These days, “talking about our relationship” means more than it used to. Now, it spells game-changing opportunity.

For many, an organization’s relationship with its customers used to be largely limited to the point of sale. Thereafter, contact was a good deal more incidental—maybe a bit of anecdotal feedback or a response to a satisfaction survey, but that was usually it.

Thanks to technology such as connected devices and embedded software, that’s all changed now. Understanding how this technology works as well as its potential can offer your organization both meaningful insight and opportunity.

One Hub: The Internet of Things (IoT)

January’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas highlighted the broad potential of products and services related to the Internet of Things (IoT). That’s the Internet-based network of computing devices and sensors embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data and carry out functions based on preprogrammed instructions. As one article detailed, that’s growing to include everything from a bed that automatically adjusts during the night to a “smart” hairbrush that critiques morning grooming technique.

But alongside the new ways users can leverage IoT is the related opportunity for companies providing these products and services—and not just ending at the point of sale. In effect, IoT-connected devices also provide companies with enormous potential regarding product and customer service, greatly boosting interaction and speed of response. (For a piece on how to prepare your customer support team to work with IoT-connected consumers, go here.)

Nor is connectivity limited to basic customer support. Many companies today interact with the customer in many ways, long after the sale is made, collaborating with them on engineer-to-order (ETO), configure-to-order (CTO) or service management processes. Data from connected devices and embedded software enhance these and other opportunities.

Boosting New Product Research and Development

Another advantage from connected devices and embedded software is relates to things yet to come. The IoT can vastly accelerate product research and development. By using sensor, diagnostic and user-interaction data from devices, companies enjoy full product transparency. By seeing how customers are using their products, businesses can quickly update features or adjust future models to better match customer desires and behaviors.

From an anticipatory standpoint, companies can also better predict future consumer preferences. This insight is invaluable – rather than going through tedious trial and error, companies can know in real time what is working and what is not, enabling them to make data-driven decisions and immediately correct or adjust issues. This leads to better product design—both now and in the future.

Marketing and advertising also benefit. With the data from connected devices, companies can better understand and predict customer preferences. Then, rather than creating a general, one-size-fits-all marketing strategy, advertisers and marketers can target individual segments of their customer bases. Instead of flooding all customers with the same offer, marketing teams can create personalized offers geared to attract particular customers.

Privacy—The Elephant in the Room

Understandably, discussion of IoT-related issues brings to mind consumer privacy concerns. Users must willingly supply a fair amount of personal data for these devices to serve their individual needs. And the number of well-publicized hacks in 2016 alone—involving luminaries such as Yahoo and Dropbox—illustrates the very real risk of someone grabbing reams of personal details.

Other concerns go beyond those of the individual user. The move toward universal connection also boosted a surge in the number of distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against businesses in 2016.

But, ironically enough, therein lie other areas of opportunity, as developers look to shore up existing and potential security breaches. For instance, The Norton Core, developed by Symantec, is a router built with IoT in mind, capable of monitoring traffic for unusual activity and able to alert the user of suspected hijacks. This is just one example of new tools that are being deployed to increase security.

A sense of balance is critical. Once adequate security measures are developed and in widespread use, the IoT—and with it, the subsets of connected sensors, devices and embedded software—offers enormous potential for companies to know their customers better. Just as important, companies will be able to be more anticipatory than ever when it comes to staying on top of changing customer satisfaction and preferences.