Since 2010, BT has been tracking consumer behaviour in an increasingly digital world through an extensive global research programme. We asked expert Dr. Nicola Millard to tell us more about the key trends driving consumer behaviour and how innovation can help customers “chat, tap and talk”.
Dr. Nicola Millard heads up Customer Insight & Futures in BT’s Innovation Team. Despite working for a technology company, Nicola isn’t a technologist and combines psychology with futurology to try & anticipate what might be lying around the corner for both customers and organisations (sadly, her crystal ball is broken).
Nicola recently celebrated her 28th year in BT. She has done a number of jobs around the BT business, including research, user interface design, customer service & business consulting. She was involved with a number of BT “firsts”, including the first application of AI into BT’s call centres, BT’s initial experiments with home working and developing new ways to measure customer experience.
“My job is to innovate with customers”
You have a very exciting job being a customer futurologist, could you share with our readers a little bit about your background and what you do with BT?
Sadly, I am no longer officially a “futurologist” – I think that tends to conjure up images of crystal balls and that really isn’t what my job is about. My job title has got a bit more boring recently – I head up Customer Insight and Futures for BT’s Innovation team – that does not mean that the job is in any way boring. I am based at BT’s main research and innovation centre, Adastral Park, in the East of England. BT has a long tradition of innovation and has been the 3rd biggest investor in research and innovation in the UK over the last 10 years. The role of the innovation team which I am part of is to work with our innovation ecosystem of partners (including our own researchers, global start-ups and universities) to solve challenges in our Global Corporate Client base. My job is to innovate with customers such as airlines, retailers, banks and insurance providers.
What’s next in the customer space?
How are modern technologies shaping, and being shaped by, customers’ behaviour and expectations? How are these technologies changing the way customers communicate and interact with brands?
I think the first thing that digital tools have created is an expectation that everything will be quick, easy and intuitive. Much of the frustration we see in the customer service space is that those expectations are frequently not met and that different channels are not connected.
The most significant behavioural changes in the customer space are driven by the devices that are always on and always on us – i.e. our smart phones. The smart phone is now the customers’ window onto the world. This means that we need to design services with mobile in mind.
Of course, that is often translated into “we must build an app”. The bad news is that customers don’t necessarily download every app, because they are often trading off a finite amount of phone memory capacity. If they are using the app every day – like banking apps – they will download it, but not all of us are as lucky as banks. That’s why we’ve been working in the start up space with companies that have developed ‘micro-apps’, i.e. apps which operate from a link, rather than needing to download them onto a phone.
There are many other aspects of smart phone’s functionality that we can start to harness to change the way that we interact with customers. Because we have a camera, video conferencing with experts (such as healthcare professionals or mortgage advisors) becomes possible. We can also provide functionality that allows a remote agent to take control of the customer’s camera (obviously with the permission of the customer) to do remote diagnostics. We also have basic artificial intelligence on our phones in the form of voice assistants such as Siri and Cortana who may take on some basic, simple transactions for us.
Strategically, the shift to digital channels and self-service doesn’t eliminate customer contact. What it tends to do is shift complex and emotive interaction into the human channels. This means that we need to invest in different skillsets, training and knowledge management for our front-line employees.
Beware of the disconnected customer
Referencing your upcoming talk at CCW Global Exchange on the trends shaping the future of customer experience: Why do you think data needs to be leveraged as the new currency in a “me”-conomy?
Data underpins pretty much everything in the digital customer experience space. Companies like Amazon and Netflix are very good at learning about our preferences and tailoring content for us, but that’s only the beginning of the journey.
Once you can personalise the experience, you can then become proactive – prompt customers about things that they want to know before they have to contact you, or fix things before customers know that they have gone wrong. The next step is to start to use algorithms to predict what customers want before they know they want them. This can get a bit creepy – and that can be a problem because customers are likely to withdraw their permission for you to use their valuable data. This is why I call this a “me”-conomy.
As a customer I may well be willing to share my data – whether its social media, location, or preferences – but I will probably only do it if I believe that I will get something back – better, quicker, more personal service. In an era where, potentially, all of my devices are talking about me behind my back – a.k.a. the internet of things – I may simply choose to disconnect.