New Technology and User Adoption with Dr. Nicola Millard

In our latest episode of the Digital Innovation Podcast, we sat down with Dr. Nicola Millard, Principal Innovation Partner at BT. Most people know BT as a British multinational telecommunications company, however, they are less aware of BT’s digital innovation initiatives.

BT recently established a unit to develop and deliver innovative products, platforms, and services to customers in areas like healthcare and data. They’ve partnered with universities, startups, and leading innovators all over the world to bring them top-notch digital services. This will also help BT fully embrace new technologies such as AI and machine learning.

Bringing it back to our guest, Dr. Millard; in addition to her role as Principle Innovation Partner at BT, she is also a thought leader on the topics of customer experience and the future of work. She describes herself as sort of half a psychologist and half a technologist, whereby her career has been dedicated to looking at the intersection between people and technology.

For us at Hubtype, we were especially interested to hear Dr. Millard’s take on technology adoption and the future of tech in customer service. For those of you who don’t know, Hubtype is a conversational cloud platform that helps businesses create, deploy and manage customer communications at scale. Think chatbots, but smarter and prettier 😉.

At Hubtype, we also spend a lot of time discerning why people use technology and how we can increase user adoption of conversational technology. For that reason, in this episode, we pick Dr. Millard's brain about three main topics:

  • Remote work: the current challenges, opportunities, and learnings we can apply to tech adoption in general
  • The future of technology in customer service
  • How intention states drive the use of different customer service channels

You can listen to the full discussion below, or keep reading for five of our key takeaways.
Please note, some of the passages have been edited for brevity and clarity.

1. Changes in culture accelerate digital shifts

Gordon: The technology to power effective home working has been there for a long time. Whether it's Zoom or collaboration tools, there have been very clear benefits for both employer and employee. Why do you think it took so long for this to catch on?

Dr. Millard: The short answer is culture, which as we know eats everything for breakfast. There were a lot of organizations, BT included, working with either a home-based proportion of employees or in a hybrid model, which I think is the word of the year so far for me.

Everyone talking about hybrid, and what it means is an interesting challenge. But I think a crisis does tend to provoke a lot of change. Culturally in many organizations, there’s an unconscious bias that we've been looking at called proximity bias, which I keep saying is a result of our neanderthal brains, really. Our inner caveman tends to trust people we see on a regular basis.

That kind of, ‘I come into an office, I see people, I collaborate’ was kind of almost the default. In some senses, that’s an easy way of doing it. Then, of course, things went fully remote in many organizations and we learned to compensate for not having the physical channels. Now the interesting thing about hybrid is that, theoretically, you should be able to bring the best of both worlds together; the physical world and the digital world, together in a hybrid model.

2. Asynchronous work requires a digital common ground

Dr. Millard: During a fully remote day, people tend to work in chunks. Again, Microsoft has just done some work showing that it's a three-peak day now. We tend to start earlier and finish later, but we will take the dog for a walk, we’ll pick the kids up, and we'll do the washing. So you know, we do other things as well. I think that time meshing is a problem there. How do you synchronize things?

Also, you can get tribalism rearing its ugly head. If you’ve got a predominantly office-based workforce vs. a predominantly remote one, then you can end up with two tribes. And as Frankie Goes To Hollywood observed, two tribes can very easily go to war. And you do not want that either.

So the challenge of hybrid is to establish a digital common ground. Digital is the one place that everyone can access, regardless of where they are. There are a lot of conversations around things like digital HQs. So how do you build an environment that everyone can access and everyone can work from, regardless of where they happen to be. And that includes bridging a lot of digital elements into the physical space. 

3. New technology must pass the 3 U’s test–it should be useful, usable, and used

Gordon: I’d like to continue on to customer service and the technology arriving. We see a mix of internal and external resistance to it. 

To give you an example, one of our clients has launched customer support on a messaging channel. This client now offers asynchronous customer support on WhatsApp. Rather than being stuck on a phone call, you can message a customer service agent.

There are all sorts of innovative digital tools, including was to log in. Basically, it is a demonstrably a better experience for the user and it saves time for both people. Yet, some clients struggle to get users away from the phone line onto these new channels. I just wonder when it comes to customer service, why do you think that might be? Especially when the technology benefit appears to be so clear?

Dr. Millard: So there are two elements that we've been looking at here. Firstly, a test I always apply to innovation is the 3 U’s test:

  • Is it useful? 
  • Is it usable?
  • Is it used? (who else is using it)

Is it useful? 

Dr. Millard: The first question to ask is, is it actually going to get me a solution to my problem? Typically, customers, unlike ourselves, do not obsess about channels. They have a goal, they want to solve a problem, they want to do something.

It may well do, but there's a perception; is it going to do it for me or is it not? Now, interestingly with the phone, we've been tracking trends around channels for a long time and the phone still stands up.

It's a very old and very unsexy technology, we actually ask the question in our last piece of research ‘why do you still use the phone?’ because we’re just as mystified–and a lot of the reasons had to do with reliability and trust.

With newer channels that people are not as familiar with, or don't think that they're going to get an answer, the first thing is that you have got to get them to try it. You have to nudge them into trying the technology and considering it as a channel. 

Experiencing it is probably one of the most compelling ways of getting adoption, assuming it works of course.

It is usable?

Dr. Millard: This is the relatively easy bit so as long as you've done the testing and as long as it doesn't need a training course or a manual to work.

Is it used?

Useful and usable technologies are not always adopted. And that's where “used” comes in, and that’s also where psychology comes. A lot of that involves peer pressure and adoption, particularly with things like collaboration tools and social networks.

A social network of one would be terrible. The value of a social network is basically who is on it and what they're talking about. That's the reason why I would be on any particular social network. So again, if people like me are adopting that channel, I am more likely to adopt at channel than if people like me are not. You can start to nudge that. 

4. Intention states drive customers to different channels

Dr. Millard: Customers are goal-oriented, so they will go to the channel that they think is going to get to their goal. But there's also an underlying intention state that often drives them to different channels. That intention state is typically either positive, negative, or neutral.

Positively motivated customers (visionaries) 

Dr. Millard: Positively motivated customers–we call them visionary customers–are typically doing something they want to do. Maybe they're planning a holiday, or getting married, or planning the perfect dinner party. They're willing to invest time, energy, and effort to do it. So they’ll do their research, we call them shopper SWOTs.

They’ll look around, they’ll Google stuff, they’ll compare things, and are willing to invest time and effort. They can be a bit paranoid if they think things are going to go wrong, or if it's time-sensitive the delivery might not get them. They may need reassurance, but actually, they’re easy customers to deal with.

Negatively motivated customers (customers in crises)

Dr. Millard: [Positively motivated customers] can, of course, flip within moments to negatively motivated ones. Or they can start negatively motivated. We call these ‘customers in crisis.’ So, there's a contrast between a visionary and a customer crisis.

Visionaries tend to use a lot of channels. Customers in crisis don't. They're very tunnel-visioned, and possibly that's to do with the way the brain reacts to crisis. As soon as you introduce anxiety, fear, and frustration, our attention span reduces. We tend to not see multiple options even our brain capacity reduces.

So if you give people really complex information, or give them 52 options on an IVR, that's not going to work for a customer crisis. You need something simple and easy. Typically, they want a phone number, and we do find that the phone is very dominant for customers in crisis.

Utilitarian customers 

Dr. Millard: Then, of course, we’re not always positive or negative, there’s a neutral point, which we call utilitarian. These are very routine tasks like paying bills. You don't need “wow,” the opportunity there is to put in something that makes things quick and easy–and easy is very important for utilitarian customers.

If it’s not easy, and they expect it to be easy, they can tip over to customers in crisis. So, typically utilitarians respond much better to self-service. Customers in crisis do not respond so well to self-service. 

So, rather than do a traditional customer journey map based on age or demographic, what we started to do is look at goal and intention state. And then actually what you can do is start to say, ‘these are the most likely channels that your customers are going to use.’

5. You don’t need to be everywhere, for everyone, on every channel

Dr. Millard: Being everywhere, for everyone, on every channel is a very attractive prospect, but actually it just makes life very very complex. Instead, think about what channels your customers are likely to want to use. Look at those customer journey frameworks. Different sectors will have different types of customers

In telecoms and utilities, we tend to get a high proportion of customers in crisis. Sometimes you don't even know you got the service until you haven't got the service. You tend to get a lot of people suddenly realizing that they can't connect or they don't have water or electricity, and that tips them into contact.

In retail, you tend to get more visionary customers, particularly for high-end retail and time-critical retail, l.ike Christmas, you’ll get a lot of visionary-type behavior. Different sectors will have slightly different needs, but be everything, everywhere, for everybody. Sticks to the channels your customers are likely to be using and also the channels that you can actually do well.