In 1999 British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton coined the term The Internet of Things (IoT). Suddenly this universe of ones and zeros was going to be ubiquitous—it would link all manner of everyday objects, in a brand new form of worldwide interconnectivity. Around that same time companies like Qualcomm and Ericsson were integrating PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) with cell phones and putting out the early equivalents to today’s smartphones.
Ericsonn’s R380, was the first device actually marketed as a smartphone at the turn of the century. It was a flip phone, and it allowed you to email on a touch screen with a stylus, but not a lot else. Still, the internet, or at least a limited version, was now available on a device you could carry around with you. At the time, no one said ‘this is the internet of things beginning to blossom’. But if you can enable internet access on something as small as a cell phone, you can do the same with virtually every other object we use on a daily basis.
As a way of illustrating, the idea of the connected smartcar is now a reality, with Google’s Android Auto platform, Apple’s CarPlay, and Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Automotive all vying for a position to allow us to use a car’s onboard computer like we use our smartphones and tablets. These smartcar technologies precede cars from Google and Apple that will bring the IoT to our doorsteps in a big way by the year 2020.
And, another interesting (some might say strange) substantiation of the IoT is already here: social robots. These bots can roll around your home, taking pictures and posting them on social media without you having to raise a finger. You could also use social robots to direct queries to a company’s social media page, or email them, without even clicking a button.
If customers are going to be dependent on the internet to an even greater extent thanks to the IoT, they will be dependent on your organization’s internet presence to a greater extent as well. This begs the question, what can my business do to keep up in a world where customers will depend on the internet even more than they do now?
Mobilizing customer service
Plenty of businesses are still trying to figure out how to optimize for social media, and they’re drooling over the marketing opportunities. If you’re a tech startup, you’re trying to compete with giants who are on top of this stuff. But the big fish aren’t just doing marketing on social media, they’re all over the social media customer service field, too. An entire division at a company like Apple is dedicated to social media customer service.
Humans are social beings by nature. We can expect IoT to make social media a prime place for interacting with, and asking questions of, companies.
This means smaller businesses need to take advantage of a mobile-first approach. As co-founder and CEO of GetFeedback Kraig Swensrud, notes, “With mobile anyone can quickly respond to customer requests—anytime, anywhere.”
This hints at a truth that might be disconcerting for some: IoT and mobilization of the internet are closing the gap between the social world and the business world. The boundaries are disappearing, and so is free time away from work. But the business that doesn’t shy away from this change will come out the winner.
The key is to not make it feel like work. When a friend messages you with a question on Facebook, you’re happy to respond. When a customer messages your business Facebook with a question, even if you don’t have the answer right away, your happiness to respond and acknowledge them will translate into a relationship. You’re putting this relationship first, you’re thinking of this person as someone who could become an online friend. In so doing, you’re assuring this person will come back and talk to you again.
In an age where everything is digital, the personal touch will go a long, long way, because we still want to feel like humans.
Starting small with big data
It seems overwhelming to field all the incoming queries from social media users, not to mention the data generated by online clicks and sensors in objects (the IoT gleans data from such sensors). No matter what type of business you’re in, IoT represents a huge increase in the sheer amount of data.
This data, though, doesn’t have to be a gigantic trove you’re trying to sift through in order to determine a strategy for where your business should go. Rather, the strategy can and should come first. Start small by thinking about what aspect of your business can use optimization. What IT assets do you have that could communicate more efficiently?
In an article about just how big IoT really is, Daniel Burrus presents the case of a bridge that collapsed under too much weight in 2007. If you’re the bridge manufacturer, your assessment indicates there’s a problem with the structural integrity of the materials. You decide to install sensors in the cement. The sensors transmit data you turn into knowledge, information about where cracks are forming, what part of the bridge is the weakest. You collect all this data on the cloud and use an application to sift through it and identify what you want to know. Then you are able to make adjustments before the bridge goes out—you’ve created a smart bridge that tells you where it hurts.
By focusing in on a single thing you want to improve, you’re removing the clutter of useless data. In turn, what you’re working on can receive input from other related objects. The bridge transmits data about potential hazards—such as black ice or an unseen pothole—to a smartcar. The car then uses this data to adjust—to slow down or drive around the pothole. Meanwhile, the city is receiving data from the car and the bridge. The city uses this data to inform drivers about different routes.
You receive traffic data that says less people are using your bridge. You assess why this is happening, and are able to innovate fixes, so that in the future the problems causing a decrease in traffic won’t arise to begin with. Each link in the IoT chain focuses on specifics, from which a bigger picture emerges.
The scenario described above applies to the social media scenario too, in which your business is receiving a massive increase in customer input due to IoT. That, and there’s a ton of data coming in about people’s locations, peoples likes, click-through rate on your page, etc. You access social media analytics tools to work with the data. Meanwhile, you’ve set up sensors in products, you’re analyzing data on phone calls, emails—all this data is in cloud, and there’s a ton of it.
You’ve probably heard of the customer persona tactic. Social media is aiding marketing and customer service greatly in developing personae. The persona is based on demographics like income, age, occupation, sex, and geographical location, as well as hobbies, internet habits, and buying habits. The final piece of the persona puzzle is studying what problems a customer has that need to be solved. Before the IoT, gleaning information about problems was retrospective. We’re only aware of the problems after people have them. Soon, when the IoT is more developed, you’ll be able to get information about problems in real time. Just like in the bridge scenario, you’re thinking ahead of the collapse.
In order to think ahead of the IoT curve, we’ve got to think the same way those early smartphone makers thought. The problem was, customers were not able to use this rising form of communication, email, on a device already capable of handling text. Thinking small and tackling the email issue put in place the first building block for the IoT.
It’s your organization’s turn to put a building block in place. When the Internet of Things comes calling, will you be ready to answer?
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