CS in the Internet of Things (IoT) Platform as a Service (PaaS) World
Customer Success (CS) Management, one of the fastest evolving fields today, still struggles to find a universally accepted definition, aside from the generic ‘doing what it takes to make customers successful’. Depending on the type, size and genre of a company, the professionals working in Customer Success are viewed as Relationship Managers, Account Managers, Customer Support, Consultant, or a combination of these roles.
Internet of Things, like Customer Success, is evolving at a rapid pace and currently encompasses a very broad scope. The term ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘IoT’ is used to refer to areas ranging from manufacturing products that can connect to the internet like Thermostats, Refrigerators, or Baby Monitors, to providing product agnostic IoT platforms and infrastructures (PaaS) that allow manufacturers to make any or all their products IoT enabled.
In this article, I give a high level overview of:
- The importance of a Customer Success (CS) Organization in an IoT SaaS Company
- Functions of a CS Organization in IoT PaaS
For the scope of this article, I define a ‘Vendor’ as a manufacturer or retailer who manufactures and/or sells IoT products, and the customer of an IoT PaaS company, and ‘End User’ or ‘Consumer’ as the person who buys and uses these products.
The IoT Revolution and Impact
IoT is blazing an irreversible trail as more and more vendors are making their products connected. An IoT connected product not only allows end users to control it remotely via a mobile app, but also enables state of the art features like remote monitoring, support & diagnostics, real time usage data collection, and analytics. Vendors now have access to this rich source of information that opens up a multitude of opportunities to scale/enhance their existing businesses, and expand into new lines of business.
For example, vendors have the power to decide what data to capture via their connected products, and at what frequencies. Analysis of this data gives them valuable insights about consumer and product behavior, like most used features, product issues, consumables running low etc. Using this knowledge, vendors can offer proactive and personalized support and services to their consumers to enhance loyalty and satisfaction. In parallel, they can also enhance their products by prioritizing most used features, optimizing usage patterns, automating fault detection and mitigation etc. They can also increase upsells and cross-sells by bundling connected products and services to work together seamlessly to offer an enhanced consumer experience.
A product agnostic IoT PaaS offers some of the most exciting and challenging opportunities to define new products and categories. It caters to a wide array of product and vendor types (OEMs, ODMs, retailers), all of whom have different requirements, consumers, and business models. One common theme across all the vendors who are evaluating or using these platforms is that they understand the inevitability of either jumping into the connected product space, or losing out to the competitors very quickly. The challenge is how to go about this process seamlessly without disrupting their existing businesses and maximizing the value they can realize from IoT. That is where the CS Organization of an IoT PaaS company can help.
Customer Success (CS) in IoT PaaS
Typically, CS Orgs are not an integral part of early stage companies. However, for an IoT PaaS company, a strong CS Org is essential from the beginning to ensure that vendors are educated and supported as they venture into the IoT products business line. IoT is so new that many vendors are understandably either unfamiliar with it, or do not fully comprehend its transformational power. It is a core function of a CS Org to ensure that they have the right knowledge, support, and tools to set them up for success.
CS Functions in IoT PaaS
A CS Org in IoT PaaS should be equipped to handle the following functions:
· Education and Training: Many vendors, although experts in their own fields like manufacturing or retail, do not fully understand the requirements to build a successful connected products business. Hence, educating vendors on areas like the basics and best practices of running an IoT business, how it differs from traditional manufacturing, the importance of building an IoT products ecosystem etc. is vital to ensure a successful outcome. Most vendors understand the value of this information, and look forward to getting a better understanding how to define and maximize ROI as they expand into this new business line.
CS also plays a very important role in educating and training partners engaged by vendors to help them in their IoT projects implementation. A typical IoT project involves firmware, and mobile and cloud/integration partners. Many times, the partners either do not have experience developing IoT solution,s or do not have experience working with the specific IoT platform that the vendor selects. In both scenarios, the IoT PaaS company’s CS Org is vital to ensure that all stakeholders receive appropriate training to achieve a common baseline and alignment.
· Consultation: An IoT Platform has to support product agnostic end-to-end connectivity and data flow from device (product) to cloud to mobile app and vice versa. To build a successful solution, it is not enough to just know one’s own platform/cloud or service. An IoT PaaS CS Org should have the expertise to guide vendors through the entire connected products journey, both in pre and post launch phases. CS consultants should be able to advise on topics including, but not limited to, latest trends, best practices, solution development, connectivity options (Alexa, Homekit, others), regional implications/preferences, typical gotchas, interoperability options, ROI, data strategies, effective marketing and support techniques for IoT products, and so on. The CS Org should also be equipped to offer professional services workshops to do deep dives into any of the above topics and more.
The CS Org should also be open to doing product/platform agnostic consulting engagements. The consulting wing of the CS Org should function as an independent entity that mentors and guides the vendors on the right approaches to be successful in IoT, irrespective of whether the vendor picks their platform/service or not.
Education and Consultation activities can be business or technical focused:
· Business Consulting: Customer Success Managers (CSMs), in a IoT PaaS environment, should play the role of business consultants. As the primary point of contact for vendors, it is vital for CSMs to be able to advise on the basics and best practices of IoT, current and future trends etc. They should anticipate requirements, identify gaps, and either be able to advise directly or pull in experts as needed. Considering the newness and rapidly changing environment of IoT, the CSM adopts a consultative role as opposed to a sales focused role and becomes a trusted advisor guiding vendors towards success.
· Technical Consulting: Professional Services Architects and Engineers in CS should function as Solution Architects to help the vendors and partners throughout the project implementation phases for tasks like architecting solution(s), reviewing design and implementations, creating QA plans, testing etc. The Technical Consulting wing of the CS Org is key to ensure that vendors get the required technical guidance to optimally implement their IoT solutions.
· Support: Once a product is launched; the mantle is passed to the Customer Support team in the CS Org. The vendors typically own Tier 1 Support for their consumers themselves. So post launch, the main responsibility of the CS Org’s Support team is to ensure that the vendors’ own support teams are fully equipped to support their connected products, which is a very different experience from supporting their traditional products. For e.g, consumers of connected products could face issues related to Wi-Fi connectivity, registering products to IoT cloud, lag in products reacting to action commands etc. Many of these are not typical for non-connected versions of the same products like refrigerators, HVACs, thermostats etc. Equipping traditional support teams to handle these new questions/issues is very important to ensure a smooth consumer experience.
The Customer Success Org is an integral part of an IoT PaaS company. There is nothing more valuable in Customer Success than building a strong trusted advisor relationship with the customer. CS can establish that relationship in a rapidly evolving, IoT PaaS environment by providing the right guidance, resources, and tools to set customers up for success; thus laying a foundation for a long term successful partnership.
Chitra Madhwacharyula is the Director of Customer Success and Education at Ayla Networks, Inc, one of the fastest growing Internet of Things platforms today. She is a founding member of Ayla’s Customer Success Management team and played a key role in the strategy and launch of Ayla’s Consulting Services and Ayla University; Ayla’s main self paced learning portal. She has more than 15 years experience in Consulting, Customer Success, and Information Management and has been a trusted advisor to many strategic customers and partners in areas like manufacturing, retail, insurance, banking, software, hardware and applications.
Chitra is passionate about empowering customers with the right knowledge and tools for solving their business problems to set them up for success. She believes that trust and integrity are key to succeed in any field, especially Customer Success, and enjoys motivating teams to achieve and exceed goals by adopting optimal strategy and efficient teamwork and collaboration. Chitra hold an M.S in Computer Science from National University of Singapore and M.S in Information Management from University of California at Berkeley.