People are buying more and more smart devices and connecting them to their Wi-Fi routers, anticipating smart, convenient services like on-demand video streaming, high-speed online gaming and responsive video conferencing. People continue to want all the latest gadgets and services like smart lightbulbs, smart doorbells, home surveillance systems and a smart voice assistant at their beck and call. From their point of view, the world is becoming a much more convenient and fun place.

The world looks a lot less pleasant from an internet service provider’s perspective.

It’s a cresting wave of confusion out there. Just think: People buy any device from any vendor and just connect it to their router via the in-home Wi-Fi. They don’t even bother to inform their ISP! Then, when the inevitable happens — something doesn’t work just right — they immediately point an accusing finger at their Wi-Fi router and turn to their ISP’s customer care center for help.

Is there any other industry that works this way?

Time Is Money 

Internet service providers come in a wide variety of sizes measured by numbers of subscriber households. Large ISPs service many millions of homes, while small ones feed the internet to a few tens of thousands.

One of our customers is a medium-sized internet service provider with 1 million subscribers. Like most ISPs its size, it fields about 9,000 service calls per day. One-third of these calls deal with nontechnical issues like user IDs and passwords, leaving 6,000 daily service calls that require actual technical support. That’s over 2 million technical support calls per year!

Since the average call takes roughly six minutes, all this service traffic floods the telephone system and customer care center with 12 million minutes, or 200,000 hours, of voice traffic — the equivalent of more than 8,000 days.

And it’s very expensive.

The cost for a minute of handle time varies by country. In North America, that figure is, on average, $1.60, which translates into nearly $10.00 per typical call. Annually, that multiplies out to more than $20 million.

Focus On The Solution

By the end of a technical service call, the customer support rep (CSR) has either helped the caller solve the problem or has to resort to the time-tested remedy of “Let’s replace your router.” A lot of technical-support calls result in a router replacement —more than 7,000 per month. That’s a very expensive proposition.

A single router replacement costs the company $43 to send out a technician who installs and configures the new router and packs up the old one.

Did you know that in 80% of those cases, routers that are returned to the lab are designated “NFF” (no fault found)? Yes, all that time and expense to go out to the home, pick up the old router, replace it with a new one, configure the new one, and bring the old one back to test in the lab — only to find that it’s fine.

Coping With Customer Care

Customer care for the connected home is indeed very expensive — and getting more so every day. Today, the typical connected home hosts 11 smart devices. In only two years, that number will more than double. The ISPs will remain responsible for supporting users in their increasingly connected homes. Support costs will continue to increase.

How can ISPs cope? Here are three practical ideas made possible by emerging technologies:

1. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be deployed right inside the ISP’s router in each home to monitor all the devices and services (streaming movies, browsing, videoconferencing, gaming, etc.). If the AI can detect a problem as it happens and determine where the problem is occurring, it can immediately decide if the problem is the territorial responsibility of the ISP (router, Wi-Fi) or beyond the scope of the ISP (Netflix cloud service, internet, faulty TV). AI can then inform the subscriber where to direct the service call.

2. By building a knowledge base about popular IoT devices at home and their known malfunctions, ISPs can gang up on the most frequent and known problems. Many devices have documented problems and consistent connectivity issues. Organizing this information and making it accessible to CSRs can help them solve issues much faster.

3. Continuous monitoring of the popular cloud services (Microsoft gaming, Netflix movie streaming, Spotify music streaming, Zoom, etc.) arms CSRs with a quick and accurate way to determine if a problem is upstream from the home, for example, if it is due to downtime in the Netflix servers or slowness in the Fortnite servers. It’s also important to monitor the series of firmware updates of popular devices. Sometimes device connectivity issues are due to the lack of or improper firmware update from the device vendor. Knowing that a widespread firmware update occurred overnight followed by a rash of identical complaints the next day can explain why smart TVs are suddenly not connecting to the internet.

Technologies can provide ISPs with the means to keep up with the torrent of customer care issues arising from the increased use of smart devices in the connected home.