What happens to customer service when appliances speak for themselves?

Why retailers and manufacturers that combine the Internet of Things (IoT) with customer relationship management (CRM) may need to upgrade their communications systems.

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The poster-product for the Internet of Things (IoT), the web-connected fridge, is now a reality. And yes, this so-called smart appliance is already famous for being the first kitchenware product to be recruited by a spam botnet, but before long it may prove notorious for something entirely different: retailers and manufacturers will create ways for the item to contact them directly with information about the way it’s used or the need for repair. So what happens when a company injects that IoT data into a management (CRM) system? Opportunities to enhance customer service and boost product quality, analysts say—but only if the business updates its communications technology platform and processes first.

On the technology side, corporations will need more bandwidth. “Companies have to assume that demands on their networks are going to grow,” says IDC Canada research director Nigel Wallis. Using the IoT, corporations can collect information from sensors built into all sorts of products (appliances, jewelry and vehicles, for instance) and from points in the retail and supply chains. Businesses will need bigger data pipes to handle that flood of diagnostic, lifecycle and other product details.

Consider the contact centre as well. Companies will need to beef up systems there to ensure customer-service agents know as much as possible about clients’ products, warranties and usage patterns when customers call with questions or feedback, notes Frost & Sullivan analyst Brendan Read. “The contact centre software would absolutely have to be updated. The agent needs to have a record of all information coming in about the customer and the product.”

Analysis will play an important role, too. Businesses will need some way to parse information and parcel it off to customer-service, finance and other departments. Retailers and manufacturers should make sure their communications platforms include analytics software, otherwise those businesses might miss the chance to learn from and use information sourced from the IoT, says IDC’s Wallis.

Another big challenge for companies has to do with communications policies and processes. Businesses have to get this part of the CRM-IoT puzzle right. “It’s not just a double-edged sword,” Wallis says. “It’s probably more dangerous than that.”

If this fridge could talk

Let’s say a company makes a fridge that can contact its maker directly with information about usage or repairs. The producer may see this data stream as valuable for product development and customer service, but a fridge shopper might have a different opinion. “Things get creepy,” Wallis says. Owners may wonder just how much information the manufacturer is collecting and what for. If the company fails to make the link between enhanced communications and better products and services, customers might discount the Internet-connected fridge as a nosy tattletale designed to help its manufacturer more than consumers.

Frost & Sullivan’s Read sees the same potential quagmire. His advice for companies: have clients opt into or out of data-collection or information-analysis programs. “Sort that out before you find yourself in a situation where the technology gets ahead of your ability to identify and solve the problems potentially associated with it.”

Companies can benefit when they understand how to avoid the potential pitfalls of IoT and CRM. If businesses increase their bandwidth, upgrade their contact centre platforms and install analysis software, those benefits may well manifest as happier customers and products that really are smarter than your average ware.

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