There is an emerging opportunity for retailers to grow and extend their customer relationships through sales and support of smart appliances. In fact, if done right, retailers have the chance to gain a major foothold in the consumer’s increasingly connected smart home.
The pandemic-fueled rise of connected product purchases and the growing comfort of consumers with using technology has opened the door for greater adoption of smart appliances. Even before the pandemic, the percentage of U.S. Internet users who own a smart appliance was expected to increase from 10.5 percent in 2021 to 21 percent by 2025, according to eMarketer, with the number of users doubling from 30.6 million to 64.0 million.
While purchasing a smart doorbell or speaker is different from buying a connected refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, or washer and dryer, the importance of providing support is the same across categories. Ease of installation, setup, and connection of these products is essential to creating a positive experience and avoiding returns.
That’s key, because since the pandemic started, 72 percent of consumers in an Assurant survey reported frustration with their connected appliances and electronics, 39 percent returned their smart home purchase due to setup problems, and 21 percent haven’t connected their product simply because they don’t know how.
Even before the pandemic, 43 percent of people who owned a smart washer and dryer said they had not set up the wireless features. Similarly, 39 percent of smart microwave owners, 38 percent of smart refrigerator owners, and 37 percent of smart oven owners had not connected their appliances wirelessly. Nearly half of all owners said the reason was that they didn’t know how, they tried and failed, or they didn’t understand the wireless benefits.
That’s likely why consumer desire for tech support has spiked in the last two years. Between 2019 and 2021, those who said they would be more likely to purchase a connected home product if it came with tech support jumped 44 percent. That was the largest increase among value-added services that positively impact purchase intent of connected products.
Clearly, retailers have an opportunity to build loyalty by helping customers set up, connect, and learn how to use their new smart appliances. Plus, support experts can run diagnostics and troubleshoot smart appliance issues remotely, possibly preventing the need for an in-home repair visit.
But why stop there? Extend the support to all the connected products in a customer’s home.
Consider it from the consumer’s point of view. The average household has 18 connected devices. That can mean keeping track of 18 different tech support contact numbers and operating manuals. Who do you call when your smart washer doesn’t connect to your smartphone or Google Home?
Without a primary source for tech support, most consumers (57 percent) try to solve technical issues on their own, albeit with limited success. Only 26 percent of those taking this approach fully resolve the problem quickly and easily.
By extending tech support to all the connected products a consumer owns – even if the customer purchased the products elsewhere – a retailer can become the one-stop support source for the customer’s entire connected home. Not only would that create new and ongoing touchpoints with the customer, but it enables support specialists to provide new product suggestions that fit the customer’s home setup and offer discounts to incentivize sales.
Consider offering this type of extended tech support as part of a product protection plan. Even though smart appliances are connected devices, consumers think about them differently from a smart light or smart TV. Even with smart capabilities, appliances are still large machines with moving parts that people don’t generally expect to be able to fix themselves or over the phone.
Consumers already see more value in purchasing an extended service contract on major appliances, due to the high price points, as compared to consumer electronics. For example, 56 percent of consumers say that an extended warranty on an appliance is extremely important, compared to 46 percent on an electronic device.
Including tech support with the extended protection will enhance the value of the overall program to consumers. And once the smart appliance is up and running in the home, retailers can offer to extend the product protection to the customer’s other connected devices for an additional fee. That gives the customer one source for protection and support for their entire connected home.
Whether solving a Wi-Fi connection issue or replacing a refrigerator’s condenser fan motor, the customer wants an easy, convenient solution. Making it simple for them will lead to a better customer experience, resulting in stronger customer relationships, incremental revenue opportunities, increased loyalty, and reduced churn.
Jeff is the President, U.S. Connected Living, at Assurant, a global provider of risk management products and services with headquarters in New York City. Its businesses provide a diverse set of specialty niche-market insurance products in the property, casualty, extended service protection and pre-need insurance sectors.