The Wearable Conundrum

Okay I will be honest here, I have been scratching my head over why wearables is such a rage these days. In almost every technical news site, you can find at least one article about them, and how they will grow so much percentage over the next 5 years. Why companies like SFDC have been working on developing SDKs just for wearables (more on that later), obviously they must be seeing a value in the business of wearables, something which has been eluding me for the past several months. The 2014 end of year gave me some ‘quiet’ time to ponder about this wearables conundrum. I wanted to take some time and think of the possible use cases, and in the process find out why is this such a rage, especially what it means for the enterprise segment. This post is about what I found out while doing my research.

So what are wearables..?

By a loose definition, wearables are small computing devices which can be worn by an individual. These devices usually function aided by a much powerful computing device, which is usually a smart phone, which is also the tether for an internet connection for data exchange with the web. Over the past couple of years, the term wearables is used in conjunction with a smart watch (most commonly), a fitness device (like a fitbit) or an HUD display like the Google glass. Recently it has also gained a new context, that of internet of things, where in not so distant future, devices will be able to connect and talk over the internet.

There is a whole lot that can be written about wearables, but I wanted to focus on the CRM use cases of wearables in this post. 

The users..!

For determining the use cases (relevant to CRM), I would like to divide the user base into two groups :

1. An end user, someone who is using the services of the company

2. A sales or service enabler, someone who interacts with the end customer on behalf of the company.

The reason for this bifurcation is two folds :

1. If we consider an interaction of a client with the company for the purposes of using it as an opportunity for “relationship creation/maintenance”, then in the first user group, the end user initiates this relationship opportunity, while the users in the second user group enables this interaction on behalf of the end user. This is important because while the members of the first user group initiate this interaction on their own will, the second group member has a job function which involves reaching out to the end user.

2. The second reason for the bifurcation is basically due to the kind of devices that are available for both the user groups. The wearables for the first user group have their primary purpose as something else other than being a tool for data collection. For example, a smart watch is meant to function as a watch first and anything else second. Similarly a fitness device worn by the user is primarily used to monitor the vitals of the end user, and as a data collection device second. However for the second group, a wearable is primarily a data collection and service device, something which is relevant to the enterprise and is usually not used for much else. The users in this second group are agents for data collection and client service. Of course the first user group is much bigger than the second hence it is no surprise that most of the research (and marketing) these days is focused on the first user group, with a very niche and nascent market solely for the second user group.

With this bifurcation with us, lets look at the devices in the market currently and the device maturity for this user group


Use cases for the first group (End user) :

As mentioned earlier, for an end user, all of these devices have an overarching primary purpose and a secondary purpose. For this group, the secondary purpose is what is important from the point of view of CRM. Some possible secondary purposes could be as follows :

Data collection : 

Fitness monitors is a case in point here, these fitness monitors are basically an array of sensors which monitor activity of the user along with parameters like the heart rate, calories burnt, overall activity level etc. This data can then be synced with a computer/smart phone and can be uploaded for further monitoring and analysis. Imagine a scenario where your gym looks at your overall targets, and the incremental progress you make during your non-gym hours to prepare a customized exercise regime for you. This data can also be used by your healthcare provider and your insurance provider to tailor make plans specific to your health needs. My earlier post also talked about possible use of sensors in shoes which could transmit wear and tear data to the manufacturer.  

Marketing notifications : 

Wearables is going to be a boon to marketers. Since now they have a way to directly reach out to a customer.Based on a user’s location, marketers can send notifications on your smart watch or your google glass. Imagine entering a mall, and receiving a notification from your favorite garmet shop about a 40% sale storewide..!. In essence this is an extension to what companies like Foursquare were doing, only that the message is delivered through an ‘easier’ channel. This technology can also be extended to VR headsets, advertisements of your favorite coffee shop can be placed in games like Grand Theft Auto. Virtual reality can also be used to place take out orders from shops. Imagine talking to a virtual sales attendant and placing an order of your favorite Pizza, only to take out that order later in the day.

Social Integration :  
Wearables like google glass or a watch could be used to overlay feedback about a particular shop or a product when the shop is looked at through the glass or an item’s barcode is scanned through a mobile camera. Walking down a busy street, you could see yelp reviews popping up against places to eat..!  or imagine looking at the barcode of an item, and getting notifications of the stores where you can find it cheapest, including online grocery stores..!

Customer service :
Google glass can also be used to directly connect with a customer service professional. Imagine talking to a car service engineer and providing him a view under the hood of your car in the middle of nowhere. Or taking online instructions from your bakery class instructor and also showing her the thickness of the cake batter. All of us have encountered situations where we are deperately waiting for the status of a trouble ticket that we opened with a service provider. A wearable like a watch could be used to beam ticket statuses to a watch or a Google glass. 

Use cases for the Enterprise user group :

Collection of data for lead generation :
I attended a SFDC conference recently where the sales associates at each product desk had tiny pencil barcode scanners attached to their conference badges. If you stopped by a desk and showed interest in the product, the associate would scan your badge after providing you the product information. This scan transmitted my contact data to their CRM system and tagged me as a prospect. Not surprisingly, I got follow up emails and phone calls from the sales associates seeking future business. 

Managing client follow ups, activities, tasks, workflows :
Using push notifications, a very obvious use case is to enable the end user to manage key activities in the sales cycle from a wearable like a watch. The approver will be able to receive notifications on his smart watch and be able to approve from the watch itself. SFDC chatter notifications could be sent to smartwatches

Service use cases :
Virgin Atlantic ran an experiment with the check in crew at the Heathrow airport for the upper class, by equipping them with HUD displays, smart watches and google glasses. After two months they concluded that the google glass was the least ‘intrusive’  of all the wearables. The check in crew could check the passenger’s itinerary, weather at the destination, frequent flier miles and upgrade options on the google glass itself while remaining non invasive to these high value passengers(1).

Another much popular use case for the google glass is for the customer service personnel out in the field. These personnel can beam real time video feed back to the support center and also get real time advice from experts. This video feed can also be used as audit records of warranty claims by the customer and can be attached to the case records in SFDC. Another important use case is for the insurance agents which can send the video feed to an online assessment officer who can send back his decision on the spot to the customer. 

An already existing use case is of medical wearables. Recently I happened to frequent a hospital due to a family situation, and I saw the medical staff wearing glove like scanners, these were used to scan the patient’s medicine, and tag it back to the patient, in order to maintain the patient history. So by scanning the barcode on the medicine and the barcode on patient’s arm band, the nurse was able to maintain he treatment history in their records. These devices can also b designed to receive vital data like blood pressure, heart rate or blood sugar from larger equipment. 

Another medical use case that comes to my mind is to use a wearable like smart watch as a paging device for a nursing staff member right from a patient’s bed and also to notify an on call doctor in case an assistance is needed during off hours. 


As can be seen, the use cases of these devices are limited by human creativity. As the adoption of these devices increases, it will be interesting to see more creative uses of the technology. A Business Insider study claims that the wearables market will experience a CAGR of more than 35% (2) in the next five years. In my opinion, the enterprise user segment will not only see newer uses of thus technology, but also newer and more enterprise focused devices will be invented. Like the medical scanners mentioned above, we will have very industry focused wearables. Its anybody’s guess what this will mean for the enterprise software, including CRM. And for the conundrum, I at least came back satisfied that there is a huge potential market for them. While the end user segment is already taking shape, it remains to be seen what creative devices enter the market in the next couple of years.

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