The Internet of Things creates many new types of customer touchpoints and communication channels, which can fundamentally change how you manage the customer relationship.
By Glenn Johnson*
Traditional customer relationship management (CRM) systems focus our attention on building a comprehensive view of customer information. One-to-one marketing pioneers like Don Peppers and Martha Rogers wrote, in their book Managing Customer Relationships: A Strategic Framework, that "the objective is to integrate channels of communication so that a 360-degree view of the customer can be created."
The theory behind these systems is that employees in sales, marketing and service roles can delight customers by referencing past interactions they or their colleagues have had with them. As customers increasingly interact with brands online, much of this digital memory and response has become automated, not through human touchpoints, but rather via automated web experiences.
The Internet of Things brings an entirely new meaning to a 360-degree view of the customer. In fact, it is more literally true now than ever. Through networks of cameras, sensors, controllers and mobile devices, touchpoints are no longer limited to humans and computer screens. Temperature, motion and vibration sensors, as well as machine vision, digital audio, speech-to-text and a thousand other technologies, are converging to provide a customer's digital footprint that is more real-world and less digital-reality every day.
Building a full picture of this new type of customer journey is extremely challenging, due to the integration required to tie in all of these new technologies with existing software. But by recording, managing and integrating customer information, whether it comes from product sensors or CRM systems, companies can now better track the customer journey during all stages of the product life cycle.
This approach creates the Internet of Customers.
Big players have already made inroads into incorporating IoT data into their information systems. Pitney Bowes can now connect operational information from its machines at customer locations to proactively identify, diagnose and resolve asset service issues before clients are even aware of a problem. And Coca-Cola uses data from connected vending machines to gain valuable understanding about where and when to advertise.
There are possibilities for retail applications as well. As shoppers move through a store, in-store beacons can be employed to check their location, purchase history and loyalty status, triggering discount offers for relevant merchandise on the spot.
In the construction industry, modular homes manufacturers can use IoT data from each component to streamline production and assembly, as well as provide real-time reports to homeowners regarding product delivery times.
Internet of Customer Challenges
The Internet of Customers is a game-changer in the sense of enabling new business value, but it does create a systems integration and business process orchestration challenge. IoT systems can be viewed as an overlay on existing IT systems that needs to integrate CRM, other legacy systems and new connected devices. With multiple platforms, numerous protocols and large numbers of application programming interfaces (APIs), IoT systems integration can be a challenge. In addition, as the IoT of Customers connects more devices together, it provides more decentralized entry points for malware, creating more complexity and new security risks.
Middleware, in the form of a systems-integration platform, can provide an interface between all of the different systems to provide a unified programming model to interact between the devices and legacy systems. Providing a common solution to data integration, management and security issues increases efficiency and reduces risk. In addition, built-in adapters to third-party solutions and development tools can speed up the process of creating IoT applications.
As we enter the era of the Internet of Things, CRM solutions will evolve and take customer service to the next level, by enabling enterprises to better understand their customers and offer proactive support.
Having a better understanding of the customer journey is the best way in which organizations can build a strong brand and lasting customer loyalty. Those that leverage the IoT to gain insights into each step of the customer journey can gain a competitive advantage, and having tools to simplify and speed up the process can make this capability available to businesses of all sizes, and not just the giants.
*Glenn Johnson is the senior VP of Magic Software Enterprises Americas. He has presented his views on the Internet of Things at dozens of industry meetings and conferences, and his interviews about software industry issues have been aired on NBC's Today Show, as well as E! News and Discovery.
Originally posted at Internet of Things Journal (IoT)