Why A Customer Is Never A 'Thing'

Rachel Lane looks at why the IoT could create customers that are just processes


The Internet of Things is a great way of delivering added business value to existing products and services, or can and likely will, evolve into a whole new way of interacting and doing business.

In some ways it is possible that you will improve your relationship with your customer whilst at the same time offering less physical interaction. The question here is 'will the customer feel more loyal to you if you are delivering this service in a more personalized but less personal way'?

Ultimately if you are delivering happiness or giving the customer the gift of time or better organization, the benefit is likely to resonate and you have the opportunity to create an audience without necessarily offering greater engagement.

Think BIG!

During the start-up phase of deciding what your IoT product or service will be, it is key to think big, understand the ultimate limitations but equally not underestimate a wider offering of integrations with other services and applications.

Thinking small may start with a car insurer providing a driving monitor to reward good driving behaviour with lower premiums. Thinking big might be that same insurer monitor linking to the car's on-board system which shows that in the event of an accident and the airbags being deployed, the insurer is immediately informed. This in turn triggers an alert to a next of kin whilst simultaneously connecting with the passenger health wristband to show vital signs and, in the event in a severe drop in blood pressure or failure of other vital signs, an ambulance can be called to the scene using the monitor GPS. Believe it or not, the infrastructure for this scenario is all in place, we just haven’t got it connected yet.

This thinking may require substantial education and evangelism, both horizontally across functions and vertically to leadership. In addition to creating an understanding of what IoT is,it’s critical to communicate its value, potential, risks, and ecosystem roadmap implications. Once the roadmap is established we can understand the interoperability needed to deliver the solution and also the type of embedded reporting and feedback into technology workflows.

Once this is understood you can focus on the data by working with analysts who will responsible for listening, measuring and sharing the data and then look at data governance which should not be underestimated.

If it's a Thing, call it a thing, but don't call it a Customer

This is usually the point when the business may look at the 'thing' being the customer instead of the end user, remember, who is the one that buys the IoT product in the first place?

This concept is still a struggle for me, a customer is a living breathing thing, if it isn't then we are in scary territory where machines have learning behaviour and are able to make decisions independent of a controller. I accept that things can transact today, a good example being HP instant ink for printers that can automatically detect low ink and send a cartridge replacement without human intervention but this is still ultimately managed by the HP customer. I doubt HP actually consider printers as customers per se.

I also accept that my washing machine may in the future request a direct service call should it have a fault, but ultimately I still have the ability to turn off this facility and therefore I am still in charge, and still the customer. Don’t forget that today’s customer wants you to know them, a thing doesn’t care a jot, so I prefer to leave with thoughts that things are indeed in charge at the door of Hollywood, but you will hear about customers being 'things' as you investigate this topic further.


Read next:

Working At The Boundaries Of Aesthetics And Inference