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Something’s wrong in the IoT. Who you gonna call?

It’s 5:30 in the morning. As your blinds slowly open, so do your eyes. Lying in bed, you cast off grogginess as the following pieces of information course through your brain: your 7:00 am meeting is cancelled, your car is defrosting slowly in the icy driveway, the coffee in your kitchen is ready to drink, your baby is awake but not crying, and the dog is in the backyard...for the second time this morning.

How do you have this knowledge mere moments after waking? Because it’s 2020, and your smart home system via the Internet of Things (IoT) takes care of routine tasks. Welcome to the brave new world. Except, not that brave, You are simply keeping up with the tech-savvy Joneses. According to Gartner, by 2020 the IoT—excluding PCs, tablets and smartphones—will grow to 26 billion installed units.

In this new world of hyper-connectivity, everything will be easy and efficient—the mediocrity of your life is on autopilot. That is until the system breaks. With 26 billion units installed, there’s a lot of opportunity for product failures. And these products aren’t operating in silos. They’re part of huge interconnected systems with different service providers, warranties, and customer service touch points. As the Harvard Business Review puts it, “Just imagine the number of phone calls, chat sessions, text messages and self-help searches that will be necessary to reconcile consumers’ configuration, activation, integration, backup, and security needs across this diverse network of devices by 2020.”

In this new world [2020] of hyper-connectivity, everything will be easy and efficient—the mediocrity of your life is on autopilot.

Not only is the IoT a customer service logistics puzzle, it’s also novel in regard to customer relationships. It’s one thing for a video game to glitch and quite a different matter when an HVAC system repair allows for a security system vulnerability. This actually happened on a large scale to Target in 2014.

As people weave smart tech services into their lives, customer support becomes an intimate thread in this new tech tapestry. It cannot be the customer support of old, it will have to be as agile, adaptable, In short, it has to change.

Here are three predictions for how customer support will change with IoT:

  • Customer service gets smart

  • There is a rise in automation and empathy

  • Devices are channels of communication

Customer service gets smart

Customer service experts have long proclaimed the business benefits of proactive customer support. With IoT, businesses can level-up proactive support even more by diving into a continuous stream of user data. Instead of waiting for things to go wrong, businesses can constantly analyze data to learn user preferences, and adapt the products to better serve the customer. This type of ongoing, predictive maintenance is unprecedented in the consumer world of products and services.

Businesses that transform their service models to provide proactive, adaptable, and enduring (long after the purchase date) support will be rewarded with customer trust and loyalty. Paul Weichselbaum, Internet of Things thought leader says, “This transformation will not only be longitudinal (providing continuous service), but also expansive, providing a holistic approach that will earn companies a trusted adviser position.”

Businesses that transform their service models to provide proactive, adaptable, and enduring (long after the purchase date) support will be rewarded with customer trust and loyalty.

There is a rise in automation and empathy

Smart systems in the IoT not only monitor user behavior, they monitor their own behavior. This internal knowledge is then shared with users via dashboards or reports that make troubleshooting errors easier—think the “Check Engine” light on your car, but a little more advanced.

These automated solutions replace countless redundant customer service interactions—freeing up agents to spend more time on complex issues. And since agents will be sought after in increasingly high-stress situations, need for customer empathy becomes more important. As people trust smart devices to monitor their health, finances, and security, businesses must honor the high emotional reactions that come when systems fail. In short: it’s not OK to respond to a failed baby monitor or hacked finances with a bad attitude. Brands that invest in empathy training for supporters of IoT customers will have an advantage in navigating these delicate and difficult conversations.

Devices are channels of communication

Omnichannel support has been a goal for many businesses, and with IoT, businesses extend that goal into omni-device support—embedded customer support across smart devices. We see omni-device support working in at least three ways:

  1. as a channel between the device and a support agent

  2. as a channel between the device and the customer, and

  3. as a channel between the customer and the manufacturer.

Between a device and an agent, the channel is closed to the customer—smart devices will be able to report errors to a support agent and have the agent repair the problem without ever alerting the customer. Between the customer and the device, the channel is closed to the agent. Support takes the form of smart dashboards and reports that make self-service easier. Between the customer and the manufacturer, the channel is open and uses all of the user and system data as well as human help to solve problems. Some of these conversations will even happen through the device. For example, a voice-based service like OnStar seamlessly switches to a human if needed.

In the IoT, the sale is the start of the customer relationship, not the end. Customer care is ongoing and personalized. The devices, products, and systems that exist in the IoT are meant to carry the weight in a customer’s life, and support has to be there to ease the burden. These aren’t just product or services—these are security providers, financial advisors, nannies, health coaches and more. IoT customer service is not just about problem-solving, it’s about knowing your customers It’s about being a partner in your customer’s lives.

Chelsea Larsson is a content marketer for Zendesk and a frequent contributor to Relate. She believes any problem can be solved with a pen, paper, and Pimm's cup. Find her on Twitter: @ChelseaLarsson.