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Signing a contract with an IoT company that monitors critical environments is a big moment for any enterprise. After all, they’re staking their brand reputation on a solution that must meet their business goals AND protect the health and safety of their customers. An IoT partnership is a complex, involved, long-term relationship, not a "set it and forget it” deal.Yet the IoT industry is flooded with startups lacking depth and breadth of good customer experience. Sure, they can look impressive on the surface, quickly procuring some sensors and launching a flashy website. But delivering, confidence, reliability, and trust are what really count.
It’s “How” That Matters
At SmartSense, we pride ourselves on being a HOW company. That simply means we go way beyond the WHAT of IoT – the technology, engineering and data. It means we promise and provide superior Customer Experience — also known as CX — that ensures the technology is operating properly and continuously, that promises our customers will achieve their business and safety objectives, and that exceeds their expectations at four levels of our “ability”:
What ultimately makes an IoT company a great partner is knowing HOW to satisfy, reassure, and delight customers during every phase of the relationship.
We’ve Seen It and Done It
In the 6 years I’ve led the CX team, SmartSense has grown to serve 75,000 customer sites and deploy more than 500,000 sensors into some of the largest pharmacies, restaurant groups, and cold-chain carriers in the country. During that time, we’ve provided customer service, program management, training, field services and supply chain management at all phases of the customer journey, including rollout, installation, maintenance, and ongoing support.
Our CX team differentiates SmartSense from our competitors by going beyond meeting only technical requirements:
In short, we know what it means and what it takes to employ and maintain large footprint IOT networks. At the same time, we don't simply sell our customers commodity sensors, then walk away. Despite our subject matter expertise and years of experience, we've never abandoned our start up attitude, the nimble sense of urgency to please our customers, to "roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty," and to surprise them with ongoing innovations.
"We've never abandoned our start up attitude, the nimble sense of urgency to please our customers, to "roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty," and to surprise them with ongoing innovations."
Building a Better Playbook
Managing a wide-scale and dense IOT network requires a proven model that allows our team to incorporate key learnings. Keeping pace with our drive for continuous improvement, our CX "playbook" of best practices has evolved as our technology innovates and as our customers’ needs change.
With seven years of experience serving enterprise clients, we’ve identified and leveraged best-in-class tools and processes that can quickly scale and drive efficiencies. Over that time, we created a flexible and scalable playbook that works for a variety of clients with different technical needs and different business goals.
Being ready for unplanned change means we need to stay flexible as an organization. Few decisions are as simple as black or white. At the same time our customers must adjust to changes in their industries, markets, employee rosters, and inventories. Our CX Team must be ready, willing and able to evolve the playbook so that we’re always “on the same page.”
After every enterprise customer installation, we hold review meetings to find out what we did well and add it to our best practices. In some cases, when an improvement in our process has had significantly positive results, that might mean developing a new product feature, offering a new service, or even starting a new department. We also ask ourselves what did not go well. These "lessons learned" are just as important and also go into our playbook for future reference to prevent repeating mistakes.
Our CX Proof of Value
Although the CX Team provides most of our services to customers after they sign a contract, we do partner with Sales to provide a "sneak peek" into how the partnership will play out in a microcosm. This preview occurs during our Proof of Value (POV) pilot that confirms the benefit of a connected enterprise in the customer's environment, whether that's a hospital, grocery store, restaurant, or in a cold chain depot.
When working with our enterprise customers, it's critical during the POV pilot to survey their location, so we know our sensors are being installed in exactly the right locations. We also ensure management and staff have the insights they need to meet their goals, including safety concerns, compliance requirements, equipment performance, and return on investment. Once we determine how to meet these requests, we onboard the pilot location team, bringing them up to speed, so they know how to use and maximize our solutions to get the benefits they expect.
Our POV demonstrates our unwavering commitment to the customer’s success that continues through the remaining phases of their partnership. Typically, we are focused on these areas of business optimization:
|Redirection of labor:
We determine what duties and activities currently performed by employees can be automated to save time and effort, and then be used for more customer benefitting work (for example, replacing "pen and paper" monitoring with digital monitoring, thereby reducing manual labor up to 75%).
|Reduction of product loss:
In the past, all inventory subjected to temperature excursions had to be discarded because, as they say, "when in doubt, throw it out." But our continuous monitoring system can detect in advance if a temperature excursion may occur, allowing staff to move inventory from one refrigerator unit that may break down into another that is working fine.
|Optimizing Equipment Maintenance:
Our customers leverage rich performance analytics to pivot from calendar-based maintenance programs to predictive programs that save double-digit percentages on their service costs. This allows for more informed capital purchases because they continuously analyze each piece of equipment in their operations.
|Protection of brand reputation:
Although harder to measure, our solution proactively saves customers the risk of bad press by preventing pathogenic foods and failed vaccines from going out the door and risking public health disasters. In this case, ROI is a long-term investment.
Proactive Deployment: Rollout, Installation, Training
Once a customer signs on for full deployment, our team conducts a comprehensive survey of each touch point along the supply chain--from warehouse to transport to retail outlet--to determine the optimal number of sensors and ensure connectivity and continuity of data logging.
Because of our years of experience, we know exactly where to put the sensor in every single unit so that it works most effectively. First, we let sensors "soak" for a while. What that means is we initially collect readings in any single unit to get a general sense of its temperature landscape.
For instance, let's say we determine that the safe temperature range for a unit is a low of 38 degrees and a high of 42 degrees. We observe the sensors to see how many triggered alerts are actually qualified—in other words, if they indicate a true risk to the unit's overall cooling system. What our team often finds is that a unit triggering alerts may need only small adjustments to accommodate for defrost cycles, which can generate false alerts.
We also determine the spot in each unit most likely to be at the most risk, which then we can map as the area of greatest concern. By placing a sensor in that spot, we make sure we’re recording the highest temperature the unit might reach, especially if the unit is a reach-in.
Once all of the units have been surveyed and tested, we create a Equipment Adjustment Report that categorizes the customer's units in three buckets:
The end result is a detailed catalog of exactly where thousands of sensors should be located in properly adjusted units so that customers can be confident that an alert is qualified. Otherwise, like the village where the boy cried wolf, customers will become so alert-fatigued they may end up ignoring the alerts that really need immediate attention.
Our technology is also smart enough to predict potential risks in advance and thus prevent temperature excursions before they happen. For example, our solution can detect a power outage before the customer does. Our alerts immediately allow staff to begin emergency procedures to save inventory. Meanwhile, our system continues to monitor temperature so that only the inventory truly out of range is discarded. This proactive approach has helped our customers save millions in inventory.
Finally, we offer onboarding and ongoing training to ensure that, regardless of employee turnover, our customers always have trained staff on hand to oversee the monitoring process. Because customers have different workforces with different schedules and skills, we offer a choice of training options:
Our software is also programmed to recognize new users to compensate for employee churn. Any new user is provided a guided tutorial of our solution. In this way, training is automatically provided for all newcomers to our process.
"The end result is a detailed catalog of exactly where thousands of sensors should be located in properly adjusted units so that customers can be confident that an alert is qualified. Otherwise, like the village where the boy cried wolf, customers will become so alert-fatigued they may end up ignoring the alerts that really need immediate attention."
Post-Deployment Support: State of the Art CX
After deployment, the CX team nurtures and strengthens our customer relationships for the long haul with impeccable “white glove” service. If the sales process can be compared to dating, then the CX partnership is like marriage—a commitment for the long term. We know that they will need our help, whether that's guiding them through a deep audit or solving emergencies during a power outage.
We also know that most IoT companies are hard to reach. They typically offer only an email address as a point of contact (and good luck trying to find it on their website). If they actually do publish a service number, customers usually get a recorded message asking them to leave a number for a callback—not helpful when time is of the essence.
At SmartSense, we don't believe in a callback scenario. When you call us, 95% of the time you'll speak with a live, well trained customer representative. And among those calls, 80% of the time we will answer your question the first time.
Our efforts to reduce customers stress and increase their insights goes back to our brand promise. We anticipate that hardware will eventually need to be replaced. We expect customers to have questions. So we make it a priority to respond quickly and empathetically.
Whenever a customer contacts us, we drill down into the specific reasons for their call so we get to the heart of the issue, discern the details of the problem, and anticipate potential issues the customer may not yet recognize. In this way, our return calls drop 50%.
NIST Certification: CX in Action
Our NIST Certification and Calibration (National Institute of Standards and Technology) process for pharmacies is a good example illustrating how the CX team pulls everything together to add value to our partnerships. To begin with, our pharmacy customers are required by every state Board of Compliance to meet two requirements that our CX Team directly supports:
At any time, an inspector can walk into a pharmacy unannounced and request to see the data logs associated with any particular refrigerator unit, as well as proof of NIST certification. If the pharmacy cannot produce either the log or the NIST certificate, the inspector can order them to dispose of all of the contents in that unit.
On SmartSense devices, NIST certification is maintained by a small, external probe that easily twists into an external device port. To update certification, all the customer has to do is replace the external probe with a new one. This bit of thoughtful engineering makes certification as easy as twisting on a probe and forgetting about it for two years until the next certification update is required.
Other providers, on the other hand, use sensors that make what should be a simple process much more complicated and riskier. That's because their entire sensor device must be replaced with a new one in order to renew NIST certification. That means, until they receive a new device, their units are not being monitored, unless they have another device immediately available to replace it. And even if they do, it will not be properly NIST certified. In both cases, then, the pharmacy's inventory is at risk.
So SmartSense has the real advantage when it comes to the NIST certification technology. Even so, the technology is only beneficial if the customers remember to order the probes and actually install them into our sensors. That's where the CX Team especially shines.
We have assisted in hundreds of thousands of replacements nationwide for our customers overall. For each of our clients, we maintain a NIST certification schedule for every device. And we proactively engage with the customer, so they don't miss a beat.
We order all the probes for them in advance and work with their staff to make sure they remove the old and insert the new probe to remain compliant. We then run reports that tell us which customers received the probes but did not yet make the adjustments. Continuing until all sensors have been updated with new NIST probes.
In fact, we recently jumped through hoops for a client who was behind on NIST certifications and facing a real challenge. They were planning to store and distribute COVID-19 vaccines in partnership with the government, but federal officials had declared that no pharmacy outlet could receive the vaccines until they proved all of their temperature sensors were NIST certified.
We jumped right in, and in a very short time frame, we successfully accelerated the entire probe replacement process so that the client was good to go when the vaccines arrived. This “jam session” speaks directly to our continued Proof of Value and our commitment to the customer.
Humble Confidence: “The Art of How”
At SmartSense, we embrace the “Art of How.” What I mean by that is simply this: we've seen it, we've done it, and we know the best way to do it. The "how" is the art of taking a proven technology and making it work, not just technically, but more importantly, in exactly the ways the customer needs and wants.
It means giving them insights into questions they may not even know to ask yet, answering their calls when they need a live person who can empathize with their questions or challenges, and evolving with the customer over the long haul. In short, it means helping to make their jobs and lives a lot easier. And if that's the definition of successful CX, then SmartSense provides it in spades.
We're proud of what we've achieved. But we're not arrogant--far from it. True, we've figured out a lot of the right ways to do things. Yet we’re the first to admit that's often because we first figured out the wrong ways. As the saying goes, "experience is what you get when you don't get what you want the first time."
Succeeding in the IoT world is about limiting what you don't know about what you don't know. And there's a lot we still don't know. But we're always willing to learn. For that reason, we never prescribe a rigid solution for our customers. We never throw cryptic instructions at them and say, "just follow our guide."
Instead, we live by our motto of "humble confidence." We know we’ve earned our right to call ourselves subject matter experts about digital monitoring systems. But we always remain approachable and accountable. We listen carefully to what our clients are saying so that we can provide them a solution that works for them NOW, when and where they need it.
Our customers keep us humble by their ever changing needs and challenges, but by learning from them the best ways to work, they make us more confident to help them succeed. That’s what makes a mutually valuable partnership.
Greg Carter is Chief Customer Officer at SmartSense by Digi, where he has led the CX team for six years. Greg is also the author DRIVEN: Leveraging Motivation, Intelligence, and Social Awareness to Succeed at Work, published in June of 2020. If you have questions for Greg about his work with the CX team, he can be reached at Greg.Carter@Digi.com.
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