Customer Service in the Age of The Industrial Internet
From Reactive to Preventative, Cost Center to Profit Center Forrester calls this “The Age of the Customer” and predicts that it will soon become the number one priority for company executives. Yet, many organizations aren’t looking at customer service as a strategic competitive advantage—yet. The key barrier is that customer service is often seen as a reactive business function with little or no tangible return on investment.
That’s where we can look to the Internet of Things, or in the case of connecting machines, the Industrial Internet. The Industrial Internet is the medium by which we can revolutionize customer service. For all companies, whether B2B or B2C, their customers’ journey is made up of a series of potential touch points. Products and machines, connected to applications and network operating centers through the Internet, can optimize these touch points. Connected products create a distinct ROI on customer service and provide the biggest competitive advantage possible: A customer service line of business that acts as a profit center, not a cost center.
We have the opportunity to drive two things that are thought to be inversely related: Increased customer satisfaction and decreased cost of providing excellent customer service.
The Time Is Now
Not too long ago, only technical teams could understand what machines were communicating. The more than 10,000 machine protocols in use today have often been deployed in very expensive, proprietary end-to-end solutions that are silo-ed. Now, machine data can be used by all areas of the business—especially customer service. The data can be converted into communications that anyone can understand. And, it can be filtered through pre-existing business processes, like a CRM system.
The time is now for three key reasons:
- Costs are coming down in every piece of the value chain to the connected product. In fact, we have seen an order of magnitude reduction in cost at every stage in the value chain over the past 5 years. And, as costs decrease, the complexity is decreasing as well.
- New, cloud-based solutions have been created, replacing the large, complex, and expensive custom infrastructures of the past. These solutions bring machine data into pre-existing business processes with clicks not code, making ROIs more achievable than ever before.
- Play offense today, or defense tomorrow. We’re approaching a point in the market where customer-focused companies who listen to their machines will see exponential gains compared to those who do not.
So, how exactly can you increase customer satisfaction while also improving operational efficiencies?
In the past, companies have relied on a reactive customer service model, using call centers to manage inbound inquiries. Productivity and ROI were based off of metrics that had little to do with the actual customer-product interaction—things like average call time and first call resolution percentages.
Additionally, without direct access to the devices themselves, call centers were forced to depend upon customer reports to diagnose issues. Because of the lack of technical data, the standard practice was to deploy a field service technician, which was costly to the business and inconvenient for the customer.
But today, connected devices allow companies to be proactive and even preventative with customer service. Real-time insight into a product’s health and performance allows for more accurate assessment of issues, faster response times and ultimately happier customers—often without any effort required from the customer.
This needs-based model, using connected devices, is the key to transforming customer service and streamlining operations. Efficient and proactive issue resolution leads to lower operational and service costs, which in turn can translate into more bandwidth to focus on improving revenue streams through sales and product innovation.
Customer Service Sells
Now, with this much more efficient process in place, resources can be put on higher-value tasks. They can focus on sophisticated models, like remotely managing connected products and assets in a way that proactively prevents the unnecessary dispatch of field service technicians when remote solutions can be used. They can work on value added pay-for-service offerings and convenience based offers. Convenience based offers can be triggered when a machine hits a certain threshold.
For example, a food manufacturer’s distribution center would be contacted when one of the compressor motors in its refrigeration units is nearing a breakdown. The refrigerator manufacturer can offer to replace the motor now, before stock is spoiled and dollars are lost. And, with that, new revenue generation opportunities are created for the business that emanates from customer service. A move from an expensive cost center to profit center while driving up customer satisfaction–that’s the customer service model of the future.Joe Dunsmore has been the President and Chief Executive Officer at Digi International since October 1999. Digi International and Etherios, a division of Digi International, bring end-to-end industrial internet solutions to life through hardware, cloud-based products and M2M services.