26 Mar 2018

Speaker Q&A with Dr Nicola Millard, Head of Customer Insights & Futures, BT

Nicola Millard






John Bensalhia speaks to Dr Nicola Millard, head of customer insight and futures at the BT Global Innovation team about her work and the current technological trends for customers and businesses...

1. What do you do in your current role?

Combining psychology with futurology, my job is to anticipate what's in store for both customers and organisations in the technological world.

What I do is to take the human view and look at the current and future trends and research the intersection between technology and customers/employees/businesses. I look at the behaviour of consumers and employees when it comes to technology trends and look at the relationship between the two. Part of this is to understand what's changing in the technology world and how customers react to this.

2. What notable recent changes have occurred in the technology world?

The last few years has seen a significant shift away from traditional PCs. It's almost as if we are heading towards a post-PC era because in the last few years, technology has moved on so much. Today, we use mobile devices such as SmartPhones so much more, to the point where they act as a window on our world.

Another notable recent change is the way in which we can now interact with devices. Our technology can personalise things a lot more, if we are willing to share data such as our location or social media profile. We can also increasingly use our voices to talk to our tech, rather than using a keyboard and mouse. Technologies like Siri and Cortana aren’t that sophisticated yet, but the age of the intelligent digital assistant is on the way.

The debate is whether today's technology will stick around or whether they will be replaced with new innovations further down the line.

3. How has modern technology affected the way in which we communicate?

There has been a massive growth in people wanting to use chat to talk to organisations, as well as each other. Organisations today are increasingly allowing people to use chat as a means of customer service (as opposed to the days in which people would pick up the phone and speak to someone in person).

With chat, we inevitably also get a lot of discussion about chatbots. Ironically, the one thing chatbots aren’t very good at doing is chat, because they don’t understand the complexities of human language and our context. If you create the impression to a customer that a chatbot is human, then it can be frustrating when they don’t understand us. Similarly, we should ensure that customers know when they are actually talking to a real human.

4. Who are the inspirations for the work that you do?

Because I am a psychologist in the technology area, my inspirations are people such as Genevieve Bell (Director of the Autonomy, Agency and Assurance (3A) Institute and Australian anthropologist renowned for her work at the intersection of cultural practice and technology development) and Rosalind Picard (founder and director of the Affective Computing Research Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab).

5. What does 2018 hold in store for you?

This year, there will be a lot of research into understanding how the voice can work more effectively as an interface in technological devices, as well as the relationship between AI and Bots.

27 years ago, my original interest was in the psychology of machine learning, so it's interesting that many years later, that interest has come around full circle! Although today, there is a lot more data and processing power behind it than there used to be. I suspect that this will take up much of my time in the next year!

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