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CES2016: Why your customer service weak spot is your competitor’s sweet spot

Tech and Innovation

Posted on January 8, 2016

6 min read

Just as the Internet of Things (IoT) means devices are becoming more intuitive to our needs, the success of companies will be influenced by how intuitive their customer service becomes. Here’s why.

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is a gadget-led assault on the senses, the largest tradeshow of its type in the world and an annual showcase of the next generation of things that will further enrich our connected lives.

The level of product innovation at CES is extraordinary but I think the most interesting insight comes from looking across the top, at the overall themes, rather than at individual products or technologies.

This year one theme in particular resonated with me: the Internet of Things. There are two reasons why: (1) for the changes it is enabling in the way we live our lives as our connected devices become more intuitive about our needs, and (2) for what those changes mean for business and particularly the nature of customer service.

What’s driving change?

Looking around CES you quickly realise the power and unfolding potential of IoT and how the once-prevalent connected home experience has quickly developed into a connected life experience.

IoT is evolving rapidly because processors are getting better as they are fed more data from cheaper, more effective and more numerous sensors. More and more products, and the software they rely on, are increasingly IoT-ready straight out of the box.

The days where most consumer products and everyday objects were not connected to the internet are essentially gone.  We are at the start of an era where virtually everything will be connected to the internet, and each other, further under-scoring the importance of reliable networks.

What it means?

At a consumer level, and as just one simple example, soon it will be normal for your house to unlock itself when it senses you arriving home and turn the lights on. The heating or cooling will already be operating because your connected car has informed your connected house that you were on your way and the system has calculated the appropriate time to turn itself on so the temperature is right when you walk in the door.

Extend this type of friction-free connected living across every part of your life and you begin to realise the potential of what is happening.

The continued rise of IoT means we will each soon be the centre of our own personal universe of connected, smart products and services.

Why it matters? A radical change to the nature of customer service.

The implications of the IoT are much more profound than just convenience.

For businesses that aspire to offer world class customer service (as we do) this future level of connectivity turns the traditional notion of customer service on its head.

The world ahead will be full of products that are intelligent – that are able to learn the preferences of their owners, interact with each other, the cloud and all the other devices (smartphones, tablets, connected cars etc.) that are constantly being added, integrated, updated or removed online or through downloads from the cloud.

That world will require businesses to really focus on what the experience the customer is trying to create for themselves and not just whether their product or service works.

That will demand a continuous and open dialogue and the ability to engage at every stage of their journey.

For many businesses this will mean a complete rethink about what it means to service customers that will not only have to be digital-first but increasingly mobile-only and this in turn will lead to entirely new sets of products, services and relationships.

Delivering a world class customer service experience will require employees who understand the technology (and the opportunities the technology creates) and are quick to act and adapt in an environment where customers define the outcome they want and the specific experience they are looking for.

World class customer service will also require processes that take the growing level of connectivity into account and try to expand that relationship. We know ourselves, cumbersome, multi-stage and time-consuming systems just aren’t going to cut it.

The critical importance of pinpointing where your customer service lets you down?

Like many large companies we have found technology is both the problem and the solution. The legacy systems of the past can be clunky and slow while technology innovation can transform customer experiences. But it is crucial we embrace it.

Because today our customers aren’t comparing us to our traditional competitors.

We are being compared to new competitors, new companies born digital, new companies that are challenging the old benchmarks of what constitutes good customer service.

Uber is the classic example of this. What Uber has done is identify a horrible customer experience and transformed it. Let’s face it, in the old world taking a taxi was often a dreadful experience.  Finding a taxi, knowing when it was going to arrive, finding a clean one, finding a driver who knew where to take you, finding one that took cash or one that took a credit card.

New thinking and new technologies have transformed that experience forever. The key question for all businesses is where does your customer service let you down, what is the weakest link in your interactions with your customers? Find that and fix it because that’s where digital disruption will arrive first.

Technology is not disrupting traditional business models as many people say, technology is providing the opportunity to transform traditional customer experiences and that is what is disrupting traditional business models.

So what now?

IoT has been a theme at CES for the last few years but this year it was right at the centre of many of the practical innovations on the show floor. It is exciting to now see the products increasingly aligning with the promise.

But IoT also signals a critical challenge for businesses to ensure customer service keeps pace changing expectations.

Just as IoT means devices are becoming intuitive to our needs, the future success of many companies will be influenced by how intuitive their customer service is.

This post originally appeared on Linkedin.