Customer Support & the Internet of Things

A preliminary thought experiment

Let’s say you are a thing on the Internet of Things…

It’s likely that your friends and neighbors, your co-things, are totally different from you. You’re a red sphere. They’re a blue cylinder. You have different characteristics, different abilities, different needs and — probably — completely different APIs.

Your friendly user would like you all to play together nicely: to enact some kind of dramatic situation, an exchange or conversation.

What happens?

Your friendly user might try cooking up a recipe connecting you to your co-thing using a service like IFTTT or Zapier, which will plug your API endpoints together and hope for the best…

When that goes wrong (which it often does), who you gonna call?

Does your friendly user open a support ticket with Red Sphere Manufacturing Corp, Blue Cylinder MegaBiz, or IFTTT/Zapier — or all three?

Now multiply that by a million…

An article on Harvard Business Review elaborates the key points:

…there are already tens of thousands of different ways that these devices and services might connect and interact with one another in a single home or small business on any given day or week. That creates countless, unpredictable service points that represent a very complicated technical headache for end users. Just imagine the number of phone calls, chat sessions, text messages and self-help searches that will be necessary to reconcile consumers’ configuration, activation, integration, backup, and security needs across this diverse network of devices by 2020. Now imagine how difficult it could be to establish and maintain a positive customer experience among all that possibility, especially if the definition, scope, and delivery of technical assistance and support don’t change from the current parameters.

Automation is a requirement

Once the IoT really ramps up, paying actual humans to answer the billions of resulting support tickets will become prohibitively expensive.

Let’s narrow the problem even further. What if you’re having a problem with red sphere itself, or blue cylinder (before you even try to connect them)?

You know from experience that red sphere’s customer support team is both rapid and relatively caring. But to reach anyone with half a brain or heart at blue cylinder corp’s HQ — well, you may as well forget about it. Been there, failed that.

Meanwhile, in Support Utopia…

…products ARE their own support. It’s baked into them. You only need to contact a human in absolute worst case scenarios.

Problem with red sphere? Open up its chatbot and ask it what’s wrong.

Need to know how to access part of blue cylinder’s functionality? Just ask it a quesion and everything will be revealed.

So let’s imagine on our Internet of Things, that each thing — in addition to its basic functions (and API)— also has a support layer and chatbot explaining and helping you troubleshoot those functions.

Got a problem? Talk to the diamond!

Since these things are connected though, they have to also be able to communicate with each other — despite their differences.

How should bots communicate with each other?

I asked a question about this on Jelly to help flesh out the thought-experiment, and they replied:

I haven’t heard of an inter-app protocol or API that allows bots to communicate with each other. Some companies like Telegram, Slack, and Gupshup are likely closest to making that happen… and I’d imagine Facebook and Google are hot on their heels.
That kind of functionality might be most useful as part of the W3C spec, defined as a core internet protocol. I bet something like that will happen in the not-too-distant future.

Via the above, I landed on this Venture Beat article discussing just that:

“In the bot-to-bot era, however, each software application can talk to each other system, regardless of whether they have an actual API integration in place.”

That is, the bot of each thing will be able to communicate in natural language to the bot of every other thing. The Internet of Things would be an internet of conversations between things… Bots snapchatting each other. Puking rainbows.

Things could, in effect, ask other things for help (as though they were a user), accessing each other’s chatbots and filing tickets directly from one another’s products.

To be continued…