Jim Lipsit is a principal engineer for UL Interoperability/Quality Testing Services. Lipsit can be reached at [email protected] or 561.228.7979.
More consumers are bringing smart devices into their homes. Understandably, their expectation is that the products will work right out of the box. However, as systems and devices become more complex in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid product connectivity problems. Ensuring connectivity compatibility of your smart water treatment or plumbing products is critical to your product’s — and your brand’s — success.
As smart home system consumers become more sophisticated, wireless water treatment and plumbing products are also becoming more common. These products help homeowners maintain water systems, regulate temperature, monitor water quality and usage, and remind them to reorder filters and other consumables. The most common devices include:
- Connected softeners, filters and other treatment devices;
- Connected leak detectors; and
- Connected fittings, like showerheads and faucets.
Due to budget and manpower constraints, it is unrealistic for you to identify every potential issue in-house: the number of mobile phones and Wi-Fi routers is simply too vast. That is why it is important to partner with a third-party interoperability testing partner that employs a reality-based approach to testing products.
Reality-based IOP testing
The goal of interoperability (IOP) testing is to demonstrate your smart product will:
- Get connected;
- Stay connected; and
- Deliver on its intended features.
In other words, your smart home water product should connect seamlessly with the consumers’ home ecosystem out of the box, stay connected continuously and operate as designed. To achieve this, you could test the interoperability of your devices in your factory testing setting, but without a massive investment, you cannot test to the thousands of IoT ecosystem combinations that your consumers may encounter. Even well-established brands that consumers have trusted for decades can be damaged by faulty smart home features. Reality-based IOP testing can help:
- Improve customer out-of-box-experience;
- Minimize calls to customer support;
- Reduce product returns;
- Improve product and app reviews;
- Improve overall quality of products;
- Reinforce your brand’s trusted reputation; and
- Drive increased sales.
Your partner should be testing your products and the smartphone iOS and Android apps that run them against an extensive library of mobile phones and a diverse selection of Wi-Fi routers. The possible combinations are massive, and your time is better spent on product development and sales.
The 1-10-100 rule
An important factor to consider when developing a smart home water product is the 1-10-100 quality rule. Finding a problem and fixing it during the design of a new smart product may cost you $1 (USD). Finding and fixing a problem during the manufacture of a product may cost you $10 (USD). However, if the problem is found by consumers, requiring you to send out a firmware patch or replace the product, the cost may explode exponentially to $100 (USD). In addition to the added cost, when consumers find a problem, you are exposed to the added cost of calls into your call center and the risk of product returns. Plus, a bad review by a consumer can have devastating effects on your product and your brand.
Consumers vote with their wallet
Consumers of smart water treatment and plumbing products have access to countless online reviews and commentary on social media networks and are more informed, connected and empowered than ever before. 93% of today’s consumers say that online reviews influenced their purchase decisions. Avoiding bad reviews and encouraging positive ones through superior connectivity compatibility is therefore critical to the continued success of your brand.
Top 10 smart water product best practices
Many customer affecting issues can be avoided if you follow these best practices.
- Implement open authorization: Encourage consumers to use existing platforms such as Google, Apple or Facebook to register for your product’s app.
- Do not require personal information for setup: While home address, ZIP code and other information may be helpful, do not require it to open and use your app.
- Strike a balance between password security best practices and ease of use.
- Automate as much of the setup process as possible.
- Do not use Wi-Fi features that are not universally enabled or supported on routers.
- Do not include unnecessary features: Feature creep of less useful features can obscure the more valuable features of a product.
- Implement user-friendly, machine-learning features: If the user always manually turns a device on and off at a certain time of day, offer a scene creation or move that control to the top of the list.
- Provide the user community with resources: These can include how-to videos and easily accessible FAQs.
- Listen to your consumers: Pay attention to customer reviews and implement analytic frameworks to identify the most frequently used features.
- Implement an ongoing testing program after your product release: Technology does not stand still.
Maintenance & refresh benefits
One benefit of water treatment products is the recurring revenue source of the reordering of filters, membranes and other replenishable items. As a matter of fact, your business model is likely built around this recurring revenue source. A smart water treatment device has the added benefit of reminding the consumer to reorder on a regular basis or even provide the option to opt in to make the reordering automatic. If your device cannot get connected, does not remain connected or the consumer returns it because it fails to deliver on its intended features, this revenue source will not be available to you.
The importance of IOP testing of water products cannot be overstated. Connectivity compatibility, reliable connectivity and delivery of expected features are the name of the game. You have spent a considerable amount of time and money on the development of your product, and your customers are trusting you to deliver convenience and reliability. Rigorous testing of the app and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity of your product is mandatory. Engaging with a trusted third-party testing partner that has access to an extensive library of devices and platforms can be a critical aspect of the continuing success of your product and your brand.