Three ways retailers should prepare for the 'Internet of Things'

March 17, 2014

By Duke Chung

Co-founder, Parature

We're experiencing a paradigm shift toward the Internet of Things, where all the devices we use on a regular basis are becoming smarter and more connected. According to Gartner, "The Internet of Things (IoT), which excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones, will grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020 representing an almost 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion in 2009."

From smart refrigerators to cars to vacuums, data-driven intelligent products are changing the way retailers interact with their customers. The most innovative customer service in the age of the Internet of Things will be customer service that takes place on the device itself. Imagine a world in which a virtual agent advises you to adjust specific settings on your fridge, or talks you through changing your tire, all through the fridge or car itself.

Retailers must prepare now for the changes that are coming. Here are three ways to get a head start:

Train your support agents. Many of today's support representatives read answers from an internal knowledge base and serve as a concierge of information. In the next few years, there is no reason customers won't be able to access this same information from the device itself, and therefore basic questions will be resolved by the smart device. Questions for support agents might be tougher and agents will need to be readily equipped with the best information, and understand how to use contextual data clues to provide both predictive and proactive information as it's needed.

Make access to data simpler. In the past few years, we've been tasked with developing technology that gives customers access to searchable information. Knowledge bases — whether they are in the form of FAQs or searchable information on a website — will remain a go-to resource for quick questions. Retailers should take a multi-channel approach and try to offer searchable knowledge bases with consistent information across all channels so customers can quickly get the information they're seeking from any platform.

In addition, retailers should look to deliver channel-specific content, for instance, using bolded, bulleted and more concise content for mobile or video for troubleshooting and how-to information. Make information as simple as possible to consume, and you'll make your customer experience easier and more satisfying.

Look for (and act on) contextual clues. As devices get smarter, so does the data. Devices are becoming more intuitive as they're programmed to collect and know a customer's purchase history and preferences from prior purchases. This data provides contextual clues regarding common behaviors and questions. For example, TurboTax uses contextual clues to understand which questions on tax forms are commonly misunderstood and then offers automatic help for those questions to ensure customers remain on the right track. Use predictive analytics to your brand's benefit to deliver proactive and personalized customer service and engagement.

If we look into the future, there is no doubt the retail customer experience will look different than it does today. Customers already expect responses to questions and concerns quickly, and as we watch the number of connected devices rise, the customer service experience will rely heavily on the speed of the response. Retailers are playing a big role in the Internet of Things movement by driving the technological innovation of many connected devices. Now retailers should keep up with customer service by preparing proactively for the shift to the Internet of Things.

Duke Chung is the CMO and co-founder of software firm Parature. (Photo of LG "smart refrigerator" by David Berkowitz.)

Topics: Customer Service , Employee Training , Omnichannel / Multichannel , Technology

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