freezer working overtime with a pint of ice cream inside
PHOTO: DEV

It all started with a drip of water. You know — that moment when you open the refrigerator door and feel a drop of water on your hand where you shouldn’t. It didn’t take long for me to track where it was coming from: a dislodged pipe. At least that's what I thought it was — I was wrong. 

No problem, I thought, the fridge is still under the manufacturer’s warranty. So I headed on over to the manufacturer’s website and opened the online form to book a service call. It was all going well until the tech asked for the fridge’s serial number. Back in the kitchen, I opened every door and peered at every surface of the refrigerator writing down any number I could find. But not one of them is right. The serial number required to pull the warranty information.

The customer help desk explained they needed the serial number so they could make sure they had the right information about the model for spare parts, and to check the purchase date and warranty coverage. That all seemed fair enough. Here is how that conversation went.

“So where do I find the serial number?”  I asked.

“On a sticker on the refrigerator.”

“And where’s that sticker located?”

“Oh, it’s on the back.”

“On the back? The back that’s against a wall and enveloped in custom-built kitchen cabinets? “

“Yes.”

That is a great example of the disconnect that often happens when companies focus on the digital customer interaction without considering the actual physical product as part the overall experience.

Related Article: How to Deliver Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Customer Experience

IoT to the Rescue?

But the internet of things (IoT) is going to change all that, isn’t it? At least that seems to be part of the promise.

Surely a connected fridge should have been able to supply the serial number from an on-screen menu. Better yet, it should have been aware of the leak and flashed an on-screen warning. Maybe it could have even connected with the manufacturer’s customer records, checked the warranty status, and scheduled a visit from technician who would take care of the repairs — and maybe it could have informed the technician of the necessary troubleshooting procedures and activated an inventory and fulfillment process and ordered the necessary replacement parts in advance. 

Yet when you look at the digital features on most “smart” appliances, they tend to be focused on serving as a family communication and entertainment center. They have calendars, display photos, stream music and maybe voice interfaces for ordering groceries. I could get that same sort of functionality by duct-taping an iPad on the fridge door.

Today's smart appliances don’t exactly support the customer service experience described above. At this early stage of maturity, IoT technology is still more about manufacturing and data collection than it is about delivering an enhanced customer experience.

Related Article: Welcome to the Brave New World of IoT-Powered CX

IoT May Travel an Unexpected Path

We have a long way to go with IoT technology, and I don’t believe we even know what the destination is yet.

During a recent conference keynote, I mentioned how these days we expect to be able to talk to things like cars and refrigerators. Voice assistants and voice-activated interfaces are the current example of a leading-edge technology that is reaching critical mass. In a follow-up conversation afterward, someone pointed out that when we first started to talk about voice recognition, we assumed that the prime use case for the technology would involve replacing the need to type. We never imagined that widespread adoption would come when we started to use voice interfaces to ask for directions, check the weather and order groceries.

That insight revealed a valid point about the contrast between the initial promise of a technology and its actual adoption patterns.

So, is the real IoT-driven customer experience going to be the one we think it will be from today’s perspective, or is it something we haven’t even considered yet?