAQs. It has to work, especially on digital devices. And for those situations where self-service just won't do, companies have deployed solutions that make mobile customer service a seamless transition from self-service to live, agent-assisted service within mobile or Web applications.

But that's not all the change that is happening. The reactive nature of responding to #fail messages in social is leading to a more proactive type of customer service. Some companies are moving to a proactive process, using digital, voice, and text listening tools to understand trends, identify when things are starting to go wrong, and proactively reach out to customers before they go "all #fail on a brand."

But the best is yet to come. We know the omnichannel customer experience is not only here to stay, but the Internet of Things, (IoT) will change customer service even more. By 2020, more than 50 billion additional devices will be wirelessly connected to everything from TVs, washing machines, thermostats, refrigerators, and even cars. If you thought big data was BIG, it's soon going to be gargantuan data.

This Internet of Things can be used to empower products to alert customers of impending problems before they arise. But to deliver proactive, intelligent customer service, companies will need the right solutions and business processes to proactively listen when machines start sending data. Companies can use this matrix of information to understand customer needs like never before, correlate that data, and optimize the customer experience.

What should you do? Move to the cloud. Understand how the IoT is changing customer service and customer experience. Then start creating your own company strategy. Don't wait. The future is already here. The need for speed is unprecedented. Some companies will be left in the dust, wondering what happened, while others will bury their competition by creating an uncontested marketplace where, as put by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, authors of the book Blue Ocean Strategy, the competition is irrelevant.

Natalie Petouhoff, Ph.D., is vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.