Customer service will kill wearables

We all know Wearables are coming to a body near you, maybe even your own.  You need not look hard or long to find sites like this one: Wearables Deloitte University.  What’s missing on this info-graphic?  It starts with a “C”.

So what will be the weakest link and potentially kill this new market?  Customer service.

“Please hold while we check the service records for burning clothes linked to our smart buttons.  I am sorry, can you speak up over the sirens?”

That simply won’t fly in the new world of wearable technologies.  It’s common, even for companies like Google, to under power customer service with email only forms and links to dumb support document links.  Given we are trying to push Age of Context and contextual marketing to your wearable and implantable body parts, it’s almost criminal that we do exactly the opposite for support.  Why can’t this be built in from the start?

Processing power is still expensive.  Creative development is even more expensive.  And, many companies see “service” as not core to the business.  For all the benefits of Moore’s Law, we still have computational and go to market costs.  In a rush to low cost and fast deployments we have to sacrifice something and that something is always skewed in favor of the marketing dollars and partner API’s.  You’re just going to have to wait for contextually aware service, and if history is any indicator, you will be waiting a long time for never to come.  Let’s look at four clear use cases.  Bose, Google Glass, Logitech, Fitbit.  Oh, and Basis.

Bose bluetooth headset:  I called, as I have done for other products before.  Bose performed all of the standard CRM procedures.  I completed an online form, they dutifully replied, an exchange of information was conducted, and I was informed my product was out of warranty.  This exchange was predictable resulting in the same unique offer only Bose seems to offer me each and every time.  We can’t warranty the unit, but will offer you a substantial discount.  They conclude the effort with a shipped product that requires me to pay for the discount after shipping in the product.  It’s always be kind and respectful.  They always make the offer and I always accept.  I have many Bose products and continue to buy more.  Total time, 12 hours to 1 week.  Cost for new, $250 +/-.  Replacement no questions asked, $91.  Good deal after 5 years.

Google Glass:  I called directly and replicated the problem exactly for the service tech.  They performed all the standard CRM procedures.  They took down all information and submitted my case for review.  They offered me a complete replacement, (which is not the experience many others had) with very limited options.  The entire process took some exchanges back and forth, but it was not unreasonable.  They offered to replace the unit with a deposit hold, or have me send mine in.  Luck for me, I live close to a base station and was able to go in for the exchange.  They were friendly and helpful.  What was striking is how they had more options and latitude to work with my in person than online.  They also were very casual if not cold online following the obvious scripts vs the friendly and congenial onsite process.  Total time, 1 week.  Cost for new, $1,500.  Replacement, $0.

Logitech:  I don’t currently have any products from them.  I have tossed them all out.  I had purchased the new Apple Air keyboard.  It was dead on arrival.  I could not call anyone, but did send an online form.  After a few days I was pestered for with more than a few emails and calls.  Once we got to the bottom of the problem, that it did not even turn on, they agreed to send a replacement.  That took weeks.  They also charged me for the replacement pending a credit on return of the old one.  The replacement was also DOA.  After endless calls, 4 months and tremendous pain I returned all units and received a credit for a product I really wanted.  Normal process in my experience, and I have since divested myself of any and all products by them.

Fitbit:  I purchased a gift for my wife.  The unit was hard on her skin and had a terrible clasp.  We contacted the company via the online system highlighting our concerns.  Lame CRM reply.  I took to shame them on public / social media.  I had a 4 hour reply from marketing with a number to contact.  During this exchange, we discovered the band did not close correctly, and it was lost.  I followed up with them on numerous occasions and they committed verbally and in writing that a credit would be coming after engineerings review.  During this exchange, the unit was officially recalled with a public statement the original owners would be 100% refunded. I emailed and called expressing my concern they never followed up with my previous emails and calls or refund.  Now that the very same unit was under a general recall, could they close the loop?  They both assured me they would and continued to communicate with me.  That has been 4 months.  No action.  Fitbit, if you even hear about this, my order number is HBR6XLX.  You can also seem my Public Shaming on Facebook.  Time, endless.  Cost for new, $140.  Cost to replace, N/A going to another product.

And to close out this post, let me talk about Basis.  A 100% wonderful experience.  The unit band failed after 4 months.  It was a small issue on a secondary band.  After a few quick questions, they sent a replacement.  No charge, no questions.  Sadly, it broke when I tried to connect it to the head unit, and for some strange reason, that damaged the anchor point.  I replied to an email and they responded by sending a full and new unit asking for the old in return.  Again, no questions asked.  They did it right! Period.  Cost new, $250. Cost replace, $0.

So, whats the lesson here.

  1. There is NO innovation in customer service systems.  But some manage to get parts of the equation correct
  2. There is NO contextual service model – only marketing models
  3. Current systems don’t and won’t scale to handle the onslaught of calls that will come from the masses – we don’t have scripts for that today
  4. Outsourcing this will only make it exponentially worse as we lose any connection to the user experience
  5. Things that have high expectations and fall flat like Google Glass will be a drag on everyone trying to build premium brands
  6. Things that hurt people like Fitbit will a deterrent, more so when less reputable companies get into the market and create confusion around safety
  7. Outdated and bad service/replacement models will create mass dissatisfaction
  8. If users come to reply on these devices and they fail at high rates, it will create a huge burden on companies to excel at customer service while increasing costs.  two things that have never been solved in the current market.  Ironically it will be the goal of these same companies to make each product indispensable to a persons life.  How will that go over when they fail on this very task.
  9. You thought getting support with connected devices from other vendors was hard before… just wait!

So, let’s be clear from the start.  Build the best product you can, have contextual service designed in, and find a way to insure customers expectations are both met and exceed.  One way to do that is charge for service tiers up front.  Another is to insure the expectations are clear or the utilization model is secondary to a persons life.  Which would go directly against #8 above.  Innovations in service will be the new battle front.  Better arm yourselves now or count me out of the wearable service nightmare.

“Thank you for calling, you are the 27th caller and your call will be answered in the order it was received.  Please have the make, model, serial number, original sales date, and order number ready.  If you don’t have these things, please hang up, and call us back.  We appreciate your business, and kindly suggest you check out our website at and read the guides that might address your issue.  Thank you again, and enjoy our music on hold.”

Oh, and just one more thing!

From the makers of TIle.

July 2013:

The Tile Team would like to thank you once again for helping to make Tile a reality.  We have started charging credit cards so that we can move forward with the production and manufacturing of Tile.  Doing this will help us get Tile to you as soon as possible.
Since you are one of our first backers, we want to provide you with the steps we have ahead of us before Tile is in your hands.

August – Start building the tool for Tile housing and prototyping the PCB at the factory

Late August – Receive first Tile samples from the factory for review

Late September – Sign off on prototypes from factory

Late October – Start production

Early December – Finished Tiles get sent to our distribution center

Early January – Begin shipping Tiles to our backers

June 2014

Hello Tilers,

I wanted to let you all know that we have now shipped over 20,000 Tiles and there will be tens of thousands shipped every week going forward. In addition, if you haven’t seen our video demonstrating the app, check it out here.
Our production line is being exercised daily and we’re still working out the kinks now that we’re in mass production. However, we wanted to provide you with an estimated shipping schedule. This schedule, located here, will be updated regularly based on actual shipments and production volumes. 

For those backers outside the US, we are completing our legal compliance requirements and will begin shipping international orders the week of June 30th.


Nick & Mike


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