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.