Mike Cushing / Design Thinking / March 2nd, 2018

Connecting the Smart Home with Consumer Expectations

The rise of IoT-connected devices promises companies of all sizes unprecedented access to consumer’s daily lives, yet the market faces a number of challenges. While some device manufacturers have seized on the opportunities of new user interfaces, the fledgling marketplace for smart devices has quickly become fragmented and confusing for both B2B and B2C customers.

Last week, we hosted a small huddle of smart-device innovators to discuss the hurdles facing manufacturers, service providers, app developers and utilities that want to leverage new devices to meet customer demands. More than anything, we learned the connected home faces a massive disconnect with consumer expectations.

A Use Case is Not a Customer Experience

I recently bought a smart light bulb, my apartment’s first smart device to connect to my Google Home. The manufacturer promised it could connect with any UI assistant, like Alexa, Google Home or Cortana, and it allowed endless customization of light.  I could choose an intensity of light at a single point along a huge yellow, white or blue color spectrum – anything I needed to fit my mood or the time of day.

But I had to use the device’s custom app and could only connect via a 2.4 GHz WiFi network.

After logging into my router and reconfiguring it from 5 GHz to 2.4 and connecting my new light bulb to my Home…it disconnected and required reconnection after the first time I turned off my lamp. And the second. I boxed it up and returned it after the third reset.

While hardly unique, this experience encapsulates the reality of the connected home. Customers, typically making their purchasing decisions based on their smartphone platform, face a marketplace defined by individual device ecosystems, walled software gardens, and premier devices that may or may not align with their chosen platform.

This fragmented market requires consumers to become technologists and futurists in a world where technological change happens in the blink of an eye. More than any other emerging technology, the connected home puts the onus on the consumer to build their own use case, rather than the enterprise carving out a niche to serve customers.

So how can we build a road forward?

Connect the Consumer Dots

As we learned from fintech innovators, enterprises nearly always struggle to map the possibilities of emerging technologies to consumer behavior. Beyond the lack of clear consumer vision, our innovators made it clear that enterprises struggled to define who owns the smart-device ecosystem, particularly for B2B clients.

Developing a cohesive vision of a connected device strategy requires understanding the totality of the customer journey – not just for a specific demographic, but for grouped mentalities that share specific goals and demands. With emerging technologies, companies often make the mistake of focusing on younger demographics, the typical early adopters, while ignoring that many smart home users are older users guided by their children.

Although the smart home ecosystem will likely remain fragmented across platforms for the foreseeable future, enterprises need to coalesce their service offerings among specific user groups, rather than trying to reach everyone who happens to have an Alexa-connected device in their home or car.

The Current Connected Home is Boring

Transcribe my grocery list. Adjust the thermostat. Turn the lights off when I leave home. So far, connected devices have delivered the promise of solving users’ basic needs, which means they become nearly invisible, and forgettable. The marketing of smart devices inherently focuses on specific use cases, often related to the business goals of their ecosystems. Google wants you to search and organize your life. Amazon wants to know everything it can to eventually sell you products.

Eventually, the connected home will need to focus on the daily experience of its consumers and go beyond use cases to create homes that truly come alive around their customers, rather than forcing them into business-focused interactions. And that requires devices that can anticipate user demands, rather than simply delivering boring responses to a small segment of interactions.

Finding the Path Forward

Mapping the customer journey of any emerging technology can seem like an impossible task, but it begins by knowing your customers as well as your business objectives. While many companies are scrambling to fit services with any platform that seems to have market share, 352 can help facilitate true customer discovery through design sprints and workshops to rapidly move new initiatives to success.

To fully mature, companies pursuing connected home initiatives will need to pursue smart strategic alliances, create common device protocols, and develop customer experiences that enhance their users’ lives, rather than merely shifting the interface they use to access certain information.