The Internet of… People?

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

If you’re like me, you probably have been trying to make sense of IoT. How real is it? What products and services will it impact and when? What do I need to do now to prepare? Reading various reports and articles on IoT hasn’t answered these questions for me, and has generated as many questions as answers.

Some articles suggest that IoT will be so disruptive that society will need to adopt a minimum salary for people whose jobs were displaced by machines. This view of a dystopian future with massive systemic unemployment due to technology seems plausible if we consider the trends over the last 20 years including manufacturing and office automation. The potential social impact of mass unemployment could be disruptive also. However, I think there is another view, one that can serve to connect, not isolate, people. Let me draw from two customer service interactions I had recently that could have been frustrating, but were in fact rather pleasant.

The first involved making international travel plans for a business meeting. Rather than try to book online, I called our corporate travel agency. After navigating a brief telephone menu, I was connected to “Dee” (not her real name). Dee immediately addressed me by my name (I had called from my desk phone, on record with the agency). She was personable and professional, and gave me several options as to flights, got me some extra leg room (I’m not short), knew my flight preferences (window seat), and suggested I not take the train from the airport as there were often delays and cancellations. She noticed that I was flying on Sunday and returning Friday, and priced a Saturday flight, which saved $1000. I decided to leave a day early to save the company money, have an extra day to sightsee and recover from jet lag (I might upgrade my restaurant choice as well!).

The second story involves excellent customer service when calling Disney in Orlando. Part of the perks of being granddad, is that you can slip away to golf while Nana and Mom take the kids to the parks! The gentleman on the phone, “Jay”, made a personal connection, since he grew up in Massachusetts (can’t understand why he would leave the beauty of our snow covered state for Florida) and asked if I had any relatives in his hometown. Jay talked me into playing an additional day (okay, it was an easy sell) and I received email confirmations immediately (email on record of course).

Contrast these experiences with what I’m sure we all have encountered such as having to re-enter personal information every time you call customer service (sometimes even on the same call), sensing you know more about their products than the customer service representative, and generally being made to feel like you are being unreasonable for calling at all! One of my pet peeves is the rigged customer satisfaction survey, where all the questions focus on the person who was trying to help you, rather than on why you called to get help in the first place! It forces you to give a good rating since you know that the call center person is being rated, meanwhile the poor product or service you are calling about is not covered in the questionnaire.

You might be thinking “What does customer service have to do with IoT”? After all, IoT seems to promise less human interaction, as smart connected products are connected to analytics and will greatly reduce the need for human labor to maintain. Indeed, many use cases for IoT are built upon this value proposition. I believe that this futuristic view will not happen in the near term on a massive scale, as the installed base of equipment does not have native connectivity to the internet. However, IoT can provide value sooner by identifying specific products by customer and then connecting to existing information sources (product data, warranty, maintenance and expert advice). Using IoT technologies companies can have better contextual information available so that the customer experience is enhanced.

IoT (or IIoT) could help make these B2C and B2B interactions more human centered in fact. Imagine calling about the product and service and the company representative has all the pertinent information before you begin talking. Not only would they know you, they would know details about the product or service you are calling about, model/serial number/warranty as well as performance information. Even better, they might contact you first before a problem happens. So, rather than subjecting customers to a frustrating process of finding the right person to explain the situation to, customers and companies could be connected in a less stressful, perhaps even pleasant engagement.

So, IoT done right could be good for customers, good for business and good for the people who need to connect.


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