smart home device with smart phone next to it
PHOTO: Bence ▲ Boros

The potential for the internet of things (IoT) to impact the customer journey is undoubtedly massive.

But how much of an impact do IoT technologies have on the unique journeys that individual customers take with brands today — in 2018? The answer is unclear. That’s because right now, the IoT is primarily having an impact on back-end operations that are often hidden from the customer. They involve manufacturing, distribution and logistical fulfillment. 

IoT doesn’t touch many of the front-end processes that involve interactions between customers and brands — at least not yet. This is likely due to the fact that the IoT is still relatively new.

If you have an older car, watch or mobile device, you aren’t experiencing the full impact of the IoT from a customer journey perspective. If your residence isn’t equipped with the latest in-home automation technologies — systems featuring sensors, cameras and energy-efficiency mechanisms — you don’t deal extensively with the IoT. In the future, however, you will.

IoT technology is by no means a silver bullet, but it is an enabler that can continually improve the journeys that customers take with brands.

Let’s consider three main areas where IoT technology is likely to impact the customer journey for the better in the near future: customer understanding, product knowledge and customer well-being.

Related Article: The IoT May Change the Customer Experience, But Not in the Ways We'd Expect

Increased Customer Understanding

IoT systems represent a powerful source of data. Whether from cars, mobile devices, refrigerators or thermostats, the information that IoT systems collect about how customers use products and services is valuable, especially for companies that are constructing customer journey workflows. Just to be clear, a customer journey workflow is a mapped set of steps, responses and interactions between a brand and a customer.

Many organizations spend a lot of time mapping customer journey workflows. IoT data alone doesn’t allow marketers to construct customer journeys, but it is valuable because it augments data from primary sources. For instance, companies can improve the customer journey if they have access to device data that reveals customers’ preferred channels of interaction, the types of offers that are most relevant to certain individuals, and the times of day when people are most inclined to interact with a company.

IoT data can be used from an analytical perspective as inputs to models, optimization algorithms and business decision rules to help direct customers down appropriate pathways within a customer journey.

IoT data could even give companies insights into customers’ moods or emotions. For instance, IoT data that indicates that I haven’t exercised for a certain number of days may suggest that I am experiencing a period of low energy or low self-esteem. Companies that mine IoT data from emotional intelligence perspective may be able to build brand identities that are more empathetic and customer-centric.

Related Article: Reimagine Customer Service with the IoT

Improved Product Knowledge

We have all heard that IoT data and technologies can be used for practical applications, like predictive maintenance. For example, sensor data indicating that equipment is at risk of failure can trigger automatic alerts notifying users that maintenance is necessary. But IoT data can also provide companies with important information about their products and how they perform in the hands of customers.

IoT applications that track product performance may be especially useful for users and makers of high-end consumer electronics products or other expensive goods. If an expensive imported automobile or revolutionary electronic device has failed twice for a high-value customer and is on the way to failing a third time, the company that sells that product needs to know that so it can be proactive and act. Customers expect that type of responsiveness in today’s marketplace, so having access to real-time product performance information is critical — whether you use that information to contact the customer proactively to discuss the problem or issue an immediate upgrade at no charge. If you don’t have that information, a dissatisfied user may turn into your next ex-customer; if you do, you may be able to nurture a relationship that inspires that customer to become your brand’s best advocate.

A byproduct of improved product knowledge is, of course, the ability to correct flaws in product design.

Related Article: Why the Future of the IoT Depends on Digital Policies

Enhanced Customer Well-Being

One of the most exciting aspects of IoT technology is the fact that it can be used in ways that improve customer well-being.

Customer well-being comes in three forms: health, security and product fulfillment.

From a health perspective, just as IoT systems can be used to monitor industrial equipment and identify maintenance needs, IoT-connected wearable devices can also be used to monitor people’s health and send alerts via mobile devices when, for example, users have low blood sugar levels, irregular heartbeats or high blood pressure.

From a security perspective, devices that monitor households can send alerts when they sense changes in temperature (possibly indicating that a fire has started), moisture (a possible sign of flooding) or weight (which could indicate that an intruder has entered the house).

Finally, from a product fulfillment perspective, IoT systems can send customers alerts when it’s time to refill or replace products, or they can even place refill or replacement orders automatically. Personally, I’m very excited about not having to remember to reorder items that I use regularly but often forget to replenish on my own.

As you can see, a recurring theme throughout this piece is the idea that brands will be able to engage customers in a much more proactive manner as IoT systems become more pervasive. 

Gone are the days of customers having to chase down specific products, or specific people, at a company to ensure that their unique needs are fulfilled. While some folks may miss that level of interaction with big brands, I certainly will not. I look forward to having big companies with large customer service departments work more for us as consumers. After all — we are the customers, right?