Illustration: © IoT For All. Internet of Things isn’t just for industrial enterprises or smart home enthusiasts. The strengths of this tech revolution—in which equipment shares real-time data—are ideal for meeting the challenges of service providers, from restaurants to automotive shops to pet groomers.
Chief among those challenges is evolving customer expectations.
Today’s consumers expect fast, consistent service. In one 2021 survey, nearly 70 percent of respondents considered fast shipping a deciding factor for online purchases. Increasingly, “fast” means instant, with the same-day delivery market expected to grow at a rate of over 20 percent through 2027. But these expectations aren’t limited to e-commerce. If you can’t meet a client’s timeline, they’ll go somewhere else—maybe somewhere that’s already using IoT solutions for a better customer experience.
IoT has plenty to offer in addressing service challenges, including predictive maintenance, asset tracking, and advanced process automation. But the critical advantage IoT brings to service industries comes from one capability: service tracking.
Service Tracking with IoT Solutions
Service tracking is just what it sounds like real-time visibility into the progression of a task, whether that’s boat repair or a haircut. An IoT solution provides this visibility automatically. Here’s a quick picture of how IoT service tracking works:
- Multiple low-cost sensors observe the task, watching for progress indicators. These are the things of the IoT, sensors embedded in equipment or posted at a distance, like cameras or RF devices. They’re called edge devices, and they collect data at the point of work.
- Internet connectivity transmits the data. Edge devices collect process data, but to share it, they need wireless connectivity. That could be a dedicated narrowband IoT network, 5G, or even Bluetooth.
- A cloud-based data handling platform. Observational data feeds into a centralized platform on the cloud. There, it’s transformed into insight. Say you run an oil change service. Cameras in your work bays may send a video feed to your data platform, where the software recognizes a car rolling out of the bay. This sets off indicators that an oil change is complete.
- Front-end software applications, which provide human touchpoints. The last stage of IoT service tracking is sharing data with stakeholders. In this context, that may mean a branded app that updates your customers with real-time estimates: “Your car will be ready in 10 minutes,” for instance. It may also include a reporting dashboard that helps you spot process improvements.
Of course, every IoT implementation is unique, and this is just a snapshot. It may leave you wondering why service providers should pay attention to IoT. The answer is that IoT provides extraordinary advantages for service companies.
How IoT Service Tracking Benefits Service Providers—And Their Customers
Service tracking with IoT leads to a range of benefits. Early adopters in service industries are already implementing IoT solutions to:
- Reduce wait times. When you track your services with digital precision, your entire scheduling operation becomes much less wasteful. You no longer have to rely on best-guess estimates. You know your next guest’s room will be ready at precisely 10:05 a.m. because the system tracked the housekeeping process. Better yet, an automated system can share that information with the guest. This sort of predictive wait time can eliminate lines—and the frustration that comes with them.
- Increase operational efficiency. Service tracking saves customers time, and it can do the same for your team. With more efficient scheduling, you can see more clients, and boost both efficiency and profitability. Process data also reveals bottlenecks for workflow optimization. All in all, this allows you to continually improve productivity, leading to lower prices and a sharper competitive edge.
- Create a better overall customer experience. All of the above benefits add up to a great customer experience, the key to growth in service industries. Line-free service, progress updates, and cost-savings driven by efficient operation: They all keep customers coming back.
Of course, service tracking isn’t the only way IoT benefits service providers. IoT greatly simplifies asset tracking for goods and equipment. Sensors in core equipment can track usage for more precise preventative maintenance. They can even send data to machine learning models to enable predictive maintenance. And this is a fast-moving technology; there’s always more on the horizon.
What service tracking can offer is an Uber-like experience for everything. Uber’s strength is its predictability. When you open the app, you know your driver will be there at a certain time, which gives you the freedom to make other choices. Say your driver is 15 minutes away; maybe you have time to grab that cup of coffee. If a nearby cafe uses IoT service tracking, and their app tells you the wait time is just 6 minutes, you’ll know that you do.