Appliance manufacturer Kenmore announced earlier this month the unveiling of a new level of technology designed to aid customer service calls. Currently available on select Kenmore and Kenmore Elite washers and dryers, Kenmore Connect is a level of digital technology that provides customer service representatives with real-time diagnostic information to help address customers’ use operation concerns.
“Up to now, technology like this has only been available in very high-end products,” says Tim Adkisson, product engineering manager for laundry products. “When we stepped in, our goal was to make appliances smarter without adding materials costs. There are no additional components in these units, so even without adding parts and associated costs, we’re able to connect and transmit data to help the user.”
How It Works
As with other laundry equipment, Kenmore customers that have a concern or experience a service-related “symptom” can call Kenmore’s customer service line for help. But rather than try to clumsily explain the problem to the service rep, Kenmore Connect technology transmits diagnostic data to the call center directly over the phone. Homeowners simply press a series of buttons on the washer or dryer’s front panel to initiate the diagnostic mode, then hold their telephone up to the panel. Once activated, the unit will emit a series of beeps and transmission sounds over the phone to the call center’s computers.
“The customer can just hold their cell phone or landline phone next to the power button on the control panel,” Adkisson says. “Behind the button is a speaker, and the diagnostic sounds from the speaker are transmitted much like a fax machine over a standard phone connection.” While the manual nature of the process and the thought of a fax machine may sound outdated, the resulting diagnostics are actually quite modern and helpful. Call center representatives can monitor 100 different data points on a machine using Kenmore Connect. Adkisson says the brand’s customer service call centers are twice as effective when it comes to dealing with Kenmore Connect calls, dramatically reducing the number of home visits made by service technicians.
“The digital transmission is able to provide the call centers with extra, specific data that the homeowner may not be able to relay,” Adkisson says. “For instance if the washer isn’t filling, the data may tell the customer service rep that the reason is because the cold water inlet isn’t working. Then the customer can just confirm that their water valve is on, and the problem is solved right there without having to send a technician. There are a lot of smaller issues like that, that are easily solved over the phone.”
Fewer technician visits means more satisfied customers, but even if a technician is called, the service experience is heightened with Kenmore Connnect. “When the techs arrive with the diagnostic data, they’re better prepared to service the product than if they went into the house blind,” Adkisson says. “The data tells them right where to go, so they can get in and out quickly and the customer can get back on schedule.”
Kenmore is also able to tabulate and track the electronically transmitted data. This helps the company spot service trends and possible product flaws, and address those issues in product development.
Future of Appliance Technology
For the current iteration of Kenmore Connect, Adkisson reiterates that price-consciousness has kept the company from using more sophisticated technologies in their diagnostic systems and data transmission. High-end brands like Miele incorporate additional circuitry into many of their appliances, which require special manufacturer software. Wi-fi chips in the units let the maker update the software remotely, and can also be used to signal the homeowner when service is necessary. “In that case, the cost of adding a wi-fi system was minimal because they already had the foundational circuitry to build from, and they were able to spread the cost out over other features,” Adkisson says. “Our appliances don’t need those additional services, but our customers do appreciate the connected capability, so we developed a way to offer that without raising the pricepoint.”
That said, Adkisson says there is potential for future Kenmore products to take advantage of alternate technologies. He adds that “Kenmore is all over SmartGrid,” and acknowledges that while smart appliances are still an amorphous topic, they will be an important product segment as standardization and other issues are clarified.
Currently, homeowners who purchase Kenmore Connect-enabled products are able to use the service at no charge, regardless of whether they are in or out of warranty. With the success of the new feature so far (it went through 4,000 live tests before officially rolling out), Adkisson says the feature is destined for additional products beyond laundry as well. “We’re currently testing a different product category, and we’re past the first several developmental steps to explore the technology on two other product lines,” he says. “We’re trying to go that extra step for the customer, and the fact that I’m in an innovation or connectivity strategy meeting on weekly basis shows Kenmore’s commitment to these new technologies.”