Whirlpool makes home appliances. A lot of these home appliances are “smart.” This means the appliances can be connected to your in-home WIFI and stream your behaviors and your appliances’ “health” back to Whirlpool.
Unfortunately for Whirlpool, it appears that customers are not buying into this “relationship.” Customers have either disabled or not synced the connection. This worries Whirlpool.
Whirlpool believes the disconnectedness is due to education. Clearly, customers do not understand how beneficial it is for Whirlpool to know what you are doing when you do the laundry. This is a manufacturer’s POV. It is always a problem when the brand believes customers care about your strategy.
As reflected in The Wall Street Journal, Whirlpool wants to reinforce customer bonds with the brand in a category that sees repurchase about every 12-15 years. Whirlpool believes that if the brand messages you with advice or recommends a new part be installed, you will be a customer for life and will consider other products and services from the brand.
There is nothing wrong with this idea. It is good brand management. But, the connectedness that Whirlpool has created perhaps crosses the privacy line. The lack of “attachment” to the brand could be the uneasiness of knowing that you are being continuously monitored by your washing machine. Recent third-party research indicates that people do weigh the costs of loss of privacy relative to the benefits of being an open source of personal data.
Trust plays a role. People expect the brands with which they do business to be vigilant with personal information. Perhaps customers trust Whirlpool to do the laundry but do not trust Whirlpool with their in-home behavioral data. It is a possibility. People are willing to accept risks up to a point. Data show that only around 30% of consumers believe brands take personal data protection very seriously. Additionally, 58% of people fear they will be a victim of a data breach.
Further, even when people are willing to provide some personal data, they are less willing to do so when it involves their children. And, laundry involves children, albeit indirectly.
Whirlpool is asking their users to keep the channel of information open 24/7. This is like having a security camera from Walmart in one’s home. Except in this case, the data are not for safety purposes but are being sent to a brand that seemingly wants to use it for their own advantage. Consumers do not see the benefits of having this unwavering eye spying on them all the time. Not hooking up the system is the user saying, “You do not have my permission.”
But, there is possibly more to this story.
Part of what drives this disconnect is how we perceive ease. Ease is a multi-dimensional concept. Brands such as Whirlpool must deliver against all three dimensions of Ease: Ease of Choice, Ease of Use and Ease of Mind.
Whirlpool may do well on Ease of Choice and Ease of Use, but its failure with 24/ machines is 7 monitoring may be due to overlooking the power of Ease of Mind.
Ease of Choice
Choice should be easy. We want more choice, and more personalization. But, we want choosing to be simple. Making a choice should be easy. It should require a minimum effort, and not take a lot of time. We do not want to spend a lot of time on a choice that should not take huge amount of energy to make. In other words, we do not want increased mental and physical effort.
To understand the quandary of choice, stand in front of the snack food aisle at the supermarket. Unless you already know your favorite brand, size of package and variety, you will probably become overcome and dazed. There are potato chips, corn tortilla chips in blue, red yellow or white corn, cheese snacks in puffs, twists, baked or fried, and pretzel sticks, nuggets, twists (tiny or large, cheese or peanut butter filled) along with the chickpea, soy, lentil, gluten-free and black bean chips. There is popcorn – kernels or already popped – in a variety of salts and flavors next to nuts, also in a multitude of flavors.
Forget trying to make a quick confident choice in the pet food aisle. For cats and dogs, it used to be just wet or dry, bagged or canned. But, now you can purchase food in pouches, fresh food in the chill-case, food by age of pet, breed of pet, size of pet, health of pet, weight of pet, bad breath of pet, mental health of pet and combinations of these ingredients. There are snacks for pets, fried, soft or filled.
As for appliances, washing machines have differing and multiple menus of cycles, fabric care, water temperatures, times or sensors. How does one choose what is best? We all wish to make the best purchase decision. Too many options can lead to making a satisfactory decision over making the best decision.
Ease of Use
We want to live in a user-manual-free world. Service options should not require a lot of explanation. Once we easily choose, use of the product or service should be easy. People have enough happening in their lives: they do not need to waste precious time and energy on learning how to use or navigate a product or service. It is the role of the provider to take the complexity out of choice as well as the use. Further, overly complicated products and services cause us to feel inept or inadequate, and, sometimes, cause us to feel stupid.
Something as simple as a washing machine can cause a user to feel unintelligent. The rinse-soak-wash choices require too much thinking. There are multiple temperature options. The options for the wash cycle do not match my natural language. In attempting to provide rinse-soak-wash options for all sorts of fabrics and levels of dirt, the washing machine beomes too complicated. The more complicated, the more stupid the user feels. Why am I having trouble with this? Yet, with fewer options, the user believes the machine is not doing a good job. The question became, “Is it better to have multiple options or a simple one-button machine?”
Ease of Mind
It is not enough to be easy to choose and easy to use. People want to feel comfortable with their decision. They want to feel reassured that they made the right choice. “Am I comfortable with the decision? Now that I am using this product or service, am I satisfied with the choice?” Am I doing the right thing for me? Am I doing the right thing for my family? Am I doing the right thing for my pet? Am I doing the right thing for the community? Am I doing the right thing for future generations?
People want to feel right about their decisions rather than feel regret. And, people want to know that the brands and organizations with which they do business are doing the right thing. Are employees treated properly? Is the company a good global citizen? Is the brand or the company a decent contributor to my communities? Are the brand and corporate leaders making ethical decisions?
As for the connectedness of the appliance, people question whether the brand has their best interests in mind. Is the brand-business managing my information with care? Do I trust this brand as a data manager of my personal life? How are my data used? Do I approve of how my data are used? Does the brand use my data for my personal advantage or to theirs?
Not understanding and implementing against Ease of Mind is brand-business mismanagement. Research indicates that people believe brand-businesses will take advantage of the public if the brand-business believes is unlikely to be found out.
Whirlpool is not alone is its problems with consumers and connections to smart machines. LG faces a similar problem. As The Wall Street Journal points out, Whirlpool and others continue to seek “new lines of revenue” due to weakening demand. Users may not be comfortable with the brand’s revenue desires coming from perpetual peeping. Statements such as “We want to continue to leverage the technology in the product,” do not help users feel comfortable about the day-in-day-out monitoring of their behaviors.
Looking at this issue from the manufacturer’s perspective will only exacerbate the issue. The manufacturers think this is all about educating users. Sure, users need to know the benefits of this behavior monitoring. But, manufacturers also need to do some soul-searching.
Brands must understand the emotional and social ramifications that can violate the user’s ease of mind. Gaining permission depends on users feeling that the data collection is justifiable. Unless the user feels comfortable and implicitly trusts the brand, there will be no further “leveraging of the technology.”
Success with the customer is not like a horse race. There is no prize for being second or third. Brands must win on all three dimensions of ease. when it comes to the three dimensions of ease, brands must win, place and show. Not marketing against all three dimensions of ease is perilous for brands.