connectivity solution

User-Centered IoT: What’s in it for them?

This is the second blog post in our series about connectivity. Get caught up by starting with “Connecting the dots: Three big reasons businesses are thinking about IoT

Similar to other product improvement projects, adding connectivity to a product must take into account how your customers will feel about the capabilities. Will they find it beneficial to be connected or, on the other hand, see it as intrusive?

In our experience, we have seen organizations focusing on one of two user-facing benefits to “connecting” a product: 

Multi-Channel Access

Expanding access points — Enhancing connectivity to allow customers to access services or products in new ways, including omni- and multi-channel experiences from a variety of connected devices.

 

PDashboard wireframeroviding data to the user — Enhancing connectivity to provide data collected by a product back to the user of the product. In these cases, the hypothesis is that the data will provide some valuable insight to the user causing them to feel or act differently based on what they now know.

 

But even user-focused, well intentioned upgrades run the risk of users feeling that the added complexity (or cost) isn’t worth the proposed value. Like all hypotheses, your approach to connecting your product should be carefully tested with users—before spending time and money developing communications protocols to transmit the data, or programming analytics engines to generate insights. Below are several interesting research questions that are worth considering when thinking about providing data to users:

1. When customers view this data, what will they do differently because of it?

Customers will find it unhelpful to receive data they can do nothing about. Performing research to put sample data in front of customers and find out what, if anything, would cause them to take action is key to making a good connected product. Additional testing can determine whether the insights are useful, easy-to-understand, and delivered at an appropriate frequency.

Pay careful attention to providing users with insights too late to be useful. If a restaurant finds out their refrigerator was running too warm seven days after the food in it was already served to customers, they might be more frustrated than if they had never known at all.

Also consider whether it would be beneficial for the product to take the next logical action for the customer. Rather than notifying a homeowner that their lights are on and nobody’s home, why not just shut them off?

2. What is the full picture of data that would need to exist to drive this action?

Often, usage data alone may not provide adequate insight to trigger an action. But when combined with additional data from another source, the insight becomes clear and actionable. Find out from users what other relevant data is available to them, and how you could combine it with your data for maximum utility. For example, telling a surgeon only how many rubber gloves she used is just about as useful as telling her how many gallons of gas her car consumed. Without being able to see how this information correlates with the number of surgeries performed, your customers won’t be able to tell if their usage is appropriate or changing over time.

3. What is the best way for the user to receive the data?

Most users will prefer to consume information in a place they are already going rather than bounce between several disparate systems. If they aren’t regularly accessing the product for data and insights now, it’s unlikely they will in the future (unless it is a very unique and compelling insight!). For example, many medical remote monitoring companies are now integrating device data with their customers’ existing electronic medical record software, rather than delivering it by bespoke hardware monitors or one-off web portals.

4. What are the user’s boundaries when it comes to data privacy?

It’s important to understand where your users will draw the line about allowing a device to capture data about them. Even if the data can be used to provide a clear value, if seen as too invasive, adoption could be limited. Telling a marathoner how many miles she’s put on her shoes might be great, but if the data also reveals what time and exactly where she is running, she may feel it could put her in a potentially dangerous situation.

5. How does being connected change the service model?

Users can help define if connected device experiences are additional touchpoints or replacement touchpoints. They can also point to ways that being connected could enhance or empower existing touchpoints. For example, field sales calls may remain a primary touchpoint, but sales reps could be provided with more tailored sales recommendations customized to the way the customer is using the product.

Ready to implement?

Once the business objectives and user experience goals are thoroughly analyzed, there are some important things to consider about how the connections get built and implemented. None of the strategy and research methods we’ve covered so far are all that different from other product and service design efforts, but in our final installment we’ll cover four unique questions that we feel are critical for connectivity project teams to consider prior to implementation.

If you’re interested in more information about user research with connectivity ideas, this post was also the basis for a recent presentation to TC UX Meetup.

Connecting the dots: Three big reasons businesses are thinking about IoT

During a recent happy hour gathering of Fathom Consulting colleagues, a few of us realized a common thread running through several otherwise unrelated projects. It seemed that, all of a sudden, many of our clients had been bitten by the “connectivity” bug.  Though diverse across industries, products, and services, many of our clients were actively exploring ways and reasons to allow their standalone products to communicate—to each other, to the cloud or data hub, and, in some cases, directly to users.

An active discussion ensued: What had we learned across these projects that we could share with product and program owners who might be considering connectivity solutions in the near future? Thus, a blog series was born.  (Watch for two more posts in the near future!)

But first, a few definitions

Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the networking of physical things (often referred to as “smart devices”) in order to collect and exchange data. Some products we’ve worked with include medical devices, inventory control tags, and consumer goods.

A simpler, but related, concept is that of “connected devices.” Connected devices send or receive data to at least one other device. They might use Internet protocols to make the exchange (making them part of the IoT), or they might just be connected directly to one other device (for example, a monitor on a patient that communicates via Bluetooth to a monitor across the room).

These days the terms are used almost interchangeably. For these blog posts, we’re sticking with the broader label of “connected devices”—since most of the points we want to make are relevant whether or not the device is truly part of the IoT.

“Connectivity is the tool, not the target”

Let’s start off with the obvious way that this latest technological capability is identical to all the others that came before it.  Just like getting on the web in the late ‘90s and getting on social media 10  years ago was unwise unless you had a valid reason to do so, pursuing a connectivity solution just for the sake of it is just as likely to leave product owners feeling disappointed, foolish, and poor. Like all successful innovations, a move into a connected landscape must be underpinned by solid business and user objectives. We’ll explore three good business reasons to get connected in this post and user benefits in the next post.

1. Provide efficient service and effective support

Traditionally, products that have shipped and are in the hands of users can be hard to maintain. The user has to do their own maintenance, and troubleshooting often involves frustrating phone calls to 1-800 numbers.

But products that have shipped and are connected can more easily be maintained and repaired by a remote update. Rather than a service technician being deployed when things break down, fixes or version updates can be pushed to a user’s device via the Internet. The company saves time and money, and the user is back up and running much faster.

Combine the ability to service products remotely with increased visibility into how the product is operating, and it may be possible to proactively solve a problem before the user is even aware there is one. Connectivity can not only prevent things from going wrong, but also make sure things go right. As an example, Tesla Motors recently pushed an update to its cars allowing drivers in Florida to drive more miles between battery charges as they evacuated prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Even in cases in which a physical product must be fixed in person, the benefits of a company communicating with its products can still be realized. Data received from the device ahead of time could be used to diagnose the problem and ensure the dispatched technician has the correct tools, parts, and expertise to complete the job.

2. Gather data on product usage

When sitting down to discuss how a product could be improved or what features should make the cut-off for the next launch, we consistently counsel our clients to consider how their users use the product today. It makes more sense to spend design and development capital on important experiences that a re frequently used or difficult rather than upgrading features that no one knows exist. Yet often our clients have to make educated guesses or spend time on baseline research just to understand what, exactly, their customers are doing with their products.

But when products in the field are connected and communicating usage data, suddenly insights about problem areas or underutilized features are readily available. These insights can inform product design and feature lists in a way analogous to web analytics. When combined with additional information the device might collect on the location, time, and the user’s identity, this data can even serve as the foundation of a robust persona or inform an audience-specific design process.

In addition, usage information could empower others at the company who interface with the user. Perhaps a certain user needs additional training on advanced features or is operating the product in an unethical or inefficient way that should be addressed. If the inventory of consumable products can be captured and transmitted, then sales calls or promotions could be expertly timed.

3. Define new service and revenue models

The ability to provide more options for serving and charging your customers increases exponentially once a physical product is connecting in real time. Rather than a monthly service fee, customers could pay for each time or day they use the product. These options could be attractive to customers who otherwise would not have purchased the product, believing that they wouldn’t use it enough to justify the subscription fees (similar to the pay-as-you-go mobile phones).

Leasing models on connected products could now include low, medium, or high-usage plans, or advanced features could be immediately enabled after payment of an upgrade cost—akin to web apps like Google Drive or SurveyMonkey. This gives the makers of physical products new ways to get their foot in the door with customers at a lower price point. Costly medical monitoring equipment or seldom-used safety equipment could follow the path of tiered pricing models set out by digital-only companies like Hulu, or sell packages of concurrent users like Adobe.

Instead of connecting with customers a few times a year via in-person visits or phone calls, you could have literally hundreds of small touchpoints with them each month as they interact with you via the product. This could drastically change the closeness of the service relationship, while saving the business money on a costly field sales and service team.

Need more reasons?

These benefits to the business may be reason enough for many organizations to see the value in getting connected. Basic back-of-the-napkin math on increased sales or savings from more efficient service is often enough to justify the investment in getting connected. But remember—we’ve only covered the internal benefits here! Next time we’ll explore how to create connected solutions users will love, too.