As the market for smart home devices expand beyond early adopters to the early majority, many perceive a market opportunity to provide premium support services to smart home device owners. The average number of connected devices in broadband households has increased significantly over the past few years from approximately six devices in 2012 to 10 connected devices in 2018.
Many consumer technology brands, including device manufacturers, retailers, broadband service providers, and security software companies, have launched and maintained premium support services for traditional computing and entertainment devices, but have not expanded their services to cover smart home devices. Best Buy and Verizon are among the first consumer technology brands to offer premium support services to smart home devices. Office Depot announced in December 2018 that it is now a certified installation partner for smart home devices from Google and Nest. As an installation partner, the company will provide consultations, sell, and install smart home devices, as well as integrate them with other connected devices in consumers’ homes.
Over the past two years, other types of companies have entered the space or expanded their services offerings to accommodate the smart home support market. These include independent support companies such as Puls and HelloTech and home service providers such as Amazon and Handy, as well as solution providers such as Axius and Minim. Many of these companies provide services directly to consumers, other provide services on behalf of device manufacturers and service providers. Traditional outsourced providers of technical support services such as CSS Corp, Support.com, Trusource Labs, OneVision Resources, and OnProcess Technologies are also implementing measures to support the smart home better and the broader Internet of Things.
Also by Patrice Samuels: Expansion Strategies for Smart Home
Independent Support Providers
Independent providers are significant players in the support space. These companies are typically smaller than consumer technology brands and technical support is their primary business. Setup and installation are the primary services currently being offered by this group. One-time support services are popular among this group, even though many companies have ambitions to provide or sell more support subscriptions.
Home Service Providers
Home service providers are a group of companies that help connect individuals with qualified professionals to perform a broad range of home services on-demand. Factors driving home service providers into the smart home support space include a demand from consumers who seek help with installing new devices and systems in the home, and the push from home service providers that perceive the smart home market as a natural path to expand service offerings and generate additional revenue. The home services market was led by Angie’s List/Home Advisor for a long time. However, between 2009 and 2019 a number of other companies entered the space, including TaskRabbit, Porch.com, Handy, Takl, Houzz, Thumbtack, and Amazon Home Services.
Smart home support services offered by home services providers are primarily setup and installation services and these are generally one-time services. Unsurprisingly, most only provide support services in the home, and while some have service platforms that allow contact between home resident and technician, remote services and in-store services are generally not provided.
Amazon Home Services goes beyond other home service providers with its offerings in the smart home space. The company provides pre-purchase consultation services and has chosen to hire in-house technicians to perform its smart home services, which is unique among home service providers. Notably, other services (outside of smart home support services) provided by Amazon Home Services are provided by Independent contractors. The special consideration given to smart home services by Amazon is an indication that the company has bigger ambitions for the smart home space. Between late 2017 and early 2018, the company acquired smart home device manufacturers Blink and Ring and are investing heavily in making its smart speaker device a preferred hub for the smart home.
Network Monitoring Providers
Network monitoring solutions providers are also entering the space to provide support on behalf of partners. Targeted partners differ for different providers. Axius, for example, targets builders, integrators, and property managers who may want to implement smart home devices to drive up appeal of their services, but are restricted by a lack of technical capabilities to support their customers with smart home products. Minim targets device manufacturers and service providers. Many service providers — both new and experienced — do not have the technical expertise to efficiently support their customers, given the increasing complexity of broadband households.
Services from network monitoring providers are enabled by placing a hardware agent on the consumer’s router, which is used to provide visibility to the home network. Using this agent, companies are able to provide some level network monitoring to minimize connectivity and security breaches and visibility to make troubleshooting device and network issues more efficient. Domotz and Ihiji have developed technology specifically for this purpose. Domotz’s technology is used in Axius’ solution. Ihiji was acquired by Control4 in January 2018. Control4 is leveraging Ihiji’s technology to develop robust home network monitoring solutions.
Despite the varied company types providing smart home support services, only a few companies offer support services specifically for smart home products and services, creating a number of opportunities for new entrants, or for existing players to expand their service offerings. Consumer support needs to evolve with the addition of complex connected devices, the number and types of problems encountered with these devices, and attitudes towards self-support versus the use of professional resources for problem solving.
With the increasingly competitive market for consumer technology products and services, brands in the space must ensure that their customers have superior experiences in order to remain competitive. Providing robust technical support services is a competitive differentiator.
Patrice Samuels is a senior research analyst at Parks Associates.
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