“The Internet is running out of IP addresses.”
This was the blunt assessment of my networking lab professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology ten years ago. It turns out that the largest network of all — the capital-I Internet — was never designed to accommodate the sheer volume of devices logging onto it. In the early ’80s when the internet protocol was developed, no one considered an Internet of billions of devices for a network that was used only by higher education and government. They almost certainly didn’t conceive of a network that would require addresses for household appliances. Why would my thermostat, security system, or bottle of prescription medication need to be connected to the Internet?
But my, those wheels of progress do turn quickly! The future has arrived, bringing with it the “Internet of Things” — a universe of devices with all the software, sensors, and network connections that promise to make our lives better, but what kind of experience is this providing? What can companies do to bridge the gaps between these technologies and people who have yet to adopt them?
Surprise and Delight with the Power of Data
“Knowledge is power” or so the saying goes. In the era of the Internet of Things — where devices collect data every hour of every day — this statement couldn’t be truer. One company uniquely positioned to rise to the challenge of understanding all of this data is Google.
Ranked as number 15 on Tenet’s Top 100 Most Powerful Brands of 2015, Google is an old pro in the tech industry for gathering reams of information and turning it into something useful. Just look at their main product: their search engine dominates the market to such an extent that the company name is now used as a verb. But now, Google has turned its attention outside of the World Wide Web.
With Google’s acquisition of Nest — known for its self-programmable thermostat — the search giant did more than buy a company that manufactures amazing temperature controls. They purchased permission to enter our homes and help themselves to the “data cookie jar.” Google can now, unintrusively, collect data on our behavior as we go about our daily business. Combined with the aforementioned expertise in understanding that data, this acquisition is a natural fit that has endless possibilities.
Think about self-monitored home security systems. Such systems could learn your daily movements, monitor your Google Calendar to determine when you’ll be away, and connect to your Android device to send notifications in the event suspicious activity near your home is detected. Taking that to the next level, it’s easy to imagine a self-securing home, one that locks itself as you leave for work in the morning. Perhaps the system could unlock the door for your teenager who once again misplaced their key, or it can open the garage in order to accept that Amazon Prime package. These are just some examples of how the Internet of Things can delight customers and, potentially, win over those reluctant to embrace it.
What about customers who are uncertain of allowing data to be gathered about them in order to make this magic happen?
Maintain Trust through Transparency
In the age of domestic surveillance, drones, and customer data breaches, the idea of an Internet of Things collecting personal data can feel intrusive for many late-adopters. Yes, these new technologies open up the possibilities for an improved life, but at what cost? Customers will — quite rightly — have questions they want answered, such as:
- How much information is being collected?
- What are they doing with this information?
- Are they selling my personal data to others?
- Is this all safe and secure?
These questions are real and need to be addressed to make it easier for customers to adopt. The path that companies can take to get ahead of any negative perceptions is through the often neglected, but always recommended, principle of transparency.
Companies specializing in the Internet of Things must always be clear about what these technologies are doing for their customers, and what those customers are providing in exchange. By setting easy-to-understand expectations early, customers won’t be unpleasantly surprised later. Privacy and personal data are understandably sensitive topics for consumers, so invest the time and effort to foster trust with your organization and your connected devices.
Trust is an important aspect of your communication, but it shouldn’t end there. An overall engagement strategy, or lack thereof, can have a lasting impact in the faith customers have in your company and its devices.
Afford Customers Ways to Engage with Your Company
Companies should maintain open communications with their users. This means providing the right support through the right channels should something go awry. Phone, social, live chats… it’s your customers’ choice. Just make sure to be there. There have already been examples of how the Internet of Things can be a nightmare for some people, such as the viral video of how a house outfitted with Nest Protect was plagued by unstoppable false alarms. If this example were to happen to a group of late-adopters who had no one to turn to, you run the risk of alienating large groups of customers, making them that much more resistant to change in the future.
In addition to engaging with your customers, consider how your customers will be engaging with their Internet of Things devices.
Empower Your Customers with Greater Control
Technology is there to serve people, not the other way around. Provide clear, customizable options for behaviors and notifications over which users would like to have control. In addition to customization, design for an easy maintenance. This includes things like software updates that will inevitably come along with having more devices in the home.
The Internet of Things is about making life easier, but there are still very significant hurdles to overcome. How do you continuously amaze while still respecting privacy and maintaining trust? Those who have succeeded will engage with their customers by showing the many benefits of the Internet of Things in their daily lives, and the future is still very much up-in-the-air for many customers.
Image: Torkild Retvedt