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Michael Ringman

Michael Ringman is CIO of Telus International

Increasing demand for customer support in the age of the Internet of Things

As the CIO (or “IT guy”) for a global contact centre and IT outsourcing company, I consider myself to be a fairly digitally-savvy person, able to navigate everything from complex networking systems to my intelligent Internet of Things (IoT) home thermostat. However, even though I pride myself on using self-help options like company FAQs and online tutorials, I know that I could still better understand the capabilities of my connected digital devices.

And apparently, I’m not alone. According to a new IDC Research report commissioned by TELUS International, while connected devices have made their way into the households of millions of consumers, less than one-third (31 percent) of consumers surveyed feel they take full advantage of their devices, about 16 percent of users reported not knowing how to set up and fully utilize their devices, and nearly a quarter (24 percent) feel that their digital devices had capabilities that would be useful, but they were unsure of what they were.

This underutilisation of digital devices points to a big opportunity for brands to provide more holistic, proactive and technical customer support across all product categories, with the contact center playing a critical role in delivering that support. And as digital-savvy consumers adopt even more IoT-enabled gadgets in the coming years, they will grow to expect a lot from their product support experiences.

The IoT customer experience

When it comes to delivering superior customer service, there are several key factors that hold true across all customer types and technical aptitudes. Half of those surveyed by IDC indicated that ensuring a consistent experience across multiple channels is an important factor. In the contact center, we call this an omnichannel experience. As digitally-savvy consumers move between phone, email, chat and potentially social media customer support, they expect each channel to provide consistent contextual handling of their issues.

At 49 percent, the other important factor driving a great customer experience relates to personnel. Contact center agents should be motivated, capable and friendly, taking ownership of the customer issue until resolution. The idea of a universal agent – one that is well-equipped to provide support for a host of connected devices, and willing to solve for connectivity problems – will likely become an expected norm. After all, the very last thing a customer wants to hear from an agent after 20 minutes of troubleshooting is ‘looks like it may be a problem with your internet connection, we can’t help you with that,’ before directing them to a different avenue for support.

How customer service will adapt

No matter a customer’s level of technical know-how, more networked devices with more digital applications means more opportunities for confusion. The interconnectivity offered by IoT devices means consumers will need to understand not just their own device, but also how it interacts and coexists within an ecosystem of other connected devices.

The question is how to provide great customer support in these mixed environments. For example, who is responsible for providing the support when you’re trying to set up your Logitech remote, to work with your Wi-Fi, in order to control your GE appliances? Or, on a more serious note, who do you call if something happens to your health monitoring device? Do you contact the device manufacturer? The healthcare provider? The insurance company collecting the health data?

An agent providing support in such an instance will need to be well-versed in all of these devices, and not just on one particular brand or gadget. In the health monitoring example, agents may also be addressing more serious questions around healthcare, requiring at least a basic understanding of liability issues.

The importance of recruiting and training

With the explosion of the popularity of connected devices, it’s clear that the nature of calls coming into the call center will be changing along with the agent skillset required to address them.

To deliver on these expectations in an IoT world, investments in the contact center and its people will be critical. According to the IDC report, call center operators anticipate increases of 10-50 percent in the agent population to handle the increased complexity of call drivers. This also means that customer service agents will need to be equipped to diagnose complex issues, address security and privacy concerns, and access and understand cross-product and cross-brand knowledge bases. Above all, agents will need to feel empowered to take the time necessary to address all of this complexity, even if it means increases to their average call times.

As the Internet of Things continues to expand, and with brands adding connectivity to their products, digital-savvy consumers will come to expect more and more from their digital devices. For forward-thinking companies, the contact centre will be at the forefront of driving positive brand experiences and the loyalty that comes with them.

Michael Ringman is CIO of TELUS International, a global BPO and ITO company with service delivery centers around the world, including in Canada, the United States, Central America, Europe and Asia. TELUS International is the global arm of TELUS, one of Canada’s largest telecom companies serving almost 13 million subscriber connections.  Learn more at telusinternational.com

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