innovation

Voice of the Customer (VOC) in the Internet of Things (IoT)

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

In February, I speculated about how our notion of “Voice of the Customer” (VoC) might change, since between 2016 and 2020 we are poised to witness the Internet of Things (IoT) as it grows from 6.4 billion to over 20 billion entities. The IoT will require us to re-think fundamental questions about how our interests as customer and stakeholders are represented. In particular,

  • What will the world look (and feel) like when everything you interact with has a “voice”?
  • How will the “Voice of the Customer” be heard when all of that customer’s stuff ALSO has a voice?
  • Will your stuff have “agency” — that is, the right to represent your needs and interests to other products and services?

Companies are also starting to envision how their strategies will morph in response to the new capabilities offered by the IoT. Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickenger, for example, shares her feelings in GeekWire, 3/24/2016:

“Imagine you’re on a road trip, diving across the country, and you pull into a Starbucks drive-through that you’ve never been to before,” she said at the Starbucks annual shareholder’s meeting Wednesday in Seattle. “We detect you’re a loyal customer and you buy about the same thing every day, at about the same time. So as you pull up to the order screen, we show you your order, and the barista welcomes you by name.”

“Does that sound crazy?” she asked. “No, actually, not really. In the coming months and years you will see us continue to deliver on a basic aspiration: to deliver technology that enhances the human connection.”

IoT to enhance the human connection? Sounds great, right? But hold on… that’s not what she’s talking about. She wants to enhance the feeling of connection between individuals and a companynothing different than cultivating customer loyalty.

Her scenario is actually pretty appealing: I can imagine pulling up to a Starbuck’s drive-through and having everything disappear from the screen except for maybe 2 or 3 choices of things I’ve had before, and 1 or 2 choices for things I might be interested in. The company could actually work with me to help alleviate my sensory overload problems, reducing the stress I experience when presented with a hundred-item menu, and improving my user experience. IoT can help them hear my voice  as a customer, and adapt to my preferences, but it won’t make them genuinely care about me any more than they already do not.

When I first read this article, I thought it would give me insight into a question I’ve had for a while now… but the question is still substantially unanswered: How can IoT facilitate capturing and responding to VoC in a way that really does cultivate human connection? John Hagel and John Seely Brown, in my opinion, are a little closer to the target:

[Examples] highlight a paradox inherent in connected devices and the Internet of Things: although technology aims to weave data streams without human intervention, its deeper value comes from connecting people. By offloading data capture and information transfer to the background, devices and applications can actually improve human relationships. Practitioners can use technology to get technology out of the way—to move data and information flows to the side and enable better human interaction…

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