The importance of thoughtful customer support in the age of IoT

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If you think customer support is tough now, just wait until consumers get their hands on more of those Internet of Things (IoT)-equipped goodies.

Michael Ringman, CIO of TELUS International, a 21,000 employee global unit of Canadian telecommunications services provider TELUS Corp., envisions an increasingly complex customer care environment as consumers connect growing numbers of IP-enabled devices in the home.

Gartner projects four billion consumer IoT devices will be in use in 2016, growing to 13.5 billion in 2020, far outpacing business IoT devices. But who are you going to call when something in that connected world isn’t working right?

Ringman provides a real-world example: “Recently I purchased a Logitech remote control to control a bunch of my home devices. It’s got its own Wi-Fi hotspot enabled, so I can control my thermostat, even my LED lights potentially, and all of these other features I wasn’t necessarily aware of. If I want to control my thermostat and it isn’t working, do I call Logitech, do I call my home DSL provider, do I call the product manufacturer for that thermostat?”

IoT opportunities … and challenges

Ringman’s organization provides contact center outsourcing and business process outsourcing services, primarily to business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. As such, the consumer IoT-connected world represents opportunities and challenges.

“I see it as a great opportunity, a great catalyst for growth, because the standards aren’t necessarily 100 percent defined on how those communications are supposed to work,” he says. “There will be be a lot of IP-connected devices in that environment, and consumers all want to be able to use it easily and effectively, so how do you provide great customer support around that? The contact center now, rather than being able to answer generic, basic questions, like ‘how do I turn on my Internet connection?,’ suddenly has to evolve to answer more difficult and deeper questions,” he explains.

At TELUS International, the internal IT team is closely engaged with making its contact center and outsourcing services a competitive differentiator for the business. In addition, IT is a revenue center, providing IT outsourcing services to external clients. Over the past decade, Ringman’s organization has absorbed contact center companies in the Philippines, Central America and eastern Europe, building private cloud-based services for internal clients, and public cloud-hosted services for external customers.

“As we’ve consolidated and adapted to move at the speed of business, we’ve made decisions to leverage the cloud internally, so our critical IT resources can truly focus on what helps differentiate us in industry, in the eyes of our customers” he says.

Consolidation of services silos

Meeting growing expectations will require consolidation of typical customer support and services silos, such as customer relationship management, e-commerce, mobile apps and so forth, says Ringman. “The retail storefront technology and in-store support, for example, is usually very separate from what you do on the contact center side, which is very separate from what you’re doing in most organizations from your mobile and web interface.”

But at many enterprises, customer service is not at the forefront of strategic thinking, he says. “At the C-suite level, they can tell you in detail what it takes to get their particular product to market and up to speed, but what they often can’t tell you about is what their customers are doing,” Ringman says. “Our view is that great customer service doesn’t start with the customer service arm, it starts at the top.”

He believes enterprise thinking in this area is changing, though, adding that just as a business wouldn’t settle for a sub-standard system for its financial reporting, they’re now increasingly recognizing the importance of investing in customer service. “If a company is truly thoughtful and driven around how they want to provide customer support, they can help guide that end user to the appropriate sources,” Ringman says. And as the IoT increases the complexity of supporting consumers, that thoughtfulness is essential.

Pete Bartolik writes regularly about business technology and IT management issues for IDG. He was news editor of the IT management publication, Computerworld, and a reporter for a daily newspaper. He resides in Naples, Florida.