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Smart tech best practices: why marketing and support need to be joined at the hip

What Las Vegas hotel would you rather stay at? The Venetian or the Rio? Most people would say the Venetian. But business book author MJ Demarco would argue vehemently with you. In his book “The Millionaire Fastlane,” a book he wrote in 2011, he relates his experience staying at both hotels.

The Rio is an older hotel, a little frayed at the edges. Not the kind of hotel a high roller would normally want to be seen at. But DeMarco was pleasantly surprised at the excellent service he received. The friendly greetings and caring treatment from hotel staff. How they went out of their way to make sure his stay was comfortable.

Then he transferred to The Venetian, one of Vegas’ most spectacular, shiny hotels with all the right touches: opulent architecture with “ornate columns and corbels, lavish chandeliers, and other affluent appointments that scream royalty.”

Customer Journey Support Checklist

But Demarco said he would never stay there again. The service “sucked” as he so succinctly said. Housekeeping was unresponsive. Hold times for hotel services unacceptable. Staff were robotic. Prices were exorbitant. You get the picture.

Now what does a story about a stay in Sin City have to do with customer service in the consumer IoT industry? Plenty.

In an industry that is still at the beginning states, where technology is sexy and cutting edge but still somewhat unstable, and copycat products are nipping at your heals, your biggest differentiator is your service.

In fact your customer support processes and support people are probably your biggest competitive differentiators.

If you deliver outstanding support and treat your customers as VIPs throughout their experience with you, you’ll make marketing less relevant!

Marketing Doesn’t Really Start Until You Get A Customer

So why are marketing and customer support at consumer IoT companies joined at the hip? It boils down to my favorite definition of marketing.

First, what is your definition of marketing? At a recent conference for startups I posed this question to the audience during my talk. Most people’s answer was a version of this: “To create awareness for your product.”

That’s a start, but it’s incomplete. Peter Drucker, the 20th Century’s foremost management guru said:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Fast-forward to today, Ryan Deiss, Co-Founder and CEO of Digitalmarketer.com said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that marketing is to help move the customer along the journey with your company, including (and I would say especially) after they become a customer.

In his epic article Customer Value Optimization: How to Build an Unstoppable Business, Deiss explains the economics behind a McDonald’s Hamburger. He asks whether you and I would be shocked if we found out that McDonald’s makes almost no profit from the sale of their hamburgers.

Source: https://www.digitalmarketer.com/blog/customer-value-optimization/

The cost of their hamburger barely covers the cost of getting a customer in the door.

Then they invented the value meal.

While they make an average profit of only $0.18 on each hamburger, when they upgrade you to fries and a Coke, they make an extra $1.14 in profit. In total they make a profit of $1.32 per value meal, which is a whopping 7.3 times more profit than the sale of a single hamburger.

It’s in McDonald’s best interest to sell more per customer. But is that it? No. They want you to keep coming back and buy more and more.

In fact, the Customer Value Optimization concept Deiss describes is all about marketing to customers once they have become a customer.

Support Feeds the Consumer IoT Marketing Pipeline

If marketing doesn’t really begin until after you get a customer, how does support at a consumer IoT company help with the marketing function?

There are four ways.

Market Research

Because of the complexity and maturity of the innovative technologies in the home tech and wearables spaces, there are infinite reasons for customers to open a support ticket.

Through data analytics that tracks and produces intelligence on support trends, support can identify:

  1. Common user errors
  2. Common requests
  3. Common product errors

Product marketing can use this data to quickly improve product functionality, correct errors, improve user interfaces, and invent new features.

cta blueprint call

Sell more stuff

Customer support can design automated workflows to sell more, in addition to helping solve problems. When is a customer more open to a product recommendation that when they’ve gotten a resolution to their issue?

Ensure customers become net promoters

In the #FlipMyFunnel Account-Based Marketing methodology diagram, the base of the flipped funnel is the “Advocate” layer. This is increasingly becoming more and more common, as customer support and customer service are quickly becoming the distinguishing feature for winning companies.

Your best marketers are your ecstatically happy customers. They share on social media. They rave on forums. They tell their friends and neighbors about you.

Source: https://flipmyfunnel.com/

Discover new use cases and “personas” for your product

Finally, customer support can discover new use cases or “personas” for your marketing department to use in their marketing materials. Since customer support is on the front line of a business, they are the ones who see how your product get used in your customers’ day-to-day.

Make Your Customer Support A Foundational Part of Your Marketing Efforts

I hope I have convinced you that customer support and marketing are joined at the hip – and that they are (or should be) a foundational part of your marketing effort.

As Forbes recently said, customer service is the new marketing.

As an innovative company in an industry that still has a long way to go before reaching the “early majority” phase, constant collaboration and joint product development with your customers is a must.

Keeping them happy and channeling their complaints, errors and opinions into a continuous feedback loop between support and marketing can put you at the top of the game.

And if you’re having a bad day with negative complaints hitting you on all sides after you’ve introduced a new product to the marketing, do as marketer Jay Baer says: “Hug Your Haters.”

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Alert Signals That You Have a Scaling Challenge

Does your support operation have a scaling challenge? Are response times getting slow? Are customers complaining that their requests aren’t being answered adequately? Is your support reps’ hair on fire?

Technology startups that experience any kind of significant growth will get to a point where their customer support operations as they’ve known them will suddenly hit a wall.  At that point the way things have worked will no longer be effective, and you will need to look at people, process and technology solutions that allow you to not only keep up but excel with your customers.

That is the point where you will have a scaling challenge on your hands, which of course you will need to solve efficiently and cost-effectively.

This is the first in a two-part series about scaling your customer support services. In this article, we’re going to discuss eight alert signals that indicate you might be at the point where you need to do that.

In the next article, we’ll discuss how to actually scale your support operations. A word of caution though: scaling support doesn’t necessarily mean throwing more people at the problem. It’s also about optimizing and leveraging technology and processes to do more with less.

So how do you know you have a scaling problem?

1. Your backlog

backlog

If you’ve been coasting along for the past two or three years with a backlog of between 20 to 50 issues, and then suddenly that explodes to a queue of 400, you might have a scaling problem.

And you’ll only know that if you’re actually tracking these volumes, which is not always the case. When you’re not tracking what issues are coming in and getting resolved, or how a product launch or product release may impact your volumes and your reps’ workload until it does, then you will hit a brick wall pretty quickly and unexpectedly.

A growing backlog of issues means you’re getting an increasing volume of requests which are not getting served, and that will not get better just by working harder.  This all seems obvious, but in my experience it takes a while for many support teams to realize what is going on.  Many times, this increasing backlog is a result of success and is actually a good problem to have, so you need to scale your operation. Maybe your people aren’t able to cope with the higher volume, which calls for a larger team or increasing automation, or your team can’t resolve certain types of issues, which may call for additional training or a clear escalation process to more experienced team members.

Whatever the cause, a growing backlog is the first alert signal.

Q&A2. Quality

Is the quality of your responses suffering or taking a back seat to the priority of just getting them out?

By quality I mean preciseness, completeness, thoroughness, tone of voice or reply, follow up.

If your team is spending all their time on the urgent issues, but lower priority issues such as product feature questions or product roadmap queries are getting ignored.  If any or all of this is happening, then that is a signal that you might have a scaling challenge.  People don’t want to write incomplete answers to requests or ignore them, many times that is only the result of an increased overload.

A rapidly increasing volume of support requests has you focusing on the “urgent” while giving short-shrift to the “important.”

And while you are handling the queries that are screaming the loudest, not answering the tier 2 or 3 questions can have a negative impact on your customer experience, your CSAT scores and eventually on customer retention and revenue.

If you measure NPS, your detractors might start to overtake your promoters, because they might start rating you low on the quality of service.

3. Deteriorating numbers

If your reporting is showing longer response times, higher volumes, or higher resolution times, then you might have a scaling problem.  That is the importance of reporting and doing it with a cadence.

What are your reports telling you about the health of your support operation?  If you don’t produce and review reports or a metrics dashboard on a regular basis or have no health indicators, that is an alert signal in itself.  Unless your volumes are very low, you absolutely need to “scale” the robustness of your customer support technology.  There are many cloud-based platform options out there -Zendesk, Talkdesk, Kustomer, Freshdesk, to name just a few- so make sure you evaluate and select one.

Assuming that you do have indicators and metrics, the negative signals mentioned above, reflected in your numbers, could lead to rushed or incomplete responses, mistakes and angry customers.

Response times going from 30 minutes one month to 2 hours the next month is something to watch and probably be concerned about, so make sure you at least report on basic measures, such as volumes, response times and open issues, and pay attention to the signals!

Customer Journey Support Checklist

4. Internal Stress

If your support team is feeling stressed, you might have a scaling problem.

Your team’s stress may or may not affect your customers, but when they have more work than they can handle, as is many times the case with support teams, that can pretty reliably result in internal stress.

They’re stressed out about the fact that they can’t keep up the volumes. They’re stressed out about the fact that they’re escalating to level 2, and level 2 is not responding. They’re even stressed that they’re not meeting their own SLAs or goals or their collective SLAs.

Keep an eye on the stress levels of your team members.   It may tell you a lot about what’s really going on and what issues you need to pay attention to, whether that’s adding resources, resolving bottlenecks, escalating issues to your engineering team or all of the above.

5. A chaotic process.

Chaotic process

Got chaos in your operation? If things are chaotic, you might have a scaling problem.

Let’s define chaos for the purposes of this article: can’t quite track open issues well, your team is unable to get to the growing number of issues, the number of days or hours that pass between the request getting to you and your reply to the customer is growing, internal answers or direction are lacking or contradictory, it’s not clear who to escalate or they’re not even responding.

It’s hard to keep track of how many open issues you actually have or to identify the age of those issues, who’s doing what, did rep A respond to this request already or am I supposed to.  Are your tools not allowing facilitating the work, such as managing escalations, merging tickets, reporting or a thousand other things support teams need to do every day?

Who exactly is handling this little queue over here of urgent issues ?

That’s chaos and a clear signal that you need to scale the size of the team, your processes and perhaps your toolset.

6. Costly Work- arounds.

If you’re taking the easy way out resolving issues and not really resolving them (the end result is that you’ve just swept them under the carpet to be resolved later, resulting in higher costs), you might have a scaling issue.

Let’s look at a specific example: you don’t try to really work on whatever technical issue the product has, instead you might just exchange the product for the customer. That’s a costly workaround.

And that’s not sustainable for a company long-term.

Or you might be working around issues yet not really fixing them.

Your reps may be telling customers: “You know what, just go to such and such a setting, turn it off and that will make the problem go away…” for now.

These work-arounds are costly because you’re not really solving the real problem. That may be because you don’t have the time or resources to do anything else, or simply can’t get a fix from engineering.

No management or reactive management.7. No management or reactive management.

If you get to a point where you just don’t have time to manage what’s going on, you might have a scaling problem.

If you’re the manager, you’re constantly reacting. You become just another agent because you have so many issues and it’s all-hands-on-deck.

You’re in reaction mode. There’s no time to document things, no time to actually come up with real fixes or request them, or make better tools available to your team. You’re not producing adequate reports about your operation, etc.  You get the picture.

8. Inadequate tools

We have touched on this already, but if you’re managing your support issues in Outlook or Excel (God forbid), you might have a scaling problem.

And I know Outlook and Excel are extreme examples, but I’ve actually seen this!

Or maybe you’re using tools that aren’t built for support, such as tools really built for collaboration or bug trackers. Maybe you’re using something like Asana or your CRM, but these tools are inadequate because they can’t do the types of things you really need to do to manage a support operation well.

For example, you can’t really track the history of an issue. You can’t really tell what was the sequence of things that happened on a specific issue, who said what and who did what at what time. The metrics aren’t really there either to report on them.  And if you can’t track these things not only can you not really resolve issues easily, but you can’t really scale.

As the saying goes, what you can’t measure you can’t improve.

cta blueprint call

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How to Optimize the IoT Customer Journey With Data

The Internet-of-Things revolution is on!  Every day new consumer IoT products make it to the marketplace, to make our homes smart, automate some of our daily tasks, manage our health and sleep, make us safer, etc.  Not to say anything about a whole other category of IoT devices intended for industry 4.0 applications.

But let’s focus on the challenges that we as consumers have with all of this and how the tech companies can help…

With the exponential growth of an IoT/connected ecosystem in our lives, there is also an increasing growth in complexity.  The Man-Machine interface, which not long ago basically meant how we interfaced with desktop and laptop computers, now includes not only our smartphones and tablets but a deluge of voice and app-operated devices.

And remember, not everyone trying to make the transition to a connected, machine-happy world is a millennial or Generation Z’er.  If this technology wave is to have any success at all, the transition must necessarily move from the early majority of users to the late majority of less tech-savvy, perhaps older and more tech-resistant people among us.

The magic intersection between connected consumer electronic devices and human beings (whose evolution has been a little slower than the pace of technology evolution) will be somewhat complicated to say the least, and smart vendors will have to manage it by accompanying their users through the transition.

The biggest challenge for consumer IoT companies is not selling their devices – rather it is to make sure their customers derive value from them, keep using them and stay engaged with the company by ensuring a happy, successful ownership experience.

In support-speak, that means making sure we optimize the customer journey, from beginning to end.

And the main way we have to do that is by using data.

Because these are connected devices, and we live in a connected world, data about a customer’s experience with a product is pervasive. You can use this data to your advantage, to ensure your customers not only have a fantastic experience throughout their lifecycle with you (the ‘customer journey’), but also to ensure they become raving fans and ultimately come back to you for more solutions.

You can start by tapping into all the data the rest of your systems are already producing about your customers, including what they bought, when, with what, for how long, and about every customer interaction with your company at different points of the journey.

In this article we’re going to discuss four steps to ensuring you optimize your customer’s journey with data. We’ll discuss your goals for customer journey optimization, which customer touch points in that journey you need to focus on, the sources of data to rely on, as well as the data model you can build to help you optimize that journey.

Your Customer Journey Optimization Goals

So why should you optimize your customer’s journey? What are your objectives? Before we get into that, let’s first define the customer journey:

The customer journey is the lifecycle of a customer with your company or with your product, from when you first provide pre-sales information to that customer, to the time when you’re trying to either renew a subscription or upgrade the customer to some other product.

Everything that happens from point A, when the customer first acquires your product (or even when they’re still inquiring about it, as mentioned above), to point Z, is the customer journey.

So what are your goals for optimizing the customer journey? In my view, there are three main ones:

  1. Provide the best possible customer experience for your users throughout the journey and help them get the value they expected
  2. Provide your company with the best way to engage and retain customers
  3. Provide your company with a way to expand your customer relationships from a value and revenue standpoint.

To summarize, I’m talking about making sure the initial purchase of your product is not the last interaction with your customer, but is rather the first interaction in a long, fruitful and profitable relationship with your customer.

Which Customer Touch Points Should You Focus On?

There are key points along your customer’s journey you need to optimize to ensure a relationship that not only moves forward, but also results in an expanded relationship.  Disclaimer: please remember we are talking about a technology/consumer electronics product.  The customer journey for other types of products and/or customers may look completely different.

 

1.    Product purchase and on-boarding

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll group the experience of purchasing the product and first setting it up into one phase of the journey, although you could always separate it into different touch-points.

In the case of many of the consumer IoT products we have referred to, we are talking about a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) experience.  That said, many of your customers will require assistance, whether that is from online help guides, in-product guides or live support.

During the initial product purchase and product on-boxing and setup, how can you optimize their on-boarding experience? How can you reduce the customer’s effort in setting up your product? Are you providing on-boarding emails and videos? Are your customers consuming this content? What happens when they do call?  What are they calling about? How is that going? How often are they calling and how is that impacting their experience?

Are they able to configure the product and the mobile app that controls it on their own?   Which parts do they struggle with?

These are all questions you may try to answer with data.  Once you have some insights, you can decide what actions to take to optimize those particular touch-points to meet your goals.

2.    30, 60 and 90 day touch points

Once a product has been setup in the customer’s home, car, wrist or whatever the case may be, the first 90 days are a critical period, as the experience of your customers with your product AND company can make or break the relationship. You need to ensure each 30-day increment is optimized.

During the first 30 days, your customer might still be trying to solve certain product setup issues and learn the basic product functions. The next 30 days she might be interested in connecting it to other devices, such as Alexa or Google Home. The following 30 days she might be trying out more advanced functionalities, such as interpreting and using your product’s analytics.

How are you handling this usage growth curve and challenges along the way? Are you providing tools, videos, and helpful live assistance? How can you avoid customer defection when users hit various roadblocks? How can you ensure your interactions with them create delight and loyalty?

3.    Ongoing product use

Then, when your customer is at a “mature” stage of usage with your product, what issues typically pop up that can affect their status as a happy – or unhappy – customer? Are they trying to find out more ways to use your product, new use cases? Have whatever issues they have faced been resolved? Or are they ongoing? Are they calling support too frequently?  What for?  There is a difference between the desired engagement of a customer who calls once in a while as they progress along the learning curve and a frustrated customer who calls frequently because his product keeps failing and he’s not getting the value.

What is the right balance?

How do you make sure that you’re always there and the customer stays engaged?

4 End-of-life

Lastly, towards the end of the customer journey, you will want to identify whether your customer is ready to upgrade, purchase complementary products or throw in the towel. This is another critical touch point and can make the difference between linear or explosive growth for your company.  We all know that retaining customers and expanding on those relationships, even for consumer products, is key to sustainable growth.

So how can you tell if a customer is prone to upgrade or expand?

Conversely, how can you tell is they’re ready to switch to a competitor?

What choices can you offer?

How do you learn, even from detractors, about what worked and what didn’t?

The good news is, you can collect and analyze data through these four critical customer journey stages. In the next section we’ll describe some of the data sources you can tap into to optimize each touch point.

So Where Can I Find This Data?

There are more than enough sources of data you can use to gain the insights to optimize your customer journey.

1.    Your Support Platform

Your support platform provides a wealth of information. What are your customers calling in about? What product issues come up most often?  You can identify product bugs with this data, as well as usability issues. But your support platform can also provide you with customer insights, such as previously unknown or corner use cases and what features your customers wish your product had.

2.    Your Subscription Management Platform

The platform you use to manage recurring subscriptions can also provide relevant data points that you will need as part of your overall data model.  This includes what plans your customers have chosen, when they renewal dates are, and what upgrades are still available for them.

3.    Your e-Commerce Platform

Your e-commerce platform is another source of data, which includes what products your customers have bought and when any accessories bought along with them or at a later time, what generation of product they acquired, product discounts applied, etc.

4.    Your Marketing Automation Platform

If you’re a consumer IoT company, you can’t afford to actually call your customers, and you’re likely communicating with them at different points of the journey through e-mails messages.  Your marketing platform can provide information about who of your customers are opening your e-mails and engaging with the tools you are providing (videos, FAQ links, blog posts, etc.), and those that aren’t, for example.

5.    Your Phone Platform

Your PBX or phone platform can provide a wealth of data too.  This will include frequency and type of calls, but also the actual conversation between your support agent and the customer.  There are various tools available to transcribe those conversations into text, in order to inform your decision-making regarding your customers’ experiences.

6.    Product Usage Data

Lastly, since we’re talking about connected devices here, your products themselves or the phone apps attached to them will provide valuable data on usage.

For example, if it’s a multiple user device such as a camera or a smart lock, how many users or guests use it, and who uses it the most? What times of the day? If it’s a tracker or wearable, what is it telling you about how/when it’s being used?  About its settings at the time of a certain event? Same for a connected doorbell cam or a car cam, appliance or any other type of product with embedded sensors.

At the end of the day, there are plenty of sources of data, but data by itself isn’t sufficient. We need a data model to help you combine these various data points and make sense of it.

The Data Model

This can get pretty technical but you’re a connected device company so I wouldn’t worry.

Much like an architectural model, a data model is an approximation of reality, a simulation, if you will, about what combination of data points will help you arrive at a particular decision or insight regarding your customer.

It all starts with business questions.  Once you’ve identified the basic business questions you are trying to answer and determine whether they can be answered with data, you need to set up the appropriate data model to inform your customer optimization strategy.

Actually, you can go fairly low-tech by using your CRM or support platform to build a data matrix that helps you collect your data for all your customers and see patterns or even make decisions, as well as build dashboards and graphs to help you look for insights.

Alternatively, you can get into data science territory (probably a must for consumer companies), and leverage tools such as the Crisp-DM methodology and analytics toolsets, to help you identify business question, select the right data for answering those questions, prepare it and combine it and build analytics models that will get you the insights you want to get to.

You can get pretty high tech about this or not. It’s up to you.

Below you will find an example of a simple data model, which includes a number of data variables used to determine whether a customer is at risk of churning (abandoning the brand) or not, and to what degree.  Some of these variables are obtained from the support platform, some from the e-commerce system and yet others from the subscription management platform.  Estimating a probability of churning, as well as which variables impact it the most, will provide insight into what actions to take.  In the rest of these series, we will delve into the details some more.

Again, you can collect and analyze data to help you optimize your customer journey through the four critical stages we described before.  For native digital business models, such as IoT and consumer IoT in particular, this is not only most important but also extremely feasible.

The more you know and the more roadblocks you are able to remove for your customers and users, the easier their transition to their smart, connected life will be.

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Growing Your IoT Startup Through Retention, Revenue Expansion, Referrals and Partnerships

For IoT companies to grow, they need to focus on more than just increasing their sales and marketing activity.

To really grow – in revenue, profits and influence – IoT companies must look to customer success and customer support.  Support, in particular, must go from being a cost center to a profit center.

In our work supporting the growing consumer IoT industry, we’ve found that service and support can be an important driver for IoT startup growth, if not the most important driver.

In fact we’ve identified four specific levers of growth for consumer IoT companies that support operations can impact.

Retention

The first and most important growth lever is retention. Retention is the goal of any serious customer support effort.  According to the Harvard Business Review, reducing customer churn (customers who leave a brand) by 5% can boost profits from 25% to 85%.

Everything you do in your support operation should be geared to making sure your customers stay with you.

But why is retention so important?retention

It’s all about the math. The more you reduce customer defections, the more profitable you’ll be.

Let’s take an important measure of customer value, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). If a customer is valued at $100 a month, and stays with you for a year, their value to your company is $1,200. But if you convince them to stay with you three years, that customer will be worth $3,600, tripling their value to your company.

With IoT products the key to long-term customer satisfaction is a great customer experience, and that starts with how you “on-board” new users, especially since these products are so innovative  and technology-driven. Your customers need to understand the ins and outs of how to setup your product and everything they can do with it.

There are a number of ways you can excel at this initial step of the customer journey, which will impact your retention rates later: provide clear onboarding information via your website (how to set up the hardware, configure the mobile app, integrate with Alexa, describe most common use cases), or through an email series, or even an onboarding phone call with a support rep if that’s what it takes.

Once you’ve ensured they can use the product and understand what the product can do and bow to use it, they’ll have questions, challenges and issues along the way. Your customer support team needs to be there to answer those questions and get your customers unstuck so they can continue to have a great experience.

To this end, meet your customers where they are. Cover all the channels they might expect to receive support through: email, chat, and phone especially. And make sure no calls or requests fall through the cracks – answer any support tickets as quickly as possible, within seconds for phone calls and chat, and within a couple of hours for e-mails.

The bottom line is, excellent support is table stakes for any company today, especially for consumer IoT and consumer electronics companies. The bar has been set higher for service, so the better you service your customers, the more likely they are to stick around.

Revenue Expansion

Revenue Expansion is the second and newest growth lever, and it should be a key growth driver for IoT companies.

Once you have a customer that has purchased a $300 product from you, what should you do so that they not only stick around longer, but buy more?

IoT products have a built-in advantage here. They’re constantly evolving: adding new features and functionalities, attaching subscriptions to their products (such as for storing data or providing advanced analytics), releasing new versions, introducing complementary new products.

You need to find a way to keep offering your customers additional value, as their use cases evolve.

This isn’t just retention, this is expansion.

revenue expansion

And your customer support reps are in the best position to do this cross-selling and upselling. They frequently know your customers the best, their home environment, home office or small business.   They are uniquely suited to identify opportunities to present customers with options to upgrade or complement what they already have.

Theirs is a consultative sale, because they know that due to some life event or use case the customer would be better served with the new accessory that integrates with the latest version of the product.  This is not about pushing product.  It’s about delivering value, and helping your customers through a buying experience that makes sense to them and responds to their needs.

Let’s take another look at the Lifetime Customer Value calculation we used earlier. Say we can increase retention to three years, and the customer’s value to your company goes from $1,200 to $3,600.

If you can expand your relationship with that customer and get them to expand what they get with you, you could boost the $100 a month relationship into a $150 or $200 a month. The CLV of those customers could go to $7,200!

Referrals

The third growth lever for IoT companies is referrals. Happy customers make great salespeople. It’s not just you saying great stuff about your products (prospects are always suspicious of self-promotion), these are happy customers talking wonders about you.

This is gold.

Customers who recommend you to their friends, family and colleagues become an inexpensive sales channel for your organization, especially when compared to advertising, content marketing, PR blitzes and other types of paid promotion.

To make referrals more consistent there are simple programs you can institute, programs that reward customers who refer new business to you. You can give them points, deliver coupons, or give discounts for their next purchase.

Find a great way to kick-off a referral process early on in your company’s existence.

Partnerships

Partnerships, the fourth lever, are a little different from the previous three levers, and not necessarily tied to your support operations. The nature of IoT products makes partnerships a logical source of new business, since the IoT ecosystem provides a ready cadre of partners.

Smart homes are becoming a hodge-podge of brands – often competing brands – that make up the whole. All products must work together, providing built-in opportunities to create referral partnerships.  Your customer success and support team can provide unique insights on this, since they’re the ones on the trenches dealing directly with customers.

What kind of co-marketing program can you forge with other manufacturers in your ecosystem? Can a smart lock manufacturer form an alliance with a smart tracker manufacturer and a smart lamp vendor for mutual referrals?

Keep an open mind to what could be a potential competitor and think about how to turn them into a collaborator.

This isn’t a strict IoT example per se, but I was at Best Buy recently where I saw a complete Amazon showroom. Best buy used to be Amazon’s mortal enemy! But they have now become one of Amazon’s channel partners.

Which competitor can you forge a mutually beneficial referral relationship with?

Conclusion

Sales and marketing plays a huge role in getting the word out about your IoT brand. But look at your market growth strategy as more of a “land and expand” strategy than your prime growth strategy.

Sales and marketing gets your foot in the door by “landing” an initial client. Then customer success and support take over to retain, expand and facilitate referrals.   Lastly, think about partnerships as yet another way of  “expanding” your footprint within the market.

The sooner you can shift your thinking to see support and service as your most important growth lever, the sooner you can become a market leader.

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How Long Should It Take for your Outsourced Support Team to Ramp Up?

You just had a great write-up on Mashable or Techcrunch. You’re company is growing like gangbusters. The products are flying off the shelves. And the support calls have exploded.

You need your new outsourced support team up and running like…yesterday.

But for this to happen, there are certain things that need to take place to ramp up your team, so they can do a great job supporting your product.

Proper Setup Will Take At Least a Few Weeks

If you want the job done right (happy customers, beaucoups of referrals, positive Yelp reviews and renewals, upsells and cross-sells driving profitability through the roof), then your new outsourced support partner needs at least a few weeks to get ramped up.

The more experienced your partner is, and the more experienced your company is, the quicker that ramp-up will be.

But I always tell my clients to expect about a four to eight week setup time to get your team handling the support queue like pros.

Be Suspicious of the Unrealistic Promise

However, there are some support outsourcers who will promise the moon.

If you get a quote from a call center that says that for $500 you’ll be good to go the day after tomorrow, be suspicious.  Be very suspicious.

If you sell some sort of technology product, proper setup for a new support team just won’t happen that fast.

You’re dealing with human talent. And those humans will be supporting your customers that you fought so hard to acquire.

You need to do this right.

So with this quick blog post, I’ve decided to summarize what all goes into preparing your new outsourced support team, and why it pays to wait a few weeks.

Pick a Partner with Relevant Expertise

This should be obvious, but it bears repeating: you should go to a partner with the relevant expertise in your type of product.

Don’t hire a call center that specializes in banking work to support your technology/IoT product. And if you’re a credit card company, you probably shouldn’t hire a company that specialized in tech products either!

Make Sure They’re Staffed Right

Look at the human element. Ask your partner what kind of human resources they already have in house, and determine how many they have access to at a moment’s notice. or how many they would have to hire.ramp-up-your-team

Ask how long would it take them to provide you with the right agent profile if they have to staff up the proper team?

Training Time

Training is essential, and you have to provide plenty of time to train your partner’s people on your product.

That said, they should already have the proper soft and hard skills.

Soft Skills

They need the emotional intelligence to deal with non-tech-savvy or even emotional customers; the proper writing and verbal skills to communicate effectively; and the ability to think on their feet when the unexpected happens.

Hard Skills

They need to know how to hook things up to a WiFi network or do a Bluetooth pairing; they should, at least to a reasonable degree, know about how to set up a home networking environment; and they should know how to configure settings on a mobile app.

These soft and hard skills can help reduce training time (because you don’t to waste time educating a brand new rep on home networking 101).

But assuming that they already have those skills, then you need to train them on your particular hardware and software.

They need to learn how to actually set it up, which includes setting it up in different environments too, connecting to different hubs, etc.

Then you need to walk them through potential different scenarios of things that could go wrong when a customer is trying to set up your product.

The training should include your software too, meaning your mobile or web app, configuring settings, using the various features and explaining to others how to do that same. They need time to get familiar with the settings on both the hardware and the software interfaces.

Time for Role Play

Next, you absolutely need to spend some time in role-play.

It’s like putting together a cast for a Broadway show. You wouldn’t let your actors get on stage on opening night without having rehearsed their lines, right? Then why would you let your support team get on the phones without having first practiced?

Once your new reps are familiar with your FAQ (and if you don’t have an FAQ, you need to build one ASAP), have your new reps refer to the FAQ while they gain the appropriate product knowledge during role-play.

Throw potential support scenarios at them. Evaluate how they write that email, and if they offered the right solution or not.   Was it complete?  Is it the right tone-of-voice based on your company’s brand image.

Role-playing is crucial so they know exactly how to handle the various support scenarios that may come up.

Setting Up the Right Tools

Now that you’ve handled the human factor (selecting the team, trained them, had them rehearse realistic scenarios), you need to arm them with the right tools.

You don’t want your shiny new well-trained team supporting your customers in Outlook. Make sure they have access to a CRM, a ticketing tool or a customer support platform.   We have talked about not underinvesting in your toolset in other blog posts.

Channel Setup

Finally, you need to set up the right support channels. This will take a little bit of time as well.

If your outsourced team will be handling phone support, make sure you reroute your support phone number (if you already have one) to the proper destination.

For email support, you need to make sure your team is set up with the right email accounts.

And finally, you need to set them up with their own logins to your customer support platform. If you have a chat channel for example, you need to provide them with the tools to do that and provide them with the right credentials.

Setting up these channels and testing them out is the last – but not the least – item in your ramp-up plan.

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5 Types of Customer Support Services Consumer IoT Companies Should Outsource

Internet-of-Things-Ecosystem

According to technology research firm International Data Corporation, the Internet of Things market will reach $1.4 trillion by 2021. IoT will become an intimate part of our lives, both on the consumer side of things and for industrial applications.

The diversity of IoT devices being brought to market is mindboggling, particularly in the consumer space, and the complexity of the IoT ecosystem is rapidly increasing.

New IoT devices, many of them introduced as DYI (Do-It-Yourself), must not only connect to your WiFi at home or your mobile’s Bluetooth, but also integrate with various IoT platforms –Google, Amazon, Apple and Samsung– among them.

They must also cohabitate or integrate with other IoT devices connected to those same ecosystems.

All this will increasingly force vendors to not only support an increasing number of devices, but in some cases, handle issues that involve platforms or devices made by other manufacturers.

As IoT vendors scale their all-critical customer success operations, and consider combined insource-outsource strategies, they should consider outsourcing five types of support functions, which include but go beyond the traditional product support model.

These five functions are part of the Customer Journey Support model, which calls for accompanying your customer throughout the whole journey, with an end-to-end focus.  That is, providing a consistently great customer experience from the time the customer orders your product, to the time they’re -hopefully- ready to upgrade.

So what are these five types of support services? Here’s an overview with some details on each one.

For an in-depth guide on how to grow your IoT business through the Customer Journey Support Model, click here.

1. Order Support

In the consumer Internet of Things, many products are ordered online through vendor’s e-commerce sites.

This is where the customer experience begins.  Some customers may need help even generating the order, especially where some sort of service plan accompanies the product and there is more than one option to choose.

Your team can help clients figure that out, generate an order, handle exchanges, process warranties, and track the product’s delivery.  By doing this right, you can turn a potential hassle into a relationship-building experience.

2. Onboarding Support

Then there’s onboarding support, such as the physical installation of the product and helping the customer install the app that’s tied to the product.

Although products such as thermostats, security cameras or smart light controls are supposed to be Do-It-Yourself, all this technology is way too new for many users to easily figure out.  Onboarding is key.  The result of that should be a user ready-to-go and excited to take advantage of the product’s promised value.

Onboarding may include helping users setup the hardware, install the app on their mobile device, and also configure the mobile app once it’s installed.

 

3. Product Walkthrough

A product walkthrough is different from onboarding.

While onboarding helps the customer install the product to ensure sure it’s ready to use and functions properly, the product walkthrough is designed to help the customer understand HOW to use the product, as well as to inform them of the different functions available.

types-of-support-services-for-IoT-companies

This kind of assistance is not something that every user will need of course, and vendors could not afford to do it for everyone either, but as these devices reach beyond the more tech-savvy early adopters and the IoT ecosystem gets more complex, it is smart to be prepared to provide additional assistance when needed.

4. Ongoing and Technical Support

Since an IoT device is by definition a connected device and has to play nice with others, (both now and what will come in the future), ongoing product support needs will only increase.

Many factors will contribute to product issues needing support, such as software upgrades, new features, integrating a device with other devices offered by the same vendor or by other vendors, and more.

Ongoing technical (or non-technical) support is a lot of what takes place during the biggest chunk in the customer’s lifetime with a product, and can either be a great source of frustration or a great source of satisfaction for them.  Your Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) depends on doing it well.

5. IoT Ecosystem Support

We hesitated in creating a separate category for this type of support, since in theory it falls under the general technical support bucket – but it’s different.

Since the industry is “Internet of Things”  – which implies a network of connected devices – vendors will need to provide support that goes beyond support for their own product.

An outsourced vendor that understands the growing IoT ecosystem will make the most sense and help you scale that type of support.  IoT manufacturers must go beyond thinking about just their own product, and must instead think about the larger context.

This requires a mental shift, because it extends the areas of responsibility that a vendor will support. Successful consumer IoT vendors will need to think beyond their own product to retain customers and continue to grow.

Conclusion

IoT has added a whole extra set of dimensions to consumers of technology: an exponential increase in product complexity compounded by connectivity to the wider Internet.

Accompanying your customer throughout the complexity of this journey means putting the right systems, tools and team in place.  As a product manufacturer, make sure that you think in terms of that journey.  Start by identifying the key touch-points along it.  Then think through which may be best for your own team to take on, and which you may need to scale through a partner.  We’ve provided a few ideas here that should help you provide a quality, consistent customer experience.

To really determine how you need to scale your customer journey support operations and what you can and cannot to outsource to an external vendor, check out our article on the Customer Journey Support process, and check out Step 3: “Identify “outsourceable” v. internal operational assignments.”

For an in-depth guide on how to grow your IoT business through the Customer Journey Support Model, click here.