How the Internet of Things will create faster than real-time customer service

13th Feb 2015

The ever increasing capabilities of technology and the possibilities of the digital world have had notable effect on the expectations of customers over the last 20 years. We are all becoming less patient consumers, and people want faster, easier and more fun interactions with both companies and brands.

The development of technology is only set to accelerate, and I believe we will see more technological change in the next 10 years than we have seen in the last 50 years. If the technological improvements of the last 20 years have made us more demanding customers, just imagine the kind of impact another two or three decades of further development will have on customer experience.

The rise of the Internet of Things

For many years, mine workers used to take canaries down to the coal face with them. The miners knew that the moment that the canaries stopped whistling there were poisonous gases in the mine, signalling that it was time to get out. Fortunately (for the miners at least) these poisonous gases killed the bird before the miners themselves were affected, which made the canaries a perfect warning mechanism and one that saved the lives of many miners.

The technological development of sensors is the modern day equivalent of canaries in mines. Many of the devices you use every day will already have sensors, and in the not-too-distant future there will be sensors just about everywhere you imagine, from everyday items like clothes and coffee makers, the places we go like motorways and supermarkets, and maybe even on neighbouring planets in our solar system.

The role of these sensors is to collect information, process it and then make decisions. As increasingly demanding consumers having technology to help make these informed decisions is invaluable. In fact, they will become so important that some experts estimate that by 2020 the sensor market will be worth $29bn, and Gartner predicts that by this same year some 26 billion consumer products with integrated sensors will have been sold.

Going from reactive to real-time to faster than real-time customer service

The canaries in the mines were certainly not a high tech solution to a problem, but this was actually a real life example of faster than real-time customer service. These canaries solved a problem before it happened – if it had been reactive customer service it would have been worthless in the mines, as if people die, there is no solution anymore.

For most of us in the business world, customer service is generally still reactive. If a customer comes across a problem they will reach out and contact the company by telephone, mail or email to get the problem solved. Increasingly over the last five years however, we have started to see more and more examples of real time customer service. With this, if people face a problem they can now get an instant solution via an app, a self-service site or social media.

In the future, however, people will come to expect customer service that is faster than real-time. Businesses will be expected to solve a customer’s problem before the customer even detects that there is a problem, which could lead to customer contact centres that only do outbound communication, pushing solutions towards clients.

“Faster than real-time customer service” may seem unrealistic to some, but if every device has a sensor in it which is connected to the web companies can monitor the performance of their devices and solve problems before they occur.

Examples of companies that are working towards faster than real-time possibilities

To show faster than real time isn’t a completely futuristic idea, there are several examples of companies already experimenting with it.

Premium electric car company Tesla now send their drivers a proactive message a week before a problem will occur, which not only saves the drivers time but also increases the safety of the customer. A great example of a connected device, a Tesla car is effectively a group of sensors that are all connected, which allows them to create a service level that is higher than most ‘traditional’ premium car brands are able to offer at this moment.

Siemens healthcare monitor all of the devices that they have sold into hospitals. They then have a dashboard which gives Siemens insights into the performance of each of the devices, allowing them to fix a problem before it occurs. Clearly hospitals and healthcare is a field in which you cannot afford for devices to break down and this monitoring and dashboard provides invaluable peace of mind for customers.

KLM has now moved to create a team that is specifically focussed on solving passengers’ problems before the passenger discovers the issue. For example, if someone leaves their iPad on board a KLM plane, it is the job of this “Sherlock” team to return the iPad before the passenger even misses it. At Schiphol airport KLM also now use beacons to communicate gate changes proactively to passengers.

Faster than real-time customer service is starting to become a reality, and the more companies experiment with the concept, the higher the customer expectations will be. Companies need to consider how the rise of sensors will impact their business or could risk offering a customer experience that is out-of-date with people’s expectations.

Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is author of The Conversation Company and The Conversation Manager, and his new book, When Digital Becomes Human, will be published by Kogan Page in April 2015. Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe, subscribe to his videos at  or visit

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