When problems arise with your household appliances, like your refrigerator or washer or dryer, whom do you call?
What about when support for your television is necessary?
Or if specific needs arise with random electrical devices such as lamps and thermostats or you have issues with your smartphone, router, or wifi setup.
Who do you reach out to for customer service – and how?
At some point in the near past, service to the above devices required calls to at least five or more different sources:
- For the television and appliances, it could be the manufacturer, a general repair tech, or the big box store where you purchased the items.
- A similar company or service person call is necessary for the lamps.
- No doubt any support for the thermostat would need an HVAC service person to come and take a look.
- Finally, with your technology setup, a number of avenues might be necessary including assistance from a device manufacturer or your cellular or cable provider.
What about now though? Are the sources you contacted to resolve issues just a few years ago the same today? Are you still phoning them? Or is there some other method to reach out?
The IoT’s Changing Face of Support
As we near the landmark year of 2020, the answers to once easy support questions are not as clear.
Yes, a phone call remains the number one way customers seek support, but it is no longer the de facto method of contact. When you can’t get a thermostat to do what you need it to, is calling a service technician really your first move?
It probably depends on what you need it to do.
In fact, customer support is changing dramatically, and it is doing so quite rapidly.
The reason why is clear – the ever-growing collection of connected devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT).
With the advancement of everything from how you watch tv to how you prepare your food to how you heat, cool, and lock your house, those support calls are evolving.
In fact, in many cases, they are not calls at all.
Let’s revisit our thermostat scenario, specifically when you are hooking up a new smart thermostat.
Assume installation was a breeze, and you handled it yourself. However, for some strange reason, you can’t get the thermostat to play nice with another smart device – either your home hub or an intelligent speaker like Amazon’s Echo Dot or Apple’s Homepod.
Who do you call?
Probably not an HVAC tech.
More than likely you’ll reach out to the thermostat maker. In most cases, this will be a tech company and not one know for building heating and cooling units.
The troubleshooting itself may not even involve an individual but instead a chat or text bot or an online knowledge center where you, the consumer, seek out the answer to your inquiry and then resolve the problem yourself.
Machines Are Getting Smarter
IoT devices have one thing in common – their connectivity. This involves their ability to send and receive all manner of data, including information that indicates if the device itself is encountering any problems.
This new level of intelligence helps to streamline the support process.
In the past, you would have to explain to a customer service representative a series of problems and they would get to work troubleshooting what it might be.
An IoT device, however, is capable of relaying data to a manufacturer’s support center. From that point, a service agent could quickly identify resolutions.
Should a user want to bypass the person to person interface, the device could also provide links to a knowledge center or a smart FAQ for the consumer to read and resolve the issue on their own (more on this later).
Taking that a step further, an IoT connected appliance like a fridge or dishwasher could have the capability of anticipating when a problem might arise. It could then schedule the service itself, altering the homeowner it is doing so in the process.
This automation or predictive support is not merely the realm of high-end, big-ticket devices. Nor is solely used to signal when something is wrong. It is also a function of ongoing assistance – to help with regular tasks that are now manual or lifestyle concerns like health and safety.
Take for example a refrigerator and the ways predictive support could be applied:
- Diagnosing a water line leak and scheduling a repair.
- Determining if harmful bacteria are developing in the ice maker.
- Alerting you when a food item, either store-bought or leftover, is about to expire and needs removal.
- When a particular item runs low, the fridge reorders it automatically.
- Indicating when filters or other components require replacement.
Not bad for something that once came in harvest gold and couldn’t defrost itself.
Users Are Getting Smarter Too
Speaking of self-help, it’s not just the machines that are finding their true selves in this time of technological breakthrough. Humans are becoming more savvy at how to self-diagnose tech issues and how to find solutions.
Of course, much of this new knowledge stems from the intelligence of the devices themselves and the simplicity of setup and troubleshooting built into them. It’s easier for users to be more cognizant of what is happening when something goes wrong.
Errors are more easily recognizable, and when a breakdown occurs, they know where it happens and the resulting issue it creates.
Knowledge centers are fast becoming the new customer service centers – where a treasure trove of data can be quickly mined to find the answer to a problem. For instance, a search entry as simple as “smart lights not connecting” will return simple, three step instructions to resolve the concern.
Though simple to use and setup, IoT devices do remain complex systems. A knowledgeable user can only fix so much.
Third party assistance is still necessary to fix a bulky appliance. When an issue moves beyond the simple and straightforward – like a hardware problem – a certified tech head should remain the primary option.
The good news is these “operational” concerns will be met with a far more insightful response than in the past.
The Human Element Remains, Just in a Different Capacity
So will the third-party human support element be eliminated? Probably not – at least not any time soon.
The IoT industry is still very much in a maturation phase. Currently, there are 26 billion devices that make up the worldwide IoT. That number is expected to balloon to 75 billion by 2025.
Not all of those integrations will run smooth. The aforementioned mechanical problems will still need a human touch as well.
What will change is how you receive that support. With IoT devices sending and receiving massive amounts of data when you reach out, via chat or phone, the service will be far more personalized.
Agents will understand your network of connections and the devices you’re running, which helps to diagnose a problem more quickly.
Not merely support, but the individual you might work with to help solve a repair could also be the one to suggest new devices or new network plans.
The goal would be to make the entire support experience faster and more intuitive and more personal.
The opportunity for all sectors that revolve around the IoT is tremendous. Nowhere is that opportunity greater than the support mechanisms that must be in place to help the industry grow.
There will, however, be growing pains.
The advancements in technology and the paradigm shift in how its supported will require new skills, extensive training programs, and massive knowledge bases to cover all possibilities.
In addition, as much as we aim to connect, not all systems are designed to communicate with each other.
While standards are slowly starting to emerge, fitting square pegs into round holes will force support structures to get creative in accommodating billions of different devices.
In the end, though, a commitment to this new connectivity and the means to support will be a win for both developers, manufacturers, network providers, and, of course, consumers.
And a level of convenience unmatched at any previous point in our history.