Robot Advocates: When Consumer Products Advocate on the Customer’s Behalf

The Situation

Recently, True Interaction lead backend developer Darrik Mazey had experienced some troubling hardware issues – this time, it was outside of his hectic True Interaction project schedule.

His family’s 2-year old LG refrigerator went down, requiring multiple visits by the repairman to diagnose and fix, pulling him away from professional commitments, and generally making life annoying as he tried in vain to keep his family’s perishables from spoiling.

Leveraging Social Media, the ‘Old Fashioned’ Way

During this process, he did learn the benefits of leveraging social media to improve his customer service experience with LG.

When Darrik began tweeting about the fridge, LG offered a $50 food reimbursement, and extended his warranty. But this was just the beginning of further product woes, which eventually became the catalyst for an awesome solution.

Problems with the refrigerator persisted after the first “repair” job, and Darrik eventually had to rent another fridge while further diagnosis continued. In all, he estimated the cost due to missed work and equipment rental to be over $1500, no small amount for a hard-working family man.

Implementing a Real-time Solution with Xymon

Being the veteran coder that he is, Darrik resolved to ensure that, should the hardware fail again, he would be informed about it immediately via Xymon. In a nutshell, Xymon monitors hosts, network services, and anything else you might configure it to do via extensions. It can periodically generate requests to network services — http, ftp, smtp and so on — and record if the service is responding as expected.

In a recent personal blog post, Darrik recounts his refrigerator woes, and how he configured a controlbyweb temperature module, connected it to the fridge, networked it via wireless AP and monitored the fridge and freezer temperatures via Xymon 4.3.10.

Darrik monitors his Xymon network via its own Twitter account which conveniently tweets him with status updates, and / or if something is awry. Now Darrik receives tweets as soon as the fridge goes above 40 degrees.

Maximizing the Value of Social Media in the SPIME Era

Learning from his recent foray into using social media to improve his customer service experience, he’s now configured the system so that — should the LG fridge malfunction again — it will @LGUS, LG’s official Twitter account, with a status message, the current temperature inside the fridge, and a #fail hashtag.

We are living in an age where, with a little work and ingenuity, products can be configured to actually hold their parent company accountable — in public — regarding their quality, and the customer service surrounding them. We’re nearly touching upon what futurist Bruce Sterling (who recently shared his take on Google Glass) describes as the “spime era“. Sterling uses the term SPIME for connected, information rich objects that operate and communicate in an internet of things.

Since the onset of Friendster in 2002, social media has evolved from a form of informal communication, to the hottest marketing platform since TV advertisements, to a very viable channel for consumers to elicit and receive customer service. Certainly entrepreneurs and small business owners need to understand that their products and services live and die by consumer sentiment (robotic or otherwise) on social media. While this sounds like a precarious situation, the flipside is that with not too much effort, entrepreneurs and SMBs can preemptively mine social media regarding their products and services in order to unearth incredibly valuable intelligence. This includes discovering not only general consumer sentiment, but also other perspectives on their products and services they might never have considered, such as creative suggestions on improvement and unique new use cases, as well as using social media as a dragnet for discovering bugs, service gaps, or product flaws.

With that in mind, entrepreneurs and SMB owners should establish their social media intelligence network as soon and as thoroughly as possible in order to monitor relevant SM channels and get into the trenches to interface directly with their consumers. Utilize customers for the intelligence that they can provide, and reward them – even if it’s just recognition or a “thank you” – when they provide insight on the product or service, even if it’s not directly to the organization. When businesses step in, get involved and interact, and consumers discover that they are listening and care about their opinion, they’ve just converted a customer for the long-term.

The Future

So what’s next? What happens when consumers can make decisions about the products they choose to purchase, based upon products themselves sharing their real-time data on a social media channel? What happens when brands are judged by their ability to manage the self-communicating products they’ve birthed? And considering all this, where will manufacturer responsibility for their products end or extend in the near future? All of this is fascinating and mind-boggling stuff to ponder for a moment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

by Michael Davison

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