Frustration Grows Over Lack of Real-Time Solutions

Mark Nelson | Mar 8, 2023

Have you ever completed a major purchase – where you felt like you had to provide way too much personal information about yourself to complete the sale – only to have to keep reminding the store who you are and what you purchased from them as though the purchase never happened? This blog post contemplates this very scenario and wonders if from the store to the manufacturer to the service center to the products themselves, if we, the consumer, should be expecting a better customer experience.

Honey, I want a new washer and dryer for Christmas

Years ago, my wife and I needed to purchase a new washer and dryer. We went to a local appliance store and purchased the appliances. They were not top-of-the-line, however, like all the models they did have digital sensors that would return diagnostics codes should any issues arise. We also purchased the extended warranty since these appliances were a significant investment.

As luck would have it the washer would need maintenance around one year (thankfully we had the extended warranty!). We called to schedule for service and this is where things get interesting. Of course, the service center wants to troubleshoot the washer over the phone. We push various buttons on the washer, and it returns the status codes that indicate the issues. The service center schedules a service call.

Now, having a washer out of order in my house is awful. There always seems to be something being cleaned. Plus, the soonest we could get a service call is two weeks out. This means we are going to have to make a trip to a laundromat at some point. Not a happy house.

Day of the service call, the service technician arrives, runs the same diagnostics, and then concludes he needs to order the parts. How long will that take? At least another two weeks! We waited two weeks already for the service technician to come to our house to tell us what we already knew, just so he could order parts. The service center already knew what was wrong with the washer – it should have sent the parts with the service technician.

Eventually, the parts showed up and the service technician arrived for a second time to install the parts. The washer was fixed and operating again. However, this experience demonstrated to me that despite the sensors that could run diagnostics, and service centers being able to retrieve those trouble codes there are still major gaps in systems downstream for a seamless customer experience.

First, why didn’t the service technician have the parts during the first service call? The troubleshooting session via phone with the service center was quite thorough and extensive. Why perform this exercise if it “doesn’t matter”? Perhaps there was conflicting information that needed to be sorted out. Or the extent of the repair needed to be assessed. I would still argue in favor of being prepared for each contingency than having to return a second time. 

Second, why have the service technician come back twice? We only paid for one service call. In fact, we didn’t pay for anything since it was all under warranty, so from an operational and financial standpoint you could conclude that completing the first service call as efficiently as possible would be desirable.

Third, the parts were shipped to us, not the service technician and then we were supposed to call the service center when they arrived. This process seemed very strange to us, especially since Amazon takes a picture when they deliver a package and sends it to you. After all, “they” (we really don’t know who “they” are – is the service center part of the manufacturer or the appliance store or a completely different third-party?) shipped us the parts, with a tracking number, to our home address, linked to this service call and faulty appliance – you would think they would know the parts arrived as soon as we did. Why are we calling them to tell them the parts they shipped us have arrived?

Clearly there are operational and financial inefficiencies with this process.

I am connected but I cannot go outside

Last year, the oven on our range stopped working. After some light troubleshooting by your author, it was determined that the range was 38 years old and that we should just buy a new one. I wondered where we are on the Internet-of-Things? What is the killer app for appliances?

I keep remembering those IBM Watson commercials where the elevator repair person shows up to fix the elevator before it breaks. I am not expecting this to have trickled down to ranges yet but maybe they have closed some of the maintenance and repair gaps from years earlier. After all, appliances are not getting cheaper, and they are adding more “connected” features.

The term “IoT in a Box” comes to mind as I perform my research. These are features that appear to be “connected” that upon further inspection are limited to the appliance itself and maybe the owner’s mobile phone and home Wi-Fi network. I know, some will argue that this makes it connected. Yes, in spirit, but just like how a larger antenna increases your broadcast signal range, or how a megaphone makes your voice louder.

The “killer app” can be summed up by this example from one manufacturer that showed a person cutting vegetables on their kitchen counter without having to stop cutting to preheat the oven by using speech commands. They touted the convenience of not having to stop what they were doing to preheat the oven. Oh, the burden! This range cost another $1,000 for this convenience. No mention regarding the maintenance and repair.

Funny thing about appliances is that you don’t realize how much you use them until they are not working. In the end, we purchased a relatively low-end model range. Fortunately, the science behind making heat to cook food has not changed too much over the years. Making fire with a push of a button or turn of a knob met our needs. It did have sensors and would return trouble codes, if needed.

The trouble with trouble codes

With a new range installed and household harmony restored, I was still bothered by what appeared to be a lack of progress in appliance maintenance and repair. Seemed to me like a big missed opportunity by manufacturers and retailers. I should note that everyone wants to sell you protection, extended warranties, but that is just insurance and depending on the item could be a waste of money or a lifesaver. Whether you buy the extended warranty or not is usually determined by your life experiences. How the warranty works, repair or replacement, is also usually determined by the item and extent of repairs required.

As luck would have it the oven on our year-old range suddenly stopped working. Funny thing about trouble codes, I ran the diagnostics, and range did not know the oven was not working. Here we are with a range that does not have a working oven. Diagnostics that indicate everything is good. The regular warranty expired. The retailer is happy to repair it for free if we purchase the extended warranty – which is about 40% of the initial purchase price.

We found a local repair service that could call in two days. Fortunately, it was a defective ignitor, which the service technician had in his truck, and he was able to fix it without issue. The service technician was surprised it failed – they usually last 5-8 years!

Demand “real” real-time solutions

As I reflect on these experiences, I see ample opportunity for real change in the future. My experiences above illustrate that real change in the Internet of Things space has yet to begin. For the Internet of Things to become a reality it will require not just sensors in appliances to communicate back to the manufacturer – but for manufacturers to use this data to improve the entire customer experience.

As much as companies tout the benefits of customer journeys and customer retention they should be focused on delivering real value and minimizing real pain points. We may like our washer and dryer, but we will always grumble about our visits to the laundromat.

Using data to benefit both customers and the business is quite mainstream. For example, financial services companies are leveraging Hazelcast real-time stream processing capabilities in fraud detection. Another way of looking at fraud detection is looking for anomalies in financial processes, such as credit card transactions or cash withdrawals. 

The same logic can be applied when performing diagnostics in appliances – looking for anomalies. Manufacturing companies that build their next-generation of Internet-of-Things products using Hazelcast real-time stream processing can deliver features and functionality beyond just “IoT in a Box.” They can deliver customer experiences that dazzle and delight while differentiating themselves in the marketplace.

Hazelcast can ingest multiple streams of real-time data from the Internet and enrich it with on-premises data sources while in motion. The potential to merge all these data-streams:

  1. Diagnostics
    1. washing machine metrics: water temperature, spin cycles, load sizes, maintenance cycles
    2. sensor data: trouble codes, etc., after the data is captured then further diagnostics can be performed to determine root cause and machine-learning algorithms can be applied to predict future failures and recommend preventative maintenance
  2. Parts inventory – with incoming sensor data manufacturers have insight into the locations of their products and can stage spare parts with great precision
  3. Shipping – next-day or same-day shipping and delivery of parts could become commonplace with the visibility that sensor data brings
  4. Service technician scheduling – with increased sensor data comes improved reliability resulting in service technicians becoming more confident that the appliance, issue, parts and resolution are all correctly aligned, this would lead to efficient and timely scheduling of service calls, resulting in less downtime for the product. IoT would provide manufacturers with the ability to determine which products need maintenance, stage and track parts inventory, quickly ship parts to customers, track shipments in real-time, and schedule service technicians efficiently.

Products break and require maintenance, however, as anyone who has had to spend an evening at the laundromat while their broken washing machine is at home waiting for repair could testify, what is the story you want your customer to talk about your product then? In today’s connected world, a seamless and near-effortless repair experience would be a “killer app.”

Deliver real-time solutions with Hazelcast today!

If the idea of leveraging stream processing to handle your real-time data sounds like a good idea, take a look at the Hazelcast Platform, a real-time stream processing platform that offers the simplicity and performance (among other advantages) you seek to gain a true real-time advantage. “How simple” and “how fast,” you ask? With our free offerings, you can see for yourself. Check out our software, and our cloud-managed service, or even just contact us so we can discuss the implementation challenges you face and how we can help you overcome them.


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About the Author

Mark Nelson

Mark is a Principal Solutions Engineer at Hazelcast. He is an experienced information technology and services leader, passionate about using technology to solve today's business problems, especially, involving inefficiency. He believes in data-driven decision-making and connecting people with information they need to work smarter. He enjoys teaching clients about new technology solutions and mentoring colleagues. He is a versatile and accomplished technologist; a full-stack developer; a web front-end programmer; and a database designer and developer. Further, he is very proficient in digital analytics tools and marketing technologies. Lastly, he excels at bridging the gap between business and information technology professionals.