How to Prepare Your CRM System for a World of Smart Devices

As they get ready for the era of IoT, companies must remember to include CRM in the mix.

smart home screen

GE's newly introduced free-standing Profile Series gas and electric range is so tuned in to consumers' needs, you almost start to think of it as a friend, not an appliance. If you have a smartphone, it will check to make sure you turned it off before you left for a busy day, or start preheating on your way home from work -- just like a good friend with the keys to your house. It actually performs a multitude of other tasks but as someone who has rushed home during lunch on more than one occasion to make sure the house hadn’t mistakenly burned down, I must say that that "check the stove" feature is a home run.

So yes, I do want it as a friend. And you, as a company whose CRM system and approach is ever-evolving with the times, should be getting ready for the day when I do call it friend. Or at least I start relying on it for far more than an ease-my-mind safety check.

IoT must include CRM

Consumer products, in this environment, will be far more than just inanimate objects. They will be part salesperson and part customer service rep. They'll even do a bit of cross-selling and upselling for you if the situation is right.

"Today, if you have problem with a product, you go to a support website, call or video chat with a live agent, or walk into a store," Chuck Ganapathi, founder of a company called Tactile, tells CITEworld. Advances in software, hardware, and even biology, though, will kill off this model of customer service. Eventually, he predicts, "every product -- no matter the cost or size -- will have an embedded agent in it. Not a human, but a piece of intelligent software that is running on nanoscale electronics or bioelectronics."

In fact, this scenario is already here, Ganapathi says.

"Companies are already building pills that tell your doctor whether you are taking your medication as prescribed. We already have washing machines that email you when it's oversudsing because you added too much detergent. As we learn how to shrink electronics to fit under your skin and make circuits out of bacteria, every product can become as sensor-filled, personalized and interactive as your iPhone."

Couple those advancements with such evolving software techniques as machine learning and natural language processing, and you get embedded agents that can mimic the intelligence of a human agent, Ganapathi concludes.

These CRM-infused devices will also be revenue generators, predicts Aaron Fulkerson, the CEO of MindTouch. These devices will know their "human" very well -- including his or her limitations and possible interests, Fulkerson tells CITEworld.

"The product in question will help the owner learn how to use its various features -- greatly limiting the need for service desks -- and be able to assess the skill level and interests of the consumer." Fulkerson gives the example of one digital camera that is purchased by someone with the idea of taking weekend shots of friends and gatherings. Another customer might purchase the same camera to enter work in contests. Yet that same device will be capable of steering these two users along different self-learning paths based on their varying needs and wants.

Then the camera will start to make recommendations, Fulkerson says. It could be something as simple as telling the weekend photographer that a certain filter, which can be downloaded at that moment for 99 cents, would improve the photo he is attempting to take. Or more elaborate advice could be provided based on aggregated social media content, Fulkerson says.

There is good news and bad news for CRM in this brave new world. 

What this means for CRM

First, the good news. Today's contact centers and contact center systems are advanced enough to take on the task of incorporating devices into their operations, says Ross Daniels, senior manager and Product Marketing at Cisco Systems.

"Making automation a big part of the customer experience is already underway--we are seeing that with the newer home appliances equipped with sensors and connections to the Internet," he tells CITEworld. That GE stove with the smartphone connection may be nice but get ready for the next stage, as Daniels sees it: a refrigerator, for example, will know that the vegetables aren't crisping as they should and automatically send out a work flow to a local repair center -- which will then email the consumer to see about setting up a service appointment. "Sensors will be generating all sorts of new data, we know that," he says. Companies with advanced analytics and reporting applications should be able to configure them to interpret and act on this new set of data, he says -- and that includes the call center.

But companies will need to change their attitude towards service, Tien Tzuo, CEO of Zuora tells CITEworld. Right now service is just a cost center for manufacturers, but in the future it will be how companies differentiate themselves from a world of otherwise cookie-cutter products, he says.

It is ironic in a way: as cars and refrigerators and stoves and cameras become more advanced and more connected, human service will be the greatest differentiator. It will be like the CD of 10 years ago, he says. "No one buys CDs anymore -- but next-gen streaming services are thriving because they are customizable to music tastes and social network recommendations."

"We will see that same dynamic play out across all kinds of products," Tzuo continues--and that will usher in a new era of CRM in which relationships are anchored by services and not products, in an era when products are the ones doing the talking.

This story, "How to Prepare Your CRM System for a World of Smart Devices" was originally published by CITEworld.

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