CES 2019: predictive service and customer-led design take center stage

Appliance OEMs are applying data science to increase customer lifetime value.

This year, customer service emerges as a key differentiator

Aside from the glitz, skits and tricks that are Las Vegas, the Bruviti team attending CES last week observed how important this show has become for appliance manufacturers. In addition to the broad range of products on display, the OEMs were emphasizing the connectivity, predictability, and “stickiness” that their products offer.

The direction of this industry is to predict service issues before they occur and to take corrective action. To the extent a resolution for a technical problem can be provided directly to a customer, there is an increase in customer satisfaction and an associated reduction in cost. If a field technician is required, there are tremendous savings when the OEM knows what the issue is and what parts are needed, in advance, so that only one truck roll is needed.

The most compelling driver for the predictive tools employed by the OEMs is to create brand loyalty. This brand stickiness has been a proven winner for other classes of equipment and represents a path to increased lifetime user spend on the same brand. Once a device is connected, the OEM has the opportunity to provide excellent customer support and to engage the customer with new applications and promotions.

The differentiation provided by predictive service tools promises to disrupt the broader equipment market, with the long-term winners defined by the connectivity services that they offer and the accompanying customer satisfaction.

The move to the cloud will drive the need for data orchestration

As the Bruviti team toured the show, the shift to all-things-connected was evident, which has produced a rush by the cloud service companies (Microsoft’s Azure, Amazon’s AWS, and IBM, to name a few) to offer industry-specific cloud-based solutions.

These cloud service companies have invested development and marketing resources to support application providers in targeted markets, such as consumer and commercial appliances, smart buildings, and industrial IoT. This alignment of predictive service solutions with cloud services has opened new opportunities at a number of equipment manufacturers.

For example, equipment OEMs recognize the value of cloud-based solutions because they can now access unprecedented amounts of data across their entire product line and installed base, including customer and device history, performance data, trend lines, and several other sources of information. With the appropriate tools, this rich trove of data will yield important trends, enable them to identify warning signs, and inform the development of improved products. This information can also be made available to the call center & field technicians, as well as to the consumer when appropriate, via smart search and live help capabilities. Again, the ultimate goal here is to increase customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

Do it at the edge

Following a long tradition of CES participation, several semiconductor/chip manufacturers arranged demo suites to display their products and to describe how they best serve the IoT market. With an emphasis on edge-connected solutions, they are able to provide real-time response to mission-critical operations (for instance, a water leak), while reducing the cost of communicating with the cloud. Summary data and forensic information can be uploaded when data rates are low, but the emphasis is on on-board edge solutions. There are a variety of high-volume target markets, including industrial IoT, agriculture, oil & gas, and medical equipment.

The IoT demos that were presented to the Bruviti team consisted of purpose-driven modules that could perform acoustic, vibration, power, heat, and smoke analysis. Further demos of motor control and robotic arm functions are anticipated. And while the demos are impressive, the challenge facing the chip companies is that they are not able to implement a full solution for the customer due to a lack of expertise & resources. This creates a chasm between a design-in win and actual customer revenue that can only be resolved with a partner who is able to provide the data compilation and predictive service tools necessary for a specific customer.

In summary, this year’s CES served to illustrate that customer-led (over feature-led) designs are the new mantra, and that the customer experience throughout the product lifecycle is even more critical to attract and retain customers for life.