How the Internet of Things can transform customer experiences

From preventative maintenance on white goods to smart mirrors in clothes stores, the IoT is ready to change customer relationships

If there's one phrase that plays a fundamental role in the business world, it's that "the customer is always right". Coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, companies generally use it to convince customers that they're going to get a good service and good products.

There's no denying the importance of offering customers a high quality service if you're a business owner. At the end of the day, they're the people who end up purchasing your products and services; should they end up unconvinced or unhappy, your business' reputation can easily become damaged - especially in today's interconnected age.

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Of course, it may seem like common sense to put customers first, and there are simple ways of going about this. For instance, you can monitor staff to ensure they're polite and offer regular deals to convince new customers to do business with you.

However, are these common approaches enough anymore? Probably not. The fact is, there's much more you can achieve through technology. The most sophisticated retailers are now enabling customers to convert on any channel, combining physical stores, online, mobile and social into a seamless brand experience.

The Internet of Things is also coming into play. Companies are beginning to use technology such as connected sensors, augmented reality and big data to create new experiences for customers. Here's how.

Addressing customer problems

Having an effective customer service operation is crucial if you want to survive in the business world. If customers have a problem and can't get an answer fast, they'll end up unhappy, and that could put your firm's reputation at risk. Luckily, connected technology could change the cards here.

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Adam Wilkinson, head of technology at customer relationship management firm Experience Assist, believes that the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to revolutionise the customer service process. Currently, if a customer has a problem, they'll have to contact the company online or over the phone. But this is time consuming for both the company and customer. Wilkinson says technology could be used to identify problems and address them effectively.

"The dramatic expansion of the Internet of Things has the potential to transform the way we deliver customer service. Customer relationship management providers should be considering how connected devices might give them the opportunity to enhance their service and offering," he tells IT Pro.

"In future, connected devices and systems will automatically initiate customer service interactions by reporting issues, often before the customer is aware.This will allow CRM providers to deliver proactive rather than reactive customer service, from simple processes like reordering refillable items such as printer ink, to offering to repair major malfunctions.

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"For many providers, the main benefit of IoT will be the vast amount of customer data it will allow them to collect as connected devices regularly gather and transmit information. This will provide a valuable insight into customer behaviour and trends that providers can capitalise on. Using this information intelligently will allow providers to reach their customers more efficiently and effectively, letting them know about tailored offers and promotions, for example."

More personalised experiences

Offering personalised product and services is another way to win over customers, and connected technology could bring this to the next level. Paul Winsor, director of market development and retail at software company Qlik, says that big data is letting companies offer customers tailored experiences.

"Across all sectors, IoT is helping organisations connect with their customers or citizens in more ways than ever before, paving the way for the most targeted and personalised experience to date. The best way for organisations to provide the ultimate level of customer service is to combine these new sources of IoT data with traditional data and analytics. We're helping one of the UK's leading energy suppliers do just that with its smart meters," he says.

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"Smart meter data analytics is helping the company better understand the energy usage of its account holders. By connecting IoT data to other data sources, the energy provider can not only supply accurate bills with no surprise charges, but also offer personalised tariffs that reflect individual usage and needs."

Prasad Satyavolu, head of innovation, manufacturing and logistics at consultancy Cognizant, is also a big believer in the power of big data. He says it gives companies the ability to identify the needs of their customers and ensure products are always up to standard. "Access to real-time data through intelligent embedded products means that manufacturers are able to continuously collect, analyse and make sense of customer data, allowing them to also continuously enhance the experience. In a world where consumers have high expectations, coupling data and design is crucial," he says.

"Successful manufacturers will be those that combine smart machines and physical products, data platforms and an analytical workforce, to glean valuable insights that enhance customer experience as well as have a workforce which embraces the future of manufacturing."

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"Connected tech can offer great customer experiences by leveraging the real-time data coming from those connected devices. With all the actions consumers take and the data their devices generate, things like real-time preventative maintenance can occur, where remote sensing of issues in real time can lead to prevention of device failure, or the provision of an alternate device before the current one fails."

Revolutionising traditional retail

There's a definitely a big emphasis on how data can be used to improve customer experiences, but there are other exciting developments involving connected technology. Andy Martin, business development manager of retail at Axis Communications, says that technologies such as augmented reality, smart mirrors and camera systems can transform the traditional retail store.

"In future, what will be particularly interesting is how EPOS (electronic point of sale) technology integrates with augmented reality. We could potentially see loyalty cards integrated with headsets similar to the Google Glass, combining online promotional strategies with the customer service that bricks and mortar stores are known for," he says.

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"Among fashion retailers, smart mirrors' are a key method of boosting customer experience. They can be placed next to specific items, allowing customers to digitally try on' an item without the hassle of actually visiting a changing room, overlaying a digital image of the item over a customer's likeness on screen.

"Another example is smart climate control. On a hot day, this technology can link with an IP camera-based surveillance system to assess how many customers are in the store, combining that data with the outside ambient temperature and maintaining an optimal environment, enhancing comfort and encouraging customers to stay longer."

Much of the future of retail depends on being able to connect up the digital experience and the experience customers have in physical stores. This could also include having in-store beacon technology which provides shoppers with promotions based on their online habits as they browse through the store.

The quality of customer experience can make or break a company. If a firm fails to adhere to the needs of their stakeholders, then they're putting themselves at risk. This isn't always easy, but the Internet of Things has the potential to make things easier for business owners. As connected technology evolves, there's no doubt that more possibilities will come to light.

Main image credit: Shutterstock

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