You can delight them today, but you'll need to deliver service well beyond tomorrow.

ReadPart 1 andPart 2 in the series on CP firms pursuing smart tech.

A cast iron pan can last for generations without the need for service, updates or troubleshooting. They're nearly impossible to break, "intuitive" to use and arguably get better with time. Contrast that with a smart product, which may bring with it a need to educate the customer, advanced troubleshooting and performance feedback, and ongoing customer support and security updates. As consumer product (CP) firms look at ways to integrate smart tech into their offerings, one of the biggest pieces of product design they need to consider is ongoing customer care.

In the first and second articles in this series, we looked at the complex array of manufacturing, procurement, cybersecurity and software challenges that accompany a pivot into smart tech. Here, we look at how the customer relationship infrastructure must adapt if you're to keep customers for life.

They will have questions

Whether they're setting up a smart kettle, a piece of exercise equipment or a doorbell, customers need to be educated on how to operate the product and sold on the features built into the product offering. They've invested in a product that promises to do more, but the proof will be in the initial setup.

CP firms, then, need to establish a dedicated customer support team knowledgeable about the product's smart features and functionalities, and structured to provide various tiers of support ranging from handling basic queries to resolving complex technical issues.This will likely entail multiple channels (such as phone, email, and chat) through which customers can reach tech support, along with a ticketing system to crack bugs and their fixes.

Your best opportunity to convert customers from one-time to lifelong users comes during the unboxing process. Providing user-friendly documentation and instructional materials can bolster their experience of the product and brand. Importantly, these resources aid in promoting best practices for product use. Typically, in-app or on-device tutorials guide users through the setup process and highlight key features. It's essential that these are continually updated based on user feedback and evolving tech.

They will also have feedback

Elon Musk has made a point of publiclyresponding to user feedback about Tesla on the social-media platform, X, that he bought, taking note of user suggestions to improve the product experience. Tesla also uses customer personalization to induce loyalty. As a Forbes articlenotes, "Tesla driver profiles go beyond typical car personalization to adjust things like suspension, braking, lights, radio presets and even driving style to match each user." Knowing how to harness customer feedback—good and bad—could be key to the next development in the product's lifecycle.

CP firms can actively encourage (and reward) customer feedback through surveys, polls and incentivized feedback programs, and work to regularly communicate product updates and enhancements.

We also suggest that firms keep an eye on social media, often a default forum for customers with negative experiences. Here, it's important to:

  • Monitor social media channels proactively to identify and address customer concerns, complaints, or negative sentiment promptly.
  • Respond to social media backlash with empathy, acknowledging the concerns, and providing transparent and timely explanations or resolutions.
  • Avoid engaging in arguments or defensive responses; instead, maintain a professional and positive tone in all social media interactions.
  • Actively listen to social media conversations, use feedback constructively, and implement necessary changes to address customer concerns.

They will expect updates to security and performance throughout the lifecycle

For a smart product to perform, it may need advanced diagnostic tools like remote-access and diagnostics data to identify and resolve complex issues. These also need to be integrated with customer support systems—consider Apple's Genius Bar as a best-in-class example of integrated product and customer support.

In some ways, the quality of a product won't show in the early days post-unboxing, but months later as latency and compatibility issues arise. CP firms need to be able to diagnose performance and provide software and hardware support, which brings in the added dimension of privacy.

Customers may have concerns about data privacy, security breaches, or unauthorized access to their personal information, so product education needs to cover these areas as well. Best practices are to:

  • Clearly communicate the company's data privacy policies, including the collection, storage, and usage of customer data.
  • Implement robust data security measures, such as encryption, secure authentication, and regular security audits.
  • Provide customers with control over their data, including options to manage privacy settings and consent preferences.
  • Promptly address and communicate any security incidents or breaches, ensuring transparency and taking appropriate corrective actions.

They will be the most likely buyers of your next products

The contract with a consumer is much more complex with a smart product requiring updates and ongoing service. It is also a major opportunity to win customer loyalty, if you handle the questions, feedback and updates well.

As the current product goes through its lifecycle, a strong customer relationship infrastructure keeps the consumer engaged and much more likely to buy your next product. Approached with intelligence, ongoing customer care isn't a bug for consumer product companies, but a long-term feature.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.