Picture this: You are a young, idealistic, technophile who has been accepted into an advanced technology degree program known for its edgy culture and innovative approach. When you arrive for orientation, you are presented with a novel option — embed a microchip directly into your body.

Imagine the possibilities they say: You will be exceptionally productive, because your code and classwork will follow you from room to room and workstation to workstation in the university’s open work and study environment. Your life will be extraordinarily convenient, because you will no longer need money or an ID to purchase books, meals or gear from stores and dining halls. Also, you will have hassle-free access to facilities, because you won’t need keycards for secure areas, passwords for the intranet or codes for printers.

This scenario isn't fiction. EPIcenter, a Swedish startup hub was in the news last year for implanting microchips in its employees and members, and a handful of other companies are getting in the game as well. It may not be long before students expect their universities to offer such capabilities.

Important, but Frightening, Questions

Contemplating the growing presence of systems tied to the internet of things (IoT) in our everyday lives (even if we don’t all become microchip-embedded human cyborgs) yields some important and potentially frightening questions: Can consumers opt out of IoT connectivity if they want? Can companies afford to postpone participation in this growing trend? Can business leaders provide IoT-enabled capabilities safely and securely? Also, what does the future look like for the companies deploying IoT technology in customer experience (CX) initiatives?

Let’s dispatch the easy questions first.

To IoT or not to IoT? The short answer is, IoT. Too many of our modern conveniences (and the customers who embrace them) rely on IoT right now.

Take friends of mine who live in Colorado: They are avid skiers and are Epic Pass holders at Vail Resorts. They absolutely love the fact that they can track their running totals of vertical feet skied throughout the year, check lift line wait times before deciding where to ski, access ski lockers via their passes, and download the free slope-side digital action pics of them posted on Vail’s website. IoT-enabled.

Or consider the preemptive service, maintenance and product restocking systems that embedded sensors make possible: Printers that place orders for more ink when levels are running low, industrial machines that automatically send alerts to repair technicians before critical parts fail, and smart home systems that facilitate household tasks and manage energy efficiency while people are at home and allow homeowners to monitor their houses when they’re away. IoT-enabled.

And think of the parents of teen drivers. They share their cars with young people who have more confidence than experience, and they receive automobile insurance bills that threaten pocketbooks, if not life and limb. Most of them are more than happy to equip their vehicles with telematics systems that provide insight into driving habits and may help keep insurance rates low. IoT-enabled.

Related Article: The IoT Will Drive the Future of Digital Experience

IoT Is Everywhere

IoT-enabled products and systems are no longer solely for enthusiastic emerging tech adopters. They are largely unavoidable today.

For example, some insurers are expanding their IoT capabilities beyond in-car telematics systems. Travelers, for one, is teaming up with Amazon to offer customers discounted home security kits that include cameras, motion detectors, water sensors and Echo Dots. The recently announced partnership will provide Travelers with an opportunity to reduce claim costs, collect information about customers (through their Dot interactions) and improve CX.

Other examples of the ubiquity of IoT-driven systems include cars that share information for maintenance and repairs via sensors, medical devices (e.g., pacemakers) that broadcast patients’ medical stats, and the 2.5 billion cellphones in use today that are chock full of IoT capabilities.

Learning Opportunities

Next is the issue of how secure IoT systems are — and what happens when they are not well protected. The answers may scare you. CIO.com identified the IoT as one of five most significant security threats of 2018, citing lack of transparency, immature terms and conditions for information use, and unsecured devices as critical concerns. And we have already experienced the consequences of IoT cybersecurity threats, with malware (Mirai) and ransomware (WannaCry) attacks shutting down the internet and taking medical device and industrial control systems offline.

Related Article: 7 Big Problems With the Internet of Things

Connected Devices Mean Connected Departments

What does the future look like as we face the unavoidable? It looks connected — and not just from a device perspective. As IoT-enabled systems expand and begin to play a bigger role in the customer experience, chief marketing officers and CX leaders will have to overcome one of the biggest challenges to shaping customer experiences: breaking down organizational silos and weaving marketing or CX much more deeply into areas where people from those disciplines don’t always venture, including engineering, customer service and support, privacy and security, and the legal department.

Engineering: While marketing and product management are closely aligned in many companies, the actual product engineering typically is not part of that equation. Integrating IoT functionality into CX will require a host of capabilities not usually associated with machines that create or process signals and beacons. Things like user interfaces — what should this look like, and what types of features will add value and which ones will be distractions? Questions like those need to be answered early in the design engineering process and viewed in light of the intended customer experience. CX leaders must play a role throughout.

Customer service and support: No one doubts that call centers and other support functions play a significant role in CX. But that doesn’t mean that customer service and marketing or CX play well together. Weaving IoT into the customer experience will likely have significant impacts on support functions. Problems will become more complex, possibly requiring customer service reps to have stronger technical skills and potentially leading to longer problem-handling times. Diagnostics will become more important, requiring both new call center tools and perhaps stronger, more defined links between customer service and IT. CX leaders will have to quarterback those types of changes, making sure that support groups are positioned for the new demands that IoT will bring.

Privacy, security and legal: Combine the rise in IoT security threats with the need to ensure personal data protection and comply with regulations like the European Union’s GDPR (not to mention its forthcoming digital counterpart, ePrivacy), and the need for close links between CX leaders and their counterparts in areas such as the legal and security departments intensifies. Many companies are already taking steps to ensure that people in those departments work together as part of their efforts to protect personal data. But with the rapid emergence of IoT-enabled systems, ongoing associations will be required.

There is no question in my mind that the impact of IoT in CX is immediate, significant and unavoidable. It is also rife with possibilities — for personalizing interactions to a level we are just beginning to imagine.

Related Article: The IoT May Change Customer Experience, But Not in the Ways We'd Expect

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