February 18, 2014
The Internet of Things' Place in the Contact Center
By Tracey E. Schelmetic
The “Internet of Things,” or the idea that inanimate devices and sensors can be linked wirelessly into large, information-rich networks that take advantage of the intelligence that comes from shared data, is either an Orwellian nightmare or a dream business opportunity, depending on your perspective. Do you like the idea of your refrigerator letting the manufacturers know it has a flaw without your knowledge? Do you think your car ought to be able to initiate the process of a service appointment directly with your garage or auto dealership? Do you see value in allowing utility companies to be able to collect data about your electricity use in order to better understand how to build better conservation programs?
While the first two scenarios may still be mostly in the future, the latter – using smart meter data analytics to better understand how populaces use energy – is already in practice, mostly thanks to the fact that millions of Americans already have smart meters, or Web-connected energy meters, on their homes. This number is only expected to rise. By some estimates, by the year 2020, the number of Internet connected items is estimated to be about 30 billion (yes, “billion” with a “b.”)
While it’s not hard to see how this benefits equipment manufacturers, service providers, utility companies, auto dealerships, retailers and others, not many people have yet asked the question, “How does it benefit consumers?” The answer to this starts in the contact center, which is undergoing a revolution of its own.
Virtualization has been happening slowly but surely in the contact center. Agents are spread over more locations, sometimes even working from home, and the contact center has become more of an idea today than a place. It’s an idea that is tied together by integrated technologies that allow functions to happen across networks, across geographic locations and across communications channels. This allows companies to offer better, more personalized and more focused service to customers at lower costs. Imagine then, what adding the kind of data that can be supplied by devices to the arsenal of intelligence possessed by the contact center.
Rather than relying on a non-technical customer to describe a problem with an appliance, a piece of office equipment, a vehicle or other device, the connected nature of the equipment can allow for self-diagnosis and independent communication with the contact center. Contact centers could even use the data to initiate valuable outbound customer contact that could boost the relationship.
There may be barriers before this can all happen, according to a recent industry outlook paper by contact center analytics solutions provider Calabrio’s (News - Alert) Tom Goodmanson, and foremost among them may be the lack of standards that will connect smart devices to contact center systems.
“Touchpoints are going to multiply and standards will become critical,” writes Goodmanson. “As the Internet of Things marches on, sensors and smart technology will be built into more and more products (many of which we can’t even imagine yet). The problem is that today these things are created with their own protocols, for a specific purpose, to function in one specific environment—meaning they may not be compatible with other things. As standards are developed by the technology community, this vast network of connections will become incredibly useful.”
Ultimately, the “Internet of Things” technology may wind up using the contact center as the nerve center and clearing house for much of its value. Should this happen, the contact center of 2020 may look very different than it does today.
Edited by Alisen Downey