4 Lessons Businesses Can Learn From This Smart Lock Malfunction

The Internet of Things (IoT) is heavily built on the idea of connected households and associated gadgets. Many of the items we own interact with others, making our lives much more convenient. What happens when things go wrong, though?

LockState, a provider of smart locks, found that out the hard way in early August when a flawed firmware update caused a major error, affecting the smart code access mode within approximately 500 locks and making them useless. Let’s take a closer look at this reputation disaster and pinpoint four things other businesses in the same or similar sectors can learn about what happened, and how LockState could prepare in the future.

1. Customers Need to Have the Choice to Accept or Deny Such Updates

Problems stemmed from an over-the-air firmware update that affected the locks’ functionality and prevented the devices from connecting to the company’s servers. Many companies, including Apple, often announce the availability of new updates and let users decide when and if to download them for their gadgets. It’s even possible to schedule updates, so they don’t occur when people are trying to use the technology.

According to feedback from people affected by this smart lock debacle, they got the firmware update with no warning, similar to the way iTunes users suddenly found new U2 albums in their libraries without indicating they wanted the songs. In that case, Apple broke with tradition and delivered the media automatically, much to the dismay of some recipients who complained that the album ate up their internet data and that they didn’t like the band’s music.

2. Companies Should Be Realistic About Possible Failures

Although it goes against the tone of typical marketing materials, companies need to be straightforward about potential failures. They could try to spin a statistic in a positive way, such as by saying something like, “Our product has a 98.2 percent success rate.”

Indeed, most people know all devices can fail, but being reminded in a prominent way could encourage individuals to have backup plans, similar to how you would want to have a spare garage door opener in case you lose the original or someone steals it.

3. Providers Must Be Transparent and Responsive Across Social Media Channels

After people began discovering their smart locks were not behaving normally, they bombarded the LockState Twitter feed, accusing the company of not being upfront about the error. Individuals also got disgruntled because they thought LockState representatives took much too long to respond to the identified problems.

LockState’s situation and non-ideal ways of responding via social media are not unique. Many people are already hesitant to trust smart locks as being secure because of reported hacks. In the future, companies can be insistent about hiring dedicated teams of workers to monitor social media feeds. Then, if problems do happen, affected providers can spring into action right away. The quick response time helps restore trust even when products do not work as expected.

4. Brands Can’t Forget How Heavily People Rely on Their Products

LockState also came under fire during the fiasco because the company told customers it would take at least five days to fix the firmware update on an existing lock, or at least two weeks to get a replacement lock. Users were understandably outraged by the long lead times.

That’s especially true since many were Airbnb hosts, and they were using the faulty lock because of a partnership with the accommodation website. Because there is such a push for people to switch from traditional locks to so-called smart ones, many individuals may quickly become extremely dependent on this still-emerging technology, leaving them stranded during mishaps.

If LockState was intent on repairing things with irate customers, it should have offered to ship replacements to the affected users via an overnight option. Because the problem caused a lack of server connectivity, fixing the problem without physical intervention was impossible. The company also needs to look at ways to have a backup plan if connectivity breaks down again. Fixing the issue remotely or via fast shipping would have given peace of mind to reliant people.

LockState representatives are likely looking back on everything they wish they’d done differently in this case.

The positive side of that is how other companies can study the blunders — as we have here — and hopefully avoid them.

Image by Pixabay

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews writes about AI, cloud computing and IoT for publications like The Week, The Data Center Journal and VentureBeat.
About Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews writes about AI, cloud computing and IoT for publications like The Week, The Data Center Journal and VentureBeat.

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