We caught up with Alan Coleman, founder of Sweepr, a Dublin-based startup shaping the way people solve their smart home problems.
As homes become ever more connected and inherently more complex, the amount of support people will need to solve technical problems is set to increase dramatically. That means more calls for care, more engineers visiting homes and a demand that, according to Alan Coleman, founder of AI startup Sweepr, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and makers of connected devices won’t be in a position to meet. Indeed, Strategy Analytics estimates that consumer spending on smart home related hardware, services and installation fees will reach $103 billion in 2019 and grow at 11 percent CAGR to $157bn by 2023.
That’s something that Sweepr aims to capitalise on. Founded in 2017, Sweepr is a voice-activated smart home customer service platform that gets to know you and your home and, as Sweepr puts it, “imagines a world where people are not only surrounded by technology but embrace it and troubleshoot effortlessly.” Whether it’s for a tech-savvy teen or a stubborn luddite, Sweepr will customise its support to suit the customer for all their internet-enabled technologies in the home.
For Coleman, who previously founded BriteBill, a billing communications and CX company acquired by Amdocs in 2016 for over €60m, it was his 13-year old son’s love of gaming that helped spark the idea.
“He likes to play Fortnite every so often,” Coleman explains. “When he experiences bad game playing or something happens with the game that he doesn’t like, he often complains and says the wifi is terrible or that the game is awful. And so, it was left to me to try and figure out what was happening.”
Coleman soon identified that there were seven different factors determining whether his son would experience good game play. “There was the Fortnite servers,” he says. “There were the Xbox Live servers, there was the Xbox, there was the extender, there was a television set itself, there was the router and then there was the overall connectivity. It made me realise two things: I already appreciated that technical support was expensive and a problem, both for the provider and the customer. The second thing I began to realise is that this problem was going to get more complex much more quickly than everybody seemed to be prepared for.”
According to Coleman, neither ISPs or connected device manufacturers can sustain a very high cost to care, which has helped create a gap in the market. Sweepr has moved to bridge that gap by enabling customers of these companies to be less dependent on having to speak to a customer agent, instead identifying the attributes of an agent that are transferable to customers themselves.
“The two things we focus on are one, the diagnostics – all the data and analytics that the agents look at to try and figure out what might be going wrong – combined with what the customer has said to them,” says Coleman. “The second thing is to ensure that our support matches the tone and technical competency of the customer we’re speaking with.”
For problems that the customer is not able to solve on their own and for occasions when the technology fails to understand what the customer is trying to say, a ticket is raised for a human agent to work on the problem and to initiate a call to the customer in order to find a solution.
“No longer is a device an end point, it’s actually a bridge. It’s facilitating another business model such as selling you recipes or selling you groceries.”
So what does the home of the future look like and when can we expect a fully connected home to be the norm? Coleman says the next five to seven years is the likely timeframe for when there’ll be a refresh of the white goods in most people’s homes and when the next versions of those products are ‘connected’.
“There’s probably around three or four million connected home products in Europe today,” Coleman explains. “China is much bigger and is leading the market in this space, but the rate of the devices that are being connected is still in the low teens. So people are getting these products but the onboarding process is a pain and they don’t bother ringing the call centre because it’s too difficult and then that’s it, it just sits there as a normal machine. The challenge for these organisations is to make onboarding for these devices seamless and then to help use the connectivity of these devices as a way to engage the customer around the device and all the features and functions that it has.”
Today, connectivity as a feature of home devices is usually recognised as a tool to track a discerning buyer or somebody who is an enthusiast but, according to Coleman, that is not the motivating factor for connectivity for these companies. Instead, they seek connectivity as a prerequisite to how they change their own business model.
“No longer is a device an end point, it’s actually a bridge,” says Coleman. “It’s facilitating another business model such as selling you recipes or selling you groceries. For example, I changed my washing machine and the big thing that it does is sell me the detergent. So I’m no longer buying anything from Unilever or Procter & Gamble. Miele sells the machine with detergent that the machine automatically reorders and replenishes when you run out.”
“Data security a big issue but I think it’s one that we’ll overcome because ultimately people will become more comfortable and there will be more regulations and boundaries put around the data that’s captured.”
One pressing question that arises with this new home of connectivity is whether or not we can trust major tech companies with our data. Earlier this year, Apple was forced to apologise for allowing contractors to listen to voice recordings from Siri users, as part of a testing process for its digital assistant while Amazon also came to public attention when it was reported that the company sent snippets of voice commands to human reviewers in order to help improve the accuracy of its service. More recently, in something of an admission that things have probably gone a step too far, Google devices chief Rick Osterloh agreed that homeowners should tell guests smart devices – such as a Google Nest speaker – are in use before they enter the home.
Coleman agrees that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed but believes data security and trust is something we’ll ultimately get a handle on. “It’s a big issue but I think it’s one that we’ll overcome because ultimately people will become more comfortable and there will be more regulations and boundaries put around the data that’s captured,” he says.
“Another big initiative that’s going to give comfort to homeowners is that an awful lot of this data will never leave your home. A lot of the computing and processing will happen at what they call ‘the edge’, and the edge means inside your home. What will be shared will be aggregated or non-identifying data.”
So what can we expect from Sweepr in the months ahead? Having recently raised a $9 million Series A round, the company is currently running pilot projects with ISPs that represent around 100 million homes. “We’re working with a lot of the Tier 1 ISPs both in Western Europe and the US in terms of trialling the technology,” says Coleman. “Increasingly through 2020, what you’ll see is our first production deployment and also a lot more trials and people getting to grips with how the technology can help their businesses.”
This post is part of the ‘Voxpro Future of CX’ series. Stay tuned for more content related to customer experience of tomorrow. For more on Sweepr visit www.sweepr.com.
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