The Internet of Things (IoT) is set to transform the contact center. By having a wide range of objects connected to the internet, manufacturers will have insight into the operational status of their products. This will transform how support is delivered, which could affect both call loads and data flows — though not necessarily to the centers themselves.
“There will be some additional flow into contact centers, but not as much as may be believed,” said Brendan Read, a Frost & Sullivan analyst. “Much of the data being generated by the IoT may not reach the contact centers.”
This is because a lot of IoT data is related to operations and security, as well as product development — and ultimately marketing. End users will see the data first. They will then ask the contact center to remotely access the data — as happens now with computers and phones.
“The IoT may open the door for specialized support BPO,” said Read. “Companies that specialize in aftermarket warranty support may be the big winners, as IoT is a natural extension of their businesses.”
However, with the Internet of Things, products necessarily become more complex. In the past, this would put pressure on enhanced support. But the beauty of the IoT is that it also enables automation. As the product ecosystem becomes more service oriented, the traditional contact center, with its focus on human resources, will shift to reflect a more proactive approach. The emphasis will be on reducing downtime and using people for rarer, higher-touch scenarios.
“The whole point of having an IoT deployment is to gain greater efficiencies,” said John Byrne, senior principal analyst for the Internet of Things at Infonetics Research. “So, requiring additional contact center resources runs contrary to that goal and raises significant questions as to scalability.”
And scalability is a serious issue. Research firm IDC estimates that the installed base for the IoT will be approximately 212 billion in 2020. This will include 30 billion “connected (autonomous) things” by 2020. IDC has estimated the base to be worth $10.3 billion in 2014, with that number expected to grow to $29.5 billion in 2020 for a strong compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.2%. For its part, ABI Research believes that the sensor market will be worth $29 billion by 2020. The huge volume of data driven off of these sensors will help inform contact center employees as to what is going on when something breaks — but it will also drive automation.
“There are a lot of systems out there whose function is to monitor and manage connected devices in an IoT system and to provide dashboards,” sais Byrne. “They can automatically address and solve connectivity issues without requiring human intervention or needing someone to call into a contact center for action.”
But when the machines can’t handle a problem, customers must be able to access human resources through multiple channels. Agents will have to step up to the plate. Acting proactively, they may have to respond to Internet of Things data and send teams into the field. They will face stressful scenarios that require coherent and timely escalation. In effect, their role will be to act much like emergency room physicians.
“Contact center agents will use support interaction optimization for one-step-above issues that the machines and self-service presently can’t, but which are basic for experts,” said Read. “They will triage issues and set up appointments for subject matter experts, including field support.”
That means contact center agents, when they do engage in the context of the IoT, may be doing a lot of handholding. With increased handling times, the contact center will be a place where calls will tend to be more nuanced, requiring not only deeper technical skills, but also the cultural and social skills required to manage complex interactions. At first, major manufacturers embracing the technological aspects of the IoT — itself a big leap — will be challenged to know how to integrate this level of support.
“I expect to see major automotive and appliance makers to outsource IoT support at first, but bring it in-house as they become familiar with the model,” said Read from Frost & Sullivan. “Doing so will improve brand loyalty and create more cross-sell, upsell opportunities.”
Read adds that carriers who sell IoT solutions via connected home offerings will likely keep Internet of Things support in-house. This is because issues may be on the internal and network side – and the carriers are set up to handle this. Other industries, like automotive, will face challenges in terms of brand ownership.
“This is still very much in flux,” he said. “Who is the end user, and the owner of the data? Who will provide the required level of support? Traditionally it is a dealer, but the vehicle is being provided by the manufacturer — and, more importantly, the information they are obtaining is built around supporting the brand.”
It is generally believed that, with the IoT, customer service can become more proactive, with sensor-based technologies communicating problems to manufacturers before problems arise. The opportunity, then, is for brands to deliver higher-value service from contact centers. Rather than wading through a series of troubleshooting questions, operators will be armed with the data and analysis needed to arrive at speedier, more specialized resolutions.
But there are issues around B2B and shared services relationships within highly regulated industries. Not everyone is going to want to have their products supported externally. We can expect more regulations for data privacy and security to address device hacking in everything from baby monitors to medical devices. In these areas the IoT is raising the bar.
“Certainly the introduction of IoT will require new levels of reliability,” said Byrne from Infonetics Research. “This is particularly true in certain-use case scenarios where zero downtime is an absolute requirement.”
For the contact center, that will mean new investments in automation, as well as in the software that can drive advanced analytics off the tsunami of data that will be coming off of the explosion of installed sensors. Providers that seize the opportunity could be riding the Internet of Things wave for years to come. Those that don’t, risk missing the boat.