John Cray

John Cray | April 27, 2015 |


Is Your Contact Center Ready for the IoT?

Is Your Contact Center Ready for the IoT? While the Internet of Things is largely about decreasing human involvement, the opposite will be true in the contact center.

While the Internet of Things is largely about decreasing human involvement, the opposite will be true in the contact center.

From Skype to Google Talk to federated UC mobile apps to browser-based voice or IM communications, the number of communications-enabled devices and application endpoints on the Internet is increasing dramatically. And, not surprisingly, contact centers are paying attention, because any one of those endpoints is a viable gateway to customer service.

But it doesn't stop there. You've undoubtedly been hearing a lot about the Internet of Things (IoT), an evolution in technology that includes machine-to-machine communications. IoT has the potential to take work productivity to new heights -- with minimal human involvement. While this may be true for some consumers and businesses, one organization will actually see a huge uptick in human involvement -- and that's the contact center.

Where's the connection between IoT and the contact center, you wonder?

portable To understand the answer, we first need a quick IoT primer. The IoT is emerging as the third wave in the development of the Internet. The first wave began in the 1990s with the fixed Internet connecting 1 billion users. The second wave came in the 2000s, with the mobile Internet connecting another 2 billion users. In this next wave, IoT has the potential to connect 50 billion "things" to the Internet by 2020, according to research from Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group. That's a 25 times increase in connectedness coming in the next five years.

Think about the implications for customer service when devices, systems, and appliances can report their own faults -- the pump or piping system that reports a drop in pressure, the security system that alerts on a difference between two captured images, the HVAC system that communicates a rise in temperature, the home appliance that fails one of its periodic system checks -- the list is endless. The power of this interconnectedness is indisputable, but as Spiderman's Uncle Ben would say, "With great power comes great responsibility."

Indeed. Anyone who's been woken up by a neighbor's car alarm in the middle of the night knows that, to our dismay, many automated alerts are false positives, and may be simply reset. But that often leaves it up to a person, a human being, to step in. In the world of device or system problem diagnosis, that person will often sit in a contact center.

The Challenge of Automated Connectivity
Troubleshooting a laptop, tablet, or smartphone is one thing. Troubleshooting an IoT device is a whole other matter. First, determining the root cause of the problem is difficult. For example, is the broadband Internet provider to blame or is something wrong with the device itself, such as a faulty driver or some other hardware malfunction? Second, because of the incredibly low cost of these IoT devices, many manufacturers don't have a business model that supports live technical support.

A reported fault may begin with an automated alert, and then escalate to a live contact with a person who is physically next to the system that requires diagnosis and reconfiguration. That's why the statement Paul Weichselbaum, EVP of technical support provider PlumChoice, made in a recent Harvard Business Review article, "Who Provides Tech Support for the Internet of Things?", is so pertinent to today's contact centers. "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," he wrote.

Currently, your contact center is focused on providing service to customers who own a product or have purchased a subscription from your company. How will you respond when your contact center traffic includes support requests for "things" that are connected to your products and services? Will your company find a way to extend its helpfulness to this new wave of requests?

IoT no doubt will present a huge customer service challenge in the near future as billions of devices and webs of connections continue to emerge. Without a doubt, we'll see some new stars emerge in the customer service arena, marked by an ability to evolve methods of service to help consumers and businesses experience the full potential IoT has to offer. But behind the scenes our contact centers must continue to provide fundamental tools for great service -- where self-service, skills-based routing, omnichannel collaboration tools, and great performance reporting let us manage customer service in our increasingly interconnected world.

John Cray is vice president of product management at Enghouse Interactive, which offers a comprehensive portfolio of customer interaction management solutions.


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