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A funny thing happened in the week leading up to the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia, where I live. No, I wasn’t invited to any of the VIP events. I was too busy talking with multiple customer service branches of a major home appliance manufacturer. One of their reps claimed that they could not get a technician to my house for over a week because the Pope was in town. While it felt like the tech was equipped with outdated tools like this tourist's map in St. Peter’s square, the whole experience made me wonder - how could the Internet of Things (IoT) have made this better?

So yes, I started thinking about this as a distraught consumer – and mother – who was going on 3+ days without a refrigerator and facing down another 4. But if I turn that perspective around and look at it from the manufacturer’s point of view, how could they use the IoT to make me a loyal, lifelong consumer? Because when you really think about it, how many refrigerators - or other major appliances for that matter – does one person buy in their lifetime? Not many, which means the price of buying my loyalty is low relative to the rewards.

To start, the customer service team could have had more accurate forecasts of their technicians availability. I had arrived at day 3 with a broken refrigerator after 2 technicians did not show up. When they claimed they could not get another tech to my house for another 4 days, due to the Pope’s visit, all I could see – besides red - is a Batmobile type radar showing the Popemobile’s location. At a minimum, the brand should invest in an IoT capability to route and prioritize the calls. This is an industry standard for logistics companies like UPS and FedEx. Takeaway #1: In the digital economy, all brands need to identify the logistics required to retain their customer base.

Once the tech actually made the service call, it was clear that the call could have been avoided completely. This was a brand new fridge which had a faulty fan. If the fridge had IoT diagnostic capabilities, the manufacturer could have mailed the replacement fan to me before the unit stopped working. Since it took the tech less than 5 minutes to swap out the fan, it’s likely that this could have been handled as a self-service repair. Takeaway #2: In the digital economy, all brands need to use a triage approach to customer service – I would have much rather tried a DIY repair on day 1, and then waited for a tech if I was unsuccessful, than be at the mercy of an anonymous 800 number call center for 7 days straight. 

At the end of the day, the level of customer service we receive is going to be driven by profitability. Just because we want or like a whiteglove level of service doesn’t mean the brands we engage with will try to meet our expectations. However, brands are leaving money on the table when they don’t differentiate their approach by customer or product category. Takeaway #3: As brands choose their customer service approach, the IoT can enable them to cost-effectively differentiate and improve their level of service.

This experience is just one example of how a brand could digitize to run simple and run better. To learn more about how major brands such as Whirlpool, Harley-Davidson, and others are utilizing IoT to run simple, visit this IoT resource center and the SAP Retail Forum Resource Center featuring customer speakers.