How to excel at IoT and smart-home customer service
One of the biggest trends in consumer technology today is connected smart-home devices. Upwards of 80 million smart-home products — such as IoT-connected thermostats, security systems and home appliances — were shipped in 2016, according to a report by IHS Markit. As products continue to come onto the market at a breakneck pace, customer service is becoming a differentiating factor for smart-home providers.
Smart-home devices are meant to work together on a network. For example, customers can tell Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa to change the lighting or temperature. When a smart-home device doesn’t work properly, it’s difficult to know which component is at fault and which company to contact. “The smart-home market right now is very fragmented, with many different device and platform providers,” explains Blake Kozak, chief smart-home analyst for IHS Markit. “Which is a bit of a challenge for the consumer when it comes to service.”
The learning curve for installing and using Nest, iRobot or Amazon’s Echo may make it such that first-time users rely heavily on the contact center for assistance. On the flip side, the support experience requires that contact centers – and their agent populations – adapt to the greater complexity of connected devices.
Still, given the challenges, some smart-home brands and service providers are starting to crack the code of how to excel in the customer service departments. Here’s how successful smart-home providers approach customer service, and how service for these connected devices will likely evolve in the future.
Excelling at smart-home customer service
Professional smart-home installers and service providers are fast becoming a central customer service touchpoint when their Nest thermostat or smart doorbell malfunctions. “It takes a lot of time and research to actually install, and properly use, a smart-home system, and it becomes especially challenging when you have multiple devices that are interconnected,” says Kozak. “We’re seeing a lot of the market swing more toward the professional side, because they can vet products before they go into the home. [They] know which products will work together, and which don’t, and consumers then know who to call if the device doesn’t work.”
In many cases, providing excellent customer service to smart-home customers requires effectively linking up contact centers, with on-site technicians increasingly doing installs or repairs in the customers’ homes, says Jason Powers, CEO of Powers Energy Solutions, a U.S. based Nest installer and service provider.
Once a customer knows how a device works and how it connects with the other devices in the smart-home network, they’re much more likely to become repeat customers, says Powers. Additionally, a savvy and informed customer can do a lot of troubleshooting on their own.
With their intimate product knowledge and experience, technicians increasingly provide that type of education to customers. “They’re less likely to call you up at 3 a.m. saying they can’t figure out how to adjust the temperature,” Powers says.
But for truly outstanding smart-home providers, customer service goes beyond education in search of additional ways to add value. For Powers, that means going the extra mile to do things like file the necessary paperwork for customers whose smart-home devices qualify for eco-friendly or energy saving rebates. “You could get $100 off a smart thermostat in certain areas if you submit a form to your local utility, for example, or for a smart irrigation controller for water efficiency in places like California and Arizona,” says Powers. “Understanding how those rebates work, and facilitating them, I think is another piece of the customer service puzzle.”
Stand-out smart-home service of the future
According to Kozak from IHS, both smart-home manufacturers and service providers need to look for ways to utilize customer data generated by smart-home usage to further improve and optimize their approach to service, and also unlock new revenue opportunities. “Surprisingly, some of the largest manufacturers of smart-home hubs and devices aren’t even leveraging user data,” he says. “If someone calls in to repair a thermostat, there’s potential to upsell other related products based on the service agent seeing their usage pattern of current devices as well.”
Sustainability is also set to play a significant role in how smart-home providers approach customer service. Many smart-home products are designed to replace — or, at least, reduce the usage of — products that are more harmful to the environment.
Providing ways to uninstall and properly dispose of obsolete items as part of smart-home service gives consumers the peace of mind they’re making environmentally sound decisions. “We’ve partnered with a thermostat recycling corporation to make sure that any mercury thermostats that we find are recycled properly,” says Powers. “It’s a value-added customer service that also shows we take environmental stewardship very seriously as part of our business.”
It’s also important to connect services to make sure everyone from contact center staff to technicians can collaborate remotely to troubleshoot issues. “We use a lot of information-sharing when a technician is out in the field,” explains Powers. If a technician is having issues solving a problem, they can post a video or photo to an internal support network and source suggestions from colleagues. “Then other technicians can chime in and help solve the problem, and say ‘Here’s my cell number give me a call and I’ll help walk you through it.’ It takes a village — that’s our motto when it comes to customer service,” says Powers.
Powers also notes that, while it’s important that customer service staff and technicians have a friendly demeanor and great attitude, there’s no substitute for deep knowledge and understanding of the devices and technologies being serviced. Finding people who are willing to learn, then training them on the technology and on teaching them how to educate customers are indispensable to any smart-home service team. “We need to educate and empower people on the products, so they can create not just any smart home — but their smart home,” says Powers.