Staying Ahead of Customer Problems in the Connected Device Era

It’s 3 a.m. one night during the holiday break, and a problem with a crucial piece of equipment escalates at an important customer’s warehouse.

Not long ago, this would have been a three-alarm crisis for the manufacturer, service provider and customer — that is, once somebody finally noticed the problem. But the rise of connected devices and the Internet of Things means service organizations are increasingly able to respond to issues proactively, before a major problem develops.

An August 2013 survey of 120 OEMs by Aberdeen found that 35 percent of assets in the field were connected. Respondents expected that number to increase to 42 percent within one year.

Sensors in these connected devices don’t just send out an alert when something has broken, they also advise when a problem is on the horizon. Those early warnings reduce the frequency and impact of crisis-level emergencies.

Connected Tech Improves Customer Convenience

“It shouldn’t put the burden on the customer to always be available,” says Aly Pinder Jr, senior research analyst in Aberdeen’s service management division. “It should remove the effort of the customer having to be available when a problem occurs. If you’re able to have this intelligence about when a problem is going to occur, you can set up an appointment when the customer is around.”

In addition to warning of impending problems, connected devices are also a helpful source of information about how a system is being used — information that can further cut down on service calls.

For example, if a system’s sensors indicate the problem is related more to user interaction rather than systemic failures, a service organization can dispatch a specialist to re-educate the customer on ways to use the device to prevent future problems. Data readings captured in the field can also help companies pinpoint the reasons for failures. And that information can be passed along to research and development departments, improving future product designs.

Can’t Replace Technicians’ Humanity

Sensors don’t just report critical errors, they alert users to smaller issues as well. If the malfunction isn’t critical, customers may opt against having the nearest technician roll to their factory, instead choosing to wait until their preferred technician is available. What’s more, connected technologies are able to pinpoint the problem, so customers can make an informed decision knowing how it will impact their business.

While the Internet of Things will allow service companies to get smarter about how they schedule, cut back on overtime costs and reduce the need for expedited service calls, it won’t mean a complete reinvention of the service wheel.

“We don’t want to get too far away from the technician who’s a brand advocate and a hero to the customer,” says Pinder. “We want to make that engagement as successful as possible.”

 

ABOUT Chris Morris

Chris is a veteran journalist with more than 22 years of experience, the last 13 of which were spent with some of the Internet’s biggest sites. As director of content development at CNNMoney.com, he helped grow the site to one of the most prominent financial outlets online. He later served as managing editor of Yahoo! Finance and currently freelances for several clients, including CNBC, Yahoo!, Variety and Wired.com.