The Changing Landscape for Consumer Devices and Customer Service: A View of CES2015

Jan 19, 2015

 

On the consumer electronics front, I need a wearable that I can program to warn me in early Fall that I need to register for the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and then put in on my calendar.  In the decade I’ve missed going, I’ve always regretted it, but I would get on with the rush of January work and be done with it. However, if Twitter, which registered 700,000 tweets by shows’-end is representative of the buzz, I missed a lot. This year the Twitter feed was endless. Each time I pulled up Tweetdeck the #CES2015 column would erupt and distract me, bringing sadness at all the goodies I missed.  Next year I vow to go.

 

So why was this year different? Previously it was difficult to remember to book because CES isn’t normally front and center with contact centers or speech technologies; my primary focus. But as I’ve broadened my coverage, so has CES. In the past it was hard to justify going to a show for consumers focusing on electronics, but with the laser focus on the Customer Experience, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), and a plethora of other consumer/customer service facets, suddenly CES is a justifiable destination for a contact center analyst.

 

CES also plants the seeds for what consumers and businesses will adopt, and as we have seen in recent years, this drives changes in customer care. For instance, the rapid rise of mobility, and explosion of mobile devices initiated the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement at work, which helped drive creation of mobile devices for use on the contact center floor.  Consumers, heavily armed with new mobile toys, created a change in the way companies connect with and provide customer service to consumers as well, ushering in a wealth of vendor offerings of true mobile customer care applications, rather than just websites accessible on mobile devices.  A more mobile and connected world is also helping drive us to the Internet of Things, from connected cars to home devices, changing how we deliver customer support, while simultaneously heightening the complexity of technical support.

 

Robots

 

There were several areas of interest at CES directly impacting customer service. Let’s start with the sometimes creepiest, but fun one; robots.  I’ve written many times over the year about virtual assistants, and variations, including robots and how they can be used in customer service, particularly retail and healthcare. CES didn’t disappoint. Future Robot Company, Ltd., founded ‘to develop smart service robots creating the human-robot co-existence world’, showed off the Furo-S (Smart) robot. Furo-S can be deployed in stores and other places to do things such as meet and greet, take mobile payments, or provide infotainment, etc. Don’t laugh. Think of it as a moving kiosk. Speaking of which, Lowes Innovation Labs demonstrated a similar concept, including OSHBot, which is a robot “deployed” at its Orchard Supply Stores in San Jose, CA, that roams the aisles providing customer service help to customers on a screen, with the option to video conference in a human expert. While I’m not entirely sold yet on the retail aspect, I still contend that robots definitely can improve the Customer Experience. For instance, patients in remote locations or with special circumstances can be assisted by these assistants, and are successfully being used as companions in nursing homes, not only for a social aspect, but to assist with tasks such as medication reminders, etc.

 

IoT

 

The Internet of Things was bigger this year than last. The Connected Home was a highlight of CES, with numerous vendors showing off connected home displays, such as Qualcomm. It showcased a home with a complete connected kitchen, with everything in the home communicating from home gaming systems and entertainment, to home security systems and appliances that send information to each other or other devices, including sending information such as alerts and reminders. Qualcomm even demonstrated changing the color on LED bulbs in lamps via WiFi.

 

The IoT is driving change with the contact center.  As higher levels of functionality and technology are added to consumer electronics, a higher the level of support is required. More bells and whistles increase the complexity of technical support, while at the same time; devices are more capable of providing much needed information to technical support personnel.

 

Frost & Sullivan recently sized an emerging market space that encompasses advanced tools to support agents dealing with complex technical and remote support issues.  Support Interaction Optimization (SIO) is inclusive of a number of key categories of tools that can be used to optimize customer support, as well as those geared specifically for technical support, including customer web self-service, remote diagnostics and support, guided resolution, and analytics and performance management. Success in SIO hinges on providing the right balance of live and self-service assistance while leveraging the proper tools to effectively guide agents through complex interactions.  Already we are seeing a number of vendors with tools geared to this market, including Support.com, Verint, eGain, and Salesforce.com. The number of products that will require higher technical support is increasingly year over year at CES, so we expect to see these and others continue to build out more applications and suites of products to address the increasingly more complex customer support environment.

 

Connected Cars

 

It might not seem readily apparent that Connected automobiles are related to customer service, but just think of them as big mobile devices, and yet another customer interaction channel. Certainly the speech driven software used today that enables drivers to do everything from play a song to adjust temperature control is just right for accessing customer support as well as requiring it. Today’s car’s include “Siriesque” features from GPS to location-based services. Many were on display at CES.

 

Wearables

 

Wearable devices are huge this year at CES. Providing a perfect marriage of customer demand for information and mobility – one could say “in fitness and in health, till battery charge do us part.” Personally, I’ve been glued to a Fitbit since the end of December and I love it. However, not just fitness devices, wearables have a place in customer service and the contact center.

 

For instance, following the Federal mandates promoting wellness in healthcare, wearables can be an invaluable asset in home health care and remote monitoring, but also in simply focusing consumers on health, slowly shifting them from passive to active participants in preventative care and wellness. Already there are wearables targeted at all age groups, fitness levels and many health care concerns.  And as referenced above, the more devices, the more need for customer support. Besides ones focused on pure fitness, there are also those targeted at checking pulse, blood glucose measurements, alcohol consumption and emotion, among other things.

 

The later provides an interesting twist on something we have been seeing in the contact center headset market, which is expanding capabilities for contact center supervisors to get more information on agents.  For example, in my October Frost.com blog on Plantronics I wrote, “Additionally, Plantronics has written into the firmware a simple algorithm to alert a supervisor if both the transmit and receive channels are active simultaneously, which can denote things like an agent talking over a customer, or indicate difficulty in the agent or customer hearing each other.” But imagine that we could also build sensors into headsets to tell us more about emotional state. While a little bit ‘Big Brotherish’, this a path that might give us some pretty interesting and actionable data on how agents are doing and interacting with customers.

 

Big Data and Analytics

 

Finally, it shouldn’t be overlooked that all of the thousands of devices, gadgets, and other wares shown at CES are all capable of transmitting vast quantities of data back to the companies, creating, managing and selling them. In the era of Big Data analytics, this data will increasingly be harnessed to feed back to these companies ways to improve products, provide better service, and ultimately improve the Customer Experience.

 


Nancy Jamison

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Nancy Jamison is a Principal Analyst within Customer Contact within the Digital Transformation group at Frost & Sullivan. She covers all aspects of customer contact including cloud and premise-based systems and applications in the core areas of inbound/outbound routing, IVR, Workforce Optimization, and recording and analytics, with a particular focus on peripheral and emerging areas that impact the Customer Experience. These include speech technologies, omni-channel customer care, Big Data, digital marketing, Back Office Workforce Optimization, and Support Interaction Optimization.


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