Avoiding the Internet of Broken Things in the smart home, and customer attrition

Technical support is key to getting homeowners to successfully adopt connected devices
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

DALLAS—The Internet of Things, the connectivity of devices, systems and services in today’s interactive world, makes the connected home possible. But if those smart home devices don’t work because of even just one glitch in the connected system, attrition rates will rise.

That was the concern voiced in a webinar this spring titled “Supporting the Connected Home: Preventing the Internet of Broken Things.” The basic message of the webinar, hosted by Parks Associates, a market research firm based here, is that technical support is key to the successful adoption of connected devices.

“The mindset of consumers is that they just want things to work, and it’s highly unlikely that people will keep on buying products or keep a product around that doesn’t work as promised or acquire any similar product in that category,” said Patrice Samuels, research analyst with Parks Associates, one of three panelists presenting the webinar. “The technical support implication is that support services will need to make the process of using these devices as seamless as possible.”

James Morehead, VP of product management of Support.com, a provider of cloud-based services and software designed to enhance a customer’s experience with technology, also was a webinar presenter.

He noted, “It’s unusual to have a product in this Internet of Things world that does not have some dependency on another product.”

For example, he said, for a smart device that a homeowner may have, “the user interface is on a smartphone or tablet or Web browser and that user interface is driven out of a product that was not controlled or provided by the [smart device] company. So the success and usability of their offering is completely dependent on a third-party product.”

Morehead continued, “That is an incredible shift for customer support organizations. If you rolled back the clock 10 years ago, the typical situation would be, ‘Hey this is our product, we support our product, we know it inside and out, if it’s something to do with something else, you’re really going to have to call them.’ You really can’t do that when the core value of your product is enabled by a third party.”

Tom Kerber, Parks Associates’ director of research, home control and energy and the third webinar presenter, said the number of consumers with interactive services is increasing. He said, “Up to 20 percent [of homeowners with security systems] have a home control component added, either a lighting control or a door lock or thermostat … and that’s now a growing trend.”

But Samuels said the devices can be problematic because they’re technically complex and often “the first generation of their kind.”

She said, “Currently, home control devices have some of the highest frequencies of device-related problems. As many of 30 percent of consumers who currently use IP security cameras and electronic door locks … experience problems on a monthly basis and approximately 10 percent are experiencing these problems as often as daily.”

Samuels warned: “If the properties, adoption and usage of these items are not properly supported, this will impact the consumer experience, which will ultimately impact the brand and lead to such things as product return and, of course, lower adoption of similar products.”

Some good news, she said, is that “there is a premium tech support opportunity here,” because there is a strong demand for support services from those with connected homes. “In our studies of subscription buyers, we’re consistently finding that consumers who have more devices are more likely to support technical support subscriptions,” Samuels said.

Morehead said support services must adapt to be successful in the increasingly complex connected world, however.

“Building a relationship with the consumer is important to fully realize the Internet of Things opportunities and customer support plays a strategic role in establishing and building on that relationship,” he said.

Morehead suggested “expertise and automation” as two ways to go about addressing support challenges.

He said customer support staff need expertise not only in the company’s products but also probably on dependent third-party products.

Also, he advised that in addition to expertise and training, support staff should have “device diagnostics and device information at their fingertips … contextually relevant automation technology that would help them with the problems they’re trying to solve or questions they’re trying to answer.”