The rise of the Internet of Things has been one of the most significant developments for both companies and consumers in recent years.
More and more products are developed with sensors to collect information, process it and make decisions in order to give the user a perfect, personalised experience. Chances are you may already have a connected device yourself, and it won’t be long until they’re common in everyday items from clothes and coffee makers.
So the Internet of Things has already started to transform the relationship between products and customers, and will continue to do so for many years to come. But does it have a role to play for B2B businesses too?
Of course it does, and B2B companies are also going to have to undergo a digital and a human transformation if they want to achieve a fantastic customer experience too.
Could IoT flip the powers in the market?
If you think about a simplified model of the traditional B2B process, it is common for the production company to have an intermediary between them and the end user. What happens is the B2B company’s sales people and customer service agents talk to the intermediary, and it is the intermediary who doing the talking and selling to the end customer.
This presents a challenge for a manufacturer, because it is difficult for them to gather information about how the end user is experiencing their products.
The introduction of sensors is game-changing when it comes to data collection and the flow of information. This data enabled world will flip customer experience in B2B completely in the coming years, feeding the producer of the product with more user information than their intermediary partners.
If you want to optimise the customer experience, it must start with understanding the real customer behaviour, so this flow of information will change a lot.
More than just improved efficiency?
The few B2B companies that have started using the IoT seem to have seen it as a way to increase the efficiency of their processes. But there is another important side to it, and that is customer intimacy.
Once you have the data, you can start to understand usage patterns. This information enables you to optimise the product itself, of course, but you could also look at ideas like pre-emptive maintenance.
The opportunity for B2B companies to invest in a world of perfect timing is huge. Just imagine the increase in service experience it creates among your customers if a manufacturer knows when things break down before they actually break. It would certainly make selling service agreements to customers much more attractive than in a world without data.
A real life example of IoT in action
I was recently at a conference in Denmark and I had the pleasure to talk to the CIO of ISS, one of the largest facility service companies in the world, and an employer of more than five hundred thousand people. You may think their industry would be very traditional and conservative, but the reality is quite the opposite.
ISS have pioneered a project to install sensors in some of the facilities that they maintain. These sensors enable them to learn about how employees work and live in a facility, so they can optimise their service levels at a lower cost.
The IoT has also revolutionised the cleaning of the toilets. In the past, the teams responsible for cleaning toilets were either too early or too late to reach the optimal result, but the flow of data means they can clean these facilities at the perfect moment.
Similarly, with their vending machines, they were often too late or too early to refill the coffee and snack machines, but now they execute that service it at the exact right moment.
So don’t fall into the trap of thinking the Internet of Things is just for B2C companies. It is a really interesting playing field because for the first time in history, B2B companies can get all the data and the usage patterns of the end users that you want.
You just need to think about how you can embrace it to transform your customer experience.
Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is an expert in customer focus in the digital world. He is the author of the award-winning book When Digital Becomes Human, published by Kogan Page, priced £19.99. Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at www.youtube.com/stevenvanbelleghem or visit www.stevenvanbelleghem.com