The Internet of Things Demands That Customer Service Catch Up

The winning companies will figure out how to deliver a seamless and exceptional experience that satisfies users -- before they even ask for it.

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By Jim Freeze

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With the speed of innovation today, technology becomes obsolete practically the minute it's available. And now with two always online smartphones in use for every nine people on the planet, according to Business Insider, there appears to be no satisfying the information consumption of hyperconnected users. We are past the age of "smart" and moving into the age of "smarter."

This deluge of always-on technology has also created a wave of disruptive applications that are empowering today's consumers as never before. But customer service has been left huffing, puffing and lagging behind. With 26 billion devices projected to be connected via the Internet of Things by 2020, a blender might issue an alert before it's going to break or a furnace may dispatch an email indicating it needs servicing before the owner knows it does. But what's yet to be figured out is how to use that information to provide a seamless and exceptional experience that satisfies consumers before they express a desire to be satisfied.

People want to engage with the companies they do business with on their terms. But most companies have been slow to respond to this fundamental shift in the customer-company relationship. Because of this, only the companies that make customer experiences as smart as the products and services they support will hold an advantage over their more reactionary competitors. And while there is no simple app for smart customer service, here some things enterprises should know:

Related: Will Your Company Be a Leader of the Customer-Service Revolution?

1. Care across channels can take continuity to a smarter level.

When consumers use smart devices, their expectation is clear: engagement with a company on all channels (voice, text, instant message chat) with a continuity and consistency of care between them all. Companies must drive a smarter experience by correlating one interaction to the next regardless of how each contact was started and where it finishes. Similar to smart products, these channels should be able to share information like an "Internet of Channels" so the customer-service dots are connected to provide a seamless and consistent experience.

This is a critical piece of the puzzle for the future of customer engagement. Consumers will no longer tolerate having to repeat themselves or go through multiple steps every time they contact customer service. Pet insurance company Trupanion does this: Its customers can move from an email, to chat and then to a voice session without interruption and without starting over. This smart experience is one of the reasons why the company has such a fiercely loyal and growing customer base.

Related: 8 Ways the 'Internet of Things' Will Impact Your Everyday Life

2. Harness the interconnectedness of smart data.

Smart devices have expanded how much and how often consumers are pushing out information about themselves and their habits. This presents enormous opportunity for companies. Through software-driven analysis of customer interactions, companies can now predict in real time what will happen next before an upselling opportunity is lost or a frustrated client decides to cancel his or her service. One way it can do this is by flagging potential telltale terms that a customer might provide. This way the service representative will be able to change the course of the customer experience from poor to better.

Look at service pain points. Data on customer-purchase history, interactions and previous complaints need to be at the agent's fingertips, instantly accessible on every channel, including those for in-person interactions. The faster that data is made available to front-line representatives, the more likely they'll be able to act on the opportunities the information reveals.

Related: 10 Stories of Unforgettable Customer Service

3. Smart predictions could keep pace with fast reactions.

Research shows that consumers are willing to divulge personal information if it improves their experience or service with a company.

Take, for example, the upscale eatery Eleven Madison Park in New York City. The restaurant's staff googles its guests before they arrive to see where they are from or what they might like to drink so as to deliver a highly customized dining experience. This idea is the essence behind the smarter experience: proactive and predictive engagement. The result is that customers feel like the brand "knows" them.

According to RnRMarketResearch, location-based service marketing is predicted to grow 25 percent a year over the next five years. Armed with data from Foursquare check-ins, interaction history, a company now has the ability to proactively serve a gamer who just recently had trouble updating his console by recognizing that he is in the area and dropping him a store credit for the season's hottest new game.

Or a company can predict that a customer might need allergy medication based on the local pollen count and the number of days since the person's last refill, then send that individual a reminder when close to the pharmacy. It's like "nesting" the customer: the gathering data through all points of engagement that the individual has with a company so as to anticipate his or her needs and create smarter experiences.

The future of customer care will be a completely synchronous response, able to call upon any resource, any individual and any piece of data to deliver an experience that meets that consumer expectation. By creating a seamless relationship between omni-channel communication, analytics and predictive, proactive communications, companies can create the smarter experiences consumers, and their smart products, demand.

Related: Why the Future of Retail Will Blow Your Mind

Jim Freeze

Chief Marketing Officer at Aspect

Jim Freeze is senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Aspect, involved with the company's corporate vision and strategy.

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