It’s been said that of all technology trends, the Internet of Things (IoT) will give us the most disruption over the next five years. Industry analyst Gartner predicts that IoT devices will encompass more than 6.4 billion connected objects in 2016, a 30 percent rise over 2015. Likewise, Intel states there will be roughly 26 smart objects per human by 2020.  

As an ‘IT guy’ for a global Business Process Outsourcer (BPO) serving the contact center and IT outsourcing needs of top global brands, these stats and statements get my attention. As many of our customers grapple with how to make their products smarter (that is, embedded with technology that connects to internet and communicates with other devices), I’m often left with a sense that it’s the calm before the IoT storm.   

Whether consumers have heard of IoT or not, they will experience it increasingly in their daily lives in the near future. The challenge for contact center executives will be how to manage all of this new connectivity without adding customer service complexity.   

Supporting the IoT ecosystem

Let’s take smart homes as an example. While the industry is still in its infancy, the number of smart home products being introduced into the market is growing rapidly. Major brands like Nest, Samsung, General Electric, Whirlpool and Philips now offer smart products (intelligent thermostats, security systems, smoke detectors, appliances or light bulbs) that enable you to control your abode from Android or iOS apps.

" The challenge for contact center executives will be how to manage the new connectivity without adding customer service complexity "

But to create a truly smart home, at some point these devices will need to talk to each other – and when they do, who supports it? Are customers expected to call each manufacturer independently to figure out the piece of the puzzle that is broken? Or can they call one support center with customer service representatives capable of owning the entire product ecosystem? That will be one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for IoT in the years to come.   

Brand-building opportunities with IoT

At first blush, IoT is likely to make things a lot more complicated in the call center–culturally, operationally, and of course, technically. Many will view IoT as one big customer service headache. But at the same time, IoT also presents a huge brand-building opportunity for those companies that embrace owning the full IoT customer experience. It all depends on how you look at it.

IoT challenges 


IoT opportunities  


The need to manage and integrate the explosion of customer and product data coming from connected devices into call center infrastructure  


An opportunity to leverage this new data for better customer experiences (e.g., proactive support, better consumer insights for sales, less time capturing customer verification data)  


Investing in the support infrastructure and staffing resources to react to issues in real time or on a proactive basis across all support channels 


Enables the ability to identify gaps, issues, or opportunities to proactively resolve customer issues. And further builds the business case for omni-channel support–creating consistent cross-channel experiences 


The need to train agents to support more complex interactions; potentially servicing not just one product but the entire product ecosystem. This may require more specialized customer service/BPO support 


Agents have the opportunity to “wow” and delight customers by owning the entire customer problem, not just one device-specific part. It also opens the door to tiered levels of support, including the business opportunity to add value to standard service offerings 



Call center efficiency and performance metrics may need to be revisited 


When it comes to owning a customer’s problem involving numerous connected devices, traditional call metrics like Average Handle Time (AHT) will be a thing of the past. Ditching AHT helps put customers first and will better drive other metrics like First Call Resolution (FCR) 


Data privacy and security are greater concerns 



Transparent and open communications about how brands are protecting this data and building security into the products themselves can build consumer trust. It’s an opportunity to arm call center agents with the appropriate information and messaging to explain how customer information is protected 


Building upon these challenges and opportunities, customer service organizations, including the BPOs that support them, will be expected to tackle significantly more complex customer interactions–especially since IoT will mean more than just connecting devices; it will also mean connecting disparate brands, like having to support an Apple iPhone connecting to a Samsung Smart Fridge. 

In order to support the desired brand experience, agents will need to be innovative and resourceful.  This means working with partners who care about team member engagement and tenure. After all, it’s the most experienced and passionate agents who deliver the best customer experience outcomes. Further, the technology required to support this environment will need to connect agents to customers in new ways, empowering them to own these complex customer service issues in any contact channel. There’s a brave new IoT world headed our way, and with it comes tremendous opportunity for brands to establish themselves as clear leaders in the IoT ecosystem–starting with how they support their customers.