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Rethinking customer support in a connected world

Crossing the chasm for the Internet of Things

Note: This article originally appeared on the Support.com blog on September 21, 2015. It has been edited from its original version. The industry has made some progress in the last two years but I find the five key challenges still relevant. I think you will too.

In “Crossing the Chasm“, Geoffrey Moore describes the lifecycle of new technology adoption that, by now, should be familiar to everyone in high tech. One of the key points in the book is that there is a large gap in adoption, a chasm, between the early adopters and the majority of consumers. In fact, in order to cross this chasm and achieve widespread adoption, your early marketing strategy must change. A more consumer-friendly way of marketing, selling and supporting the new technology is required.

Chasm

The Internet of Things (IoT) market is taking off and tens of billions of IoT devices will be deployed by 2020 and the connected home, in particular, is now facing this chasm. The market is transitioning from the tech-savvy initial IoT buyer to the less technologically adept one. IoT solutions themselves are transitioning from premium to mainstream purchases.

Here are five key areas that the IoT world (both businesses and consumers) need to address in order to cross this chasm:

Interoperability – It is still the case that despite multiple standards, IoT devices don’t talk well to each other. This limits the potential for new and exciting uses. Imagine your smart thermostat talking to your smart lock or smart sensors throughout your house… or to your connected vehicle and GPS (even though each device might be from a different provider) – in order to know when the house is empty so as to regulate temperature and achieve energy savings without your intervention. Different connectivity standards exist and are optimized for bandwidth, range or power consumption, but there is still some way to go for easy inter-connectivity across devices supporting different standards. In essence, the interoperability issue should not be viewed from the individual device perspective, but rather requires a more holistic view at a platform or hub level.

Security – IoT devices are perceived to be very personal because they can control access to our homes. This obviously raises a lot of concerns about security. The scenario of someone hacking into a connected home’s security system (many of which are now online) and disabling security settings is a scary one. Or the idea of someone hacking into our smartphone that now drives both our virtual and physical world is no less frightening. Recently, a team of security experts hacked into a Jeep vehicle as it was driving down the highway and brought it to a stop as part of a controlled experiment. How security is handled at the edge as well as in the cloud, and what mechanisms are available to safeguard against security breaches – or contain them when they happen – will be an ongoing (and difficult) effort. In the IoT world, technology will be more pervasive, so the impact of security breaches will be much larger.

Privacy – This is another important one. IoT devices can collect a lot of data that is sensitive at its very core because it contains data about our lives. How individuals are identified, how devices are identified, how the collected data is treated in the cloud, and how transparent vendors and service providers are about the use of the data they collect, are all very serious issues. Although collecting data is key to vendors understanding customer behaviors and providing better use cases, consumers are very aware of their privacy when at home.

Support – The general idea is that IoT devices are meant to be very easy to connect, configure and use. However, they are also increasingly complex, which means that the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) model does not work as often as expected. What happens if the installation is complete but the solution does not work as planned? Consumers have about 20 minutes of patience for learning to put a new technology to use. If they can’t get the technology to work within this time, they either return it or put it aside. For the connected home to succeed, these early customer experiences have to be successful for the consumers, and cushion set-up, configuration and use with access to meaningful, proactive, ongoing support (regardless of whether the solution was a professional install or a self-install). These early customer experiences will influence buyers’ satisfaction and loyalty and – most importantly to the brands – their intention to adopt and use additional connected devices in their connected home.

Personalization – IoT devices are fully expected to adapt to our needs and become part of solutions that bring clear and tangible value to our lives. If we anticipate these devices to become mainstream, these expectations must be met, and met fully. But the true value is in the connections between these devices, rather than in the devices themselves. The inter-connectivity is what will enable truly personalized solutions for each household and each consumer. There are a couple of points to make about this. The first one is the user experience that controls these inter-connected devices. For all the noise certain device manufacturers make, it is unlikely that there will be a single interface concept to control all devices. At the same time, it is also unlikely that there will be a universal way to seek and receive customer service and support. Instead, this will be fragmented between communication service providers, device manufacturers, and specialized retailers. These trends may limit the initial potential for a truly personalized customer experience across solutions.

The connected home can be a smart home too. Fortunately, the market is learning quickly, and providers are starting to realize what and where the gaps are and how to address them. The IoT is opening amazing new opportunities for new consumer experiences. If we succeed in supporting both the early adopters and the majority that follows, at whatever stages and in whatever forms they prefer, we are in for quite a ride.

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