Customer_Appreciate.jpgLaurie McCabe is co-founder and partner with SMB Group, Inc., a technology industry research, analysis and consulting firm. She is widely known for her capabilities and insights in the small and medium business market in several areas, including cloud computing, mobile solutions, business solutions, social networking and collaboration, and managed services.

UnboundID: Are Internet of Things technologies (IoT) becoming a tool in the box for marketers yet?

McCabe: People get that IoT is a game-changer, but whether or not marketers see it as a tool is another question. I’m not sure they do yet. The potential is that through smart devices, marketers can learn a lot about customers and their preferences. For example, if your company makes a smart refrigerator and it partners with major grocery stores, it can help the consumer compare the prices of items between different stores and create shopping lists. So as the manufacturer, you can provide valuable content and information back to the consumer. It’s going to unleash a new way to think about marketing because now we can see data on how customers are using the products, not just what they are buying. From there, the vendor can think about how they can provide the value add that the consumer will appreciate.

I think the highest return potential on IoT will be for industrial use, in which IoT solutions help customers run their businesses more efficiently. These include, for instance, instrumentation to help farmers use resources more efficiently and improve crop yields. Or, a retailer might use “smart” store equipment, which captures data on air conditioning, lighting, locks and other systems, alerts retailers if there’s a problem and diagnoses the problem so service technicians know what parts to bring to fix the equipment.

UnboundID: How might companies use IoT techs to increase customer engagement in cost-effective ways?

McCabe: At the end of day improving the customer experience is the best marketing you can have. Look at how you can use IoT to improve the customer experience with your products and services so that they will want to do more business with you and create referral business through colleagues, friends and digital social networks. Getting back to the smart refrigerator, if via IoT, you can get recipes for what’s in the fridge, or in the industrial IoT world, if IoT helps you to use less energy, water or other resources, that provides tangible value.

UnboundID: What are the privacy and trust issues that relate?

McCabe: IoT is the latest manifestation of everything we’re doing in the digital era, following on the heels of cloud, social and mobile. So the issues are somewhat the same. People want convenience, which means they are giving providers access to a lot of information in exchange for that. IoT apps are mostly designed to be very easy for the end-user, so they definitely provide this convenience. The technology collects and acts upon data to make your life better, or help your business run better.

This does open up some privacy and security issues, but I don’t think it will be a barrier for most people. These concerns haven’t prevented people from using cloud, social and mobile apps. Not all applications have to be personalized to an individual or necessarily need to collect highly sensitive information.

There are always trade-offs that people have to make. Take the Apple iWatch. You have to decide if you want it to monitor your health and every step you take. I do think service providers will need to be more forthcoming about what information they will collect, how it will be used and who will access it. The privacy issues may be more obvious to the consumer with IoT because they have a physical device that is doing something for them. But many of these devices are very specific to a certain use case, compared with a mobile phone that may be collecting data behind the scenes for multitudes of apps.

UnboundID: Let’s move on to a more general question. Are marketers being more cautious with spending right now, in an uncertain economy?

McCabe: Whether you are a B2B or B2C marketer, it’s important to understand that customers are doing more research on their own. Marketers need to determine how customers are making buying decisions for their goods or services, and how and where they can add value in the decision-making process.

I don’t think it’s as much a matter of spending more or less money, but more about rethinking your investment. As always it will depend upon your market, but there is no question that the customer experience is key. If customers have a good experience, or a bad one, they go viral with it. So focusing on the customer experience and learning and engaging in a two-way dialogue is critically important. Also, make sure that the sale doesn’t end with the transaction and that you follow up and gather information from customers to create better solutions or programs. Another aspect that gets overlooked is employee experience. Employees can be your greatest marketing advocates or your worst enemies.

Finally, it’s not just pushing content to customers but authentically wanting to engage and listen. I just went to a large chain store today to get some clothes for my teenage son. The clerk asked for my rewards card which of course I didn’t have on me. He said he would make sure the points got applied to my account and made a copy of my receipt and said he would email me once it was done. Most stores don’t go to that trouble, but you can bet that I will go back to that store when I need something else for my son.

At a high level, I see a blurring between marketing, sales and customer service. These areas are often silos in a company, but they shouldn’t be. It’s really important to be able to share information across the teams to better serve customers.

EXECUTIVE BRIEF: How to Balance Privacy and Personalization for Outstanding Customer Experiences

Customers want personalized experiences across digital channels and apps, but they also expect businesses to be good stewards of their information. Read the brief to learn how Customer Identity and Access Management can help balance privacy and personalization.