The Internet of Things (IoT) is a buzz-phrase uttered from the mouths of thought-leaders and followers alike, touted to be one of the biggest influencers of the next 30 years. In May 2013, the McKinsey Global Institute stated: “We estimate the potential economic impact of the Internet of Things to be $2.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion per year by 2025 through use in a half-dozen major applications that we have sized.” IDC reflected similar predictions, noting “the greatest opportunity initially in the consumer, discrete manufacturing, and government vertical industries.” So with all this hype what role could the IoT play in customer interaction?
Laura Bassett, director of marketing, customer experience and emerging technologies at Avaya, said that IoT is not just a viable option for contact centers, but that connected devices will be a crucial part of contact centers in the future.
“Whether it’s upgrading to connected headsets that incorporate mute detection to prevent callers from hearing static noise while the service agent finishes up their last call or vibrates to alert when a rep needs immediate support in handling a situation. Or, incorporating wearable glasses that allow for face-to-face video interaction, or facial recognition for security, wearables will be an important part of streamlining processes and improving the customer experience,” she said.
Bassett described some of the possible applications that are already in development. Avaya and others are working on video ATMs that allow customers to engage face-to-face with a remote bank representative who can answer account or finance questions. Avaya is also working on technology that will allow video ATM conversations to be moved to a video enabled device (like a tablet, phone or Google Glass) to free up the ATM for the next user and let that customer continue the conversation in a more private environment.
“Consumers are already beginning to shift expectations for personalized support streamlined from device to device,” she said. “There are the many examples today that focus on aware communications such as mobile access with location awareness, presence-awareness, or even smart refrigerators, that all contribute to a differentiated, simpler, smarter customer experience.”
Allen Proithis, president and co-founder of Internet of Things company wot.io, believes the value of IoT in relation to customer interactions is the ability to track relevant data, including from ‘connected things’, and funnel it into call centers for better insight into the source of a customer complaint, potential fraudulent complaints and what other customers may be vulnerable to.
He said that it could address two of the core issues of customer experience, namely that organizations only become aware of an issue once it is a problem and secondly, that when a problem is communicated by a customer it is often difficult to get an accurate view of the actual issue versus what the customer is describing.
Having data available at various points can prevent an issue becoming a problem. If it does result in a call, then, Proithis said, the organization is much better informed about the issue.
“Imagine that a call center worker can pull up robust, real-time data on the supply chain that a product traveled from production to customer. Connected systems on the product floor, sensors of delivery trucks and in-store monitoring can give a clear picture of exactly what single product experience – and ultimately, identify where something went wrong, such as sitting on the truck too long, that caused multiple customer complaints,” he said.
He cited the example of a caller complaining about a food product. The IoT, he said, can help you see exactly the path from farm to table so that the call center agent knows, for example, that the product was sitting on the truck for longer than it should have been. “It allows you to track a product through its entire lifecycle,” Proithis said. “This means that when a customer contacts an agent the information available is not just account and purchase history but the history of the product or service purchased.”
Airclic Director of Products Chris Power also sees potential in the use of IoT in the logistics and supply chain. “While the ‘Internet of Things’ has taken center stage lately in the consumer space, the technology has been used for years to track the movement of goods in the supply chain,” he said.
Power added: “With the emergence of new types of sensors, we will see the Internet of Things have more of a direct impact on the last mile of delivery – right to consumers’ doorsteps. There is a Pandora’s box full of possibilities for the future of the data that is only now becoming available. Applied correctly, the real-time tracking made possible through IoT enables shippers and carriers to dynamically track orders and update routes in real time based on unforeseen exceptions or variables such as construction projects, accidents, or even weather delays.”
This, he said, would give them more control over exceptions that can occur during delivery and better communicate with customers, ensuring a great experience.
In the contact center itself, wearables could play a significant role. As Bassett stated: “Wearables represent another endpoint through which customers and their information can come into the business. The contact center is already the best equipped area of the business for receiving and distributing that input to those who can do something with it and respond, it makes sense that the contact center should be the ‘front line’ for input and output.” She added that centralization of input from wearables information allows it to be captured and analyzed for overall improvements to product, solutions, marketing, and so on.
Lee Odess, general manager of Brivo Labs, agreed, saying that new call center technology will be dependent on whether the wearable devices have displays or not, which will dictate how the wearable will function. “Wearables without displays can perform simple tasks such as logging in users, turning on computers or receiving meeting reminders. Wearables with displays can be used for internal communication, notifications and/or metrics, trainings, or even receiving calls,” he explained.
Bassett noted that one of the benefits of IoT is increased efficiency. “Location-based sensors can automatically log service representatives in and out of their station so empty stations don’t have phones that ring because someone forgot to log out when heading to the lunch truck,” she said. “Employees wearing a heart-rate monitor can alert managers to potentially stressful calls if one employee’s heart rate spikes suddenly.”
Photo of Smart Appliances courtesy of Whirlpool