How leading companies are reinventing the customer experience with IoT

How leading companies are reinventing the customer experience with IoT

Putting The Customer First.

This is the first of a series of exclusive articles by John Rossman*, the author of The Amazon Way on IoT: 10 Principles for Every Leader from the World’s Leading Internet of Things Strategies.

“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” – Any late-night-TV-watching baby boomer knows the reference to Life Alert, the wearable device that allows the elderly to request medical assistance just by pushing a button.

Life Alert wasn’t originally part of the Internet of Things, but it is a button-driven, connected, special-purpose device with many similarities to the IoT products that Amazon and others have launched in the last few years.

Most importantly, Life Alert is a living example of Amazon’s first leadership principle—customer obsession. A necklace fob might seem simple, but it fundamentally reinvents the customer experience—both for the elderly, who gain significant autonomy, and for their family members and caretakers, who can feel confident that their loved ones will be able to call for help in case of a medical emergency.

Customer obsession is a key driver of Amazon’s innovation. The Internet of Things has made it possible for Amazon to gather key insights about its customers’ needs and put them to use in real time, and to continue to reinvent the customer experience.

It’s no accident that customer obsession is the first of Amazon’s official leadership principles, which reads:

“Leaders start with the customer and work backward. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”¹

There are two specific concepts to take note of here. First, customer trust—not profit—is the most critical asset Amazon expects its leaders to build. And second, leaders must obsess over customers.

To Amazon, “obsess” means being willing to do really hard things just to make life easier for its customers, frequently in ways that won’t drive short-term profit. Often this means literally making the impossible possible.

Most of all, “obsession” means not being stuck in the past. The fact that a product or experience is currently considered “good enough” does not mean that it’s good enough going forward. Amazon has innovated, invented, and scaled a long list of historic firsts including free everyday shipping, search inside the book, selling a used version next to the new version of the same item, customer reviews and on and on.

Each innovation on this list was controversial or negatively perceived by industry traditionalists when launched. Because of that strategy, we’ve also seen Amazon confidently lead the way into the IoT product space.

Kindle. The Kindle wasn’t the first e-book on the market, but it was the first “connected device” developed by Amazon. And, like Amazon’s entry into online shopping, when Amazon turned its attention to revolutionizing the connected-reading experience, incredible things began to happen.

Dash Buttons. A customer-focused Amazon might have been content to sit back and enjoy the spoils of its e-commerce successes, having already revolutionized online shopping. But a customer-obsessed Amazon soon realized that it was missing sales opportunities long before its customers even made it to the website—particularly when it came to household groceries.

The button, which was launched the day before April Fools’ Day, 2015, was mistaken for a joke by many. Others skipped straight to mockery. “The idea of shopping buttons placed just within our reach,” wrote Ian Crouch for the New Yorker, “conjures an uneasy image of our homes as giant Skinner boxes, and of us as rats pressing pleasure levers until we pass out from exhaustion.”

But the Dash Button has been surprisingly successful. So successful that Amazon is now expanding the buttons to hundreds of new brands and products. The next generation of Dash is a set of sensors embedded directly within devices like Brita filters and washing machines. No button pushing necessary. They’ll reorder water filters and laundry soap on their own.

From widespread ridicule to widespread adoption…you’ll remember this pattern from Amazon’s most successful e-commerce innovations.

Drones. Amazon’s drone delivery program is simultaneously its most magical and it’s most predictable IoT innovation to date. I say predictable because, unlike the Dash or the Kindle, drone delivery is not meeting customers in a new place or creating a new purchasing platform. It is simply doing what Amazon has been focused on for a long time—making order delivery faster and faster.

That is how innovation and disruption begin—create better customer experiences.

Putting IoT to Work for Your Customers

“This all sounds nice,” you might be thinking, “but I’m not Amazon, my customers need very different things, and we have to generate a profit along the way.” What’s the path?

Start with the Customer. Walk yourself through an entire day in the life of your customer. How might connected devices change the way that your product or service fits into their day?

One way to start building customer obsession is through a “voice of the customer” program. Keep in mind that successful customer feedback loops aren’t relegated to any one product or channel. They span the enterprise and include a deliberate, ongoing mechanism for taking in data from and about your customers. (One survey is not enough.) The toughest—and most important—part of the program will be empowering it to create change across the organization. This will require buy-in and collaboration across departments.

Remove Friction. What problems do your customers face? Why do customers contact you? What parts of your product or customer-service apparatus get in the way of solving those problems? And how could a connected device remove those pain points? Is there data or events you could be collecting that would give you or your customer new insight?

As you think about how to reduce friction in your industry, start by recreating a terrible customer experience, and then think about how the Internet of Things or connected devices could improve that experience.

Think Broadly. The next most innovative move in your industry may not directly involve your current product or service—just think about Amazon’s drones. Amazon is an e-commerce company, but it turned out that the design of online-shopping sites and the products they offer are no longer the biggest pain points for customers. The speed and efficiency of their delivery are. So Amazon pursues inventions beyond the traditional role of a retailer.

Lastly, across all of these experiences, think about the power of the Internet of Things to provide a new interface to your customers. Connected devices empower you to learn more about your customers and to build deeper insights into your products and services and the environment in which they are used.

What data would help you understand your customers and their experience better? How can you collect that data? And, most importantly, how can you use that data, once collected, to create value and improve your customer experience?

Integrating this kind of thinking into your current customer planning is the key to transitioning from customer focused to customer obsessed.

book: the Amazon Way on IoT by John Rossman

* John Rossman is the author of The Amazon Way on IoT: 10 Principles for Every Leader from the World’s Leading Internet of Things Strategies, and a Managing Director at Alvarez and Marsal. Mr. Rossman is an expert at crafting and implementing innovative and digital business models and capabilities, including internet of things. He is a sought after speaker on creating a culture of operational excellence and innovation. Prior to A&M, John was an executive at where he launched the third party selling platform, and ran the merchant services business. Mr. Rossman’s blog is and can be reached at johnerossman (at)
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of IoT Business News.

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