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Automating service programs, customer service via IoT

Feb. 9, 2016
Here are four ways IoT can guide service offerings and foster customer loyalty: Analyze data to understand system operation. Improve asset management with the ability to analyze, diagnose, and act quickly. Automate preventive maintenance visits.  Help clients operate their facilities more efficiently.  
Photo: iStock/ThinkStock.

The Internet of Things is taking by storm mechanical industries, like plumbing, impacting everything from how products are designed to how they’re serviced to how contractors interact with customers.

“As companies accelerate the deployment of smart, connected products, we will see a growing need for alignment between product development, sales and marketing, and field services,” said the TSIA 2015 State of Field Services Report.

Plumbing contractors that understand facility assets and how to connect legacy systems with new technology put themselves in a position to gain insights from IoT sensors. With IoT capabilities at their fingertips, contractors can enable clients to achieve higher efficacies and more reliable systems by better managing, controlling, maintaining, diagnosing issues and optimizing their facilities. 

The key for plumbing contractors to take advantage of IoT is in their ability to analyze the mass of data coming in and get creative in their approach to service offerings and customer engagement based on the data. Let’s dive a little deeper into some key ways plumbing contractors can implement the IoT to guide new and recurring business.

IoT can guide service offerings, foster loyalty

Here are four ways IoT can guide service offerings and foster customer loyalty”

  1. Analyze data to understand system operation: IoT sensors create a huge mass of data, which contractors, when equipped with the tools to interpret it, can use to inform future system design, develop more efficient installation methods, and create service operations so fewer problems occur and customers experience less system downtime.  
  1. Improve asset management with the ability to analyze, diagnose, and act quickly. When equipped with intricate details about system performance and service history taken directly from the plumbing system, contractors can look at a system, predict when something may go wrong, and inform customers how they can run it more efficiently.
  1. Automate preventive maintenance visits: To improve service offerings and prevent problems from occurring before they even begin, contractors can use IoT sensors to trigger alerts when the plumbing system operates outside set parameters. The system activates a work order automatically when a piece isn’t working as it should. As the work order is generated, the system orders parts and schedules a preliminary service call. When the parts arrive, a service truck is dispatched to the site to perform the PM. Each of these steps is done automatically in seconds since no human interaction is required.
  1. Help clients operate their facilities more efficiently: Contractors’ main priority it so help their customers. By giving them the insight and analytics to see exactly how their systems are functioning, plumbing contractors give their customers peace of mind that everything is working as it should and the insight they need to run more efficiently.

Connected plumbing is the future

As more plumbing contractors invest in smart technology like the IoT, service demands from customers will rise.

One example of a plumbing business incorporating smart technology is Water Hero. With the sensors they’ve installed in their plumbing systems, Water Hero can detect water leakage. The system makes use of a homeowner’s existing WiFi network to collect water usage information in the Cloud down to the second. When it detects abnormal water usage, a homeowner receives a warning message via a text message. Unless the homeowner instructs otherwise, Water Hero activates a motorized valve to shut off the water. 

Like the Nest thermostat and other consumer technologies, IoT will connect how clients interact with their plumbing systems, and it will be the contractor’s responsibility to resolve issues as they arise and prevent damage from occurring.

Overcoming challenges

While the IoT will certainly transform mechanical industries in the coming years, it’s not going to happen all at once. Consider the following challenges and build a plan to overcome them in order to successfully roll out an IoT solution.

  1. Analyzing the right data: IoT sensors produce an abundance of data (why the term “big data” actually makes sense in this context). With all that information, service businesses need a plan to determine what to look for and the tools to analyze the data.
  1. Storing data: Because IoT sensors can collect so much information, storing it all can be tricky. This problem is easily resolved by investing in a service software provider with strong cloud hosting capabilities.
  1. Security: As more “things” become connected, security breaches become a bigger threat. While it may seem counter-intuitive, hosting data in the cloud actually improves security since experts are charged with guarding and managing the data at all times.
  1. Shifting business plans: IoT is causing some big changes in the industry, which means many businesses will have to go undergo the painful process of transforming their existing business plan. Adopting the IoT will require a change in the way many organizations design and augment their industrial systems. To simplify this process, IoT systems must be adaptive and scalable through software or added functionality that integrates with the overall solution.
  1. Maintaining precision: Equipment manufacturers and end users often work with precision machines that can fail if timing is off by even a millisecond. To prevent machine failure or a project mishap, equipment needs to adhere to strict requirements, which make it vital that IoT sensors do their job precisely every time.

While there are certainly reasons to be cautious when investing in an IoT solution, we’ll soon begin to see (if you haven’t already) the benefits of using IoT to guide system insight and proactive service programs. Plumbing contractors that can add effective service and maintenance programs in addition to the installation of new systems will realize the long-term benefits of building a satisfied and loyal customer base.

As sensors and data intelligence become more sophisticated, insights and alerts driven by the IoT will become the next standard in service. Will you have the tools at your disposal to meet that standard?

Joanna is the content marketing manager at MSI Data, a field service management software provider and creator of enterprise field service app, Service Pro

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