January 17, 2017 | By

CES 2017: Smart Home was King, But Where’s the Support?

Like thousands of others, I spent the first week of 2017 at the Consumer Electronics Show learning all about the latest and greatest from the world’s most innovative companies.  For those that may not know, CES is absolutely huge.  It takes over a number of hotels on the Las Vegas Strip and it’s nearly impossible to see everything.  From my vantage point, however, I can say without a doubt that the Connected Home was the biggest trend at this year’s show.  Everyone was showing off their newest connected product – whether it be connected lighting systems like Lutron, connected appliances by Whirlpool or anything in between – connected home technologies is where a lot of product companies are focusing.   I don’t think that is a big surprise to anyone, but what was a bit of a surprise is what these companies were focusing on.

What they are focusing on, and I mean all of them, is Amazon.   Every single company I saw discussed how they were either built on AWS or integrated with Echo.  Where just a few years ago, apps were the interface of the IoT, now it’s the Echo.  Voice commands are where it’s at now and Amazon is the defacto interface for that.  I no longer want to open my phone, find the app, open the app and turn on my lights when I can just say “Alexa, turn on my lights”.   That’s just plain cool.  And why myself and millions of others bought an Echo last year.

What wasn’t touted as much, though, is how “easy” these technologies are to own.  There was very little conversation around how to set them up, how to make sure they integrate with Amazon (or other connected home products), how to maintain them, what happens if it doesn’t work, etc.  While I am sure this is a conversation that has been discussed by these companies internally or in one-one conversations, it wasn’t a big focus of the marketing efforts and I think this is a bit of a miss.

Here’s why.  Connected products have been climbing the hype cycle for some time now.  I think we are past the knee-jerk “wow factor” stage and onto the adoption stage.  Not necessarily mainstream adoption, but early customers are definitely jumping on board.  But for the IoT to really become the norm, customers are going to need to actually stick with these products.  And that is where customer support will play a pivotal role.   If people buy a product but have a hard time with the onboarding or if they break or become outdated in a few years, it simply won’t be worth the hassle.

Think about someone who is interested in building a full-fledged smart home.  One with connected lights, appliances, security system, door lock – the whole nine yards.  Each one of those connected devices had a unique set of IDs and their own app.  Trying to get those things to talk to each other is not an easy feat.  There are lots of potential points of failure and just one of those can turn a customer off for good.  In order to make these devices stick with customers, they have to be easy.  Easy to use, easy to install and easy to maintain.

Every connected product company needs to take a good look at their customer service and support strategy and re-design it to meet the unique needs of connected product customers.  Customers who may be having trouble setting up a connected lighting system will require immediate support.  They won’t want to wait for an email reply or reaction to a Twitter post – they want to be helped at the moment they are having trouble.  And a strong and innovative customer service and support strategy will be the key to success.  Looking ahead, I hope to see more customer service and support messaging from connected product companies as it will be a real differentiator for them.

The ugly truth of this whole thing is that many of the companies that debuted at CES this year, won’t be there next year.  Why?  Maybe the product itself didn’t have the right market fit or maybe it wasn’t up to par or maybe it just wasn’t easy enough to use.  The path to success lies in making a quality product for sure, but it really doesn’t matter how great that product is if consumers find it too cumbersome.  For those companies, the right level customer support will make all the difference.

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