Intelligent personal assistants: an opportunity for retailers?

Alexa is arguably the tipping point for intelligent personal assistants; with Amazon’s open source approach to sharing its app (“skill”) development capabilities the sky’s the limit for this new, disruptive form of natural language driven customer experience. But what could retailers make of this opportunity? Here are some ideas…

It’s not the hardware but the cloud analytics that matters

Critical to any retailer using an intelligent personal assistant to innovate their brand is that these use cases should primarily focus on the business outcomes from using its cloud analytics capabilities, not the front-end device itself.

A retailer, for example, could use Alexa to provide instore guidance to shoppers to help them find items or make simple queries, physical customer browsing behaviour captured in the cloud that when combined with online experiences enables deeper, more contextual forms of personalisation across all this retailer’s channels.

An opportunity to simplify (and risk of complicating) customer journeys

A unique strength of an intelligent personal assistant is that it has the potential to smartly rationalise customer queries and transactions – an opportunity to turn chatbots into compelling conversational experiences a customer would have a preference for using over engaging a person or using a digital channel.

But there remains a significant user experience design challenge for its natural language driven interface – at what point does the buying journey become too complex for this channel and risks increasing friction for a customer? Any form of customer experience that requires a customer to look at detailed product information or make comparisons between products could be difficult and hard to follow through spoken voice generated content alone.

Alexa’s use of APIs could enable a retailer to combine this channel with its mobile e-commerce site (or in-store tablets) for example to create a seamless, holistic experience where complex information is shared visually driven by a customer’s voice commands and smartly informed by Alexa’s AI.

Bricks and mortar as a truly experiential destination

Perhaps the most exciting thing about Alexa (and intelligent personal assistants in general) is the potential for them to create unique, personalised experiences instore – a direct, deep relationship between a customer and a retailer’s brand. And because its cloud driven this enables interconnectivity (IoT) with other instore technologies such as targeted digital signage, interactive mirrors, social media engagement and mobile point of sale.

If you would like more information about how digital transformation can benefit your retail business, leave a reply below or contact me by email.

How mentoring at a hackathon helps focus on idea generation and develops potential

I love being a mentor, and recently I was part of a team who ProductForge invited to their three-day, competitive healthcare hackathon at CodeBase, Edinburgh to mentor the teams taking part and get engaged with the exciting projects that were going on and involved in idea generation and helping the teams come up with a single idea to focus on, then guiding in any way that we could.

Participants form small cross-functional teams to work on a product prototype with support from industry experts in the NHS and the wider technology community. It’s an opportunity for participants to develop new skills, network with professionals, meet potential employers or even kick-start their own company.

Image of hackathon participantsAs with any event of this nature, there was a tangible feeling of excitement – everyone was talking intensely, gesturing and sketching ideas. Some of the teams had pretty solid ideas of what they wanted to do, while others were still in the brainstorming stage – whatever their stage of idea development, the amount of energy, always impressive.

For those teams that had an idea to go forward with, I offered to run a breakout workshop focusing on UX design. For those that hadn’t picked an idea yet, we spent some time trying to help to focus their ideas on something they could work on.

Picture of hackathon particpantsThe workshop got the teams thinking about who they were creating their apps for, explaining that the smaller their focus target audience, the better they could target their research and the clearer they would be of their required functionality.

This message was made continually throughout the day, and it was great to see some of the teams altering their projects to focus on more specific user groups.

The whole day was a lot of fun, and everyone from our team was disappointed to leave at the end.

I’m one of many at Sopra Steria who spend time mentoring – especially with young people still in education who might need some help developing their full potential. It’s all part of our commitment to making a positive difference to the communities in which we live and work, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Do you have experience in mentoring outside of your workplace? Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

The Art of Creativity…

It’s 2020, our customers are raving about our easy to use delivery process, within weeks our customers achieved their outcomes and upfront, decisions were made based on real insights that influenced how they would build their pipeline. New revenue was generated and huge savings were made. Customers, stakeholders and employees interact with our multichannel services, with ease and simplicity, gliding through systems, feeling delighted by the entire experience.

How did we do it?

We delivered solutions that use one basic formula.

Collaboration + Innovation

What does it equal?

Creative confidence

Our tools and methodologies enhance creative problem solving, they support scalability and automate the way we work, enabling our leaders and consultants to work at greater scale.

Our consultants transform business thinking by putting people at the heart of the decision process. Our technical gurus deploy systems within weeks not months. Our customers come back for more and the end user experience is seamless…

Oh wait… I’m not thinking about the future, this is now and it’s still 2017!

Our teams are already innovating and our customers are achieving their outcomes. Everyday we collaborate, our development tools have already reduced the time it takes to deliver an entire system. Our designers and researchers have improved quality of life. It’s not just technology and digital experiences, it’s:

  • Creating new approaches to health
  • Creating user-centred government services
  • Creating new ways of working for employees
  • Creating better ways to manage our money
  • Creating new ways for technology to help humans

We removed the fear of being creative and we made it familiar. Creativity is not special.

Working and delivering in a technical environment within an IT company is exciting. The opportunity to transform lives, enhance experiences – whether it’s the experience of the customer, the business or the employee has become cathartic. Technology has become the enabler. Design thinking is transforming technology. Design thinking is a core competency built for the future.

What next? Longevity

Find out how we at Sopra Steria have become masters of design thinking, integrating people into our IT process right from the start.

What are your thoughts? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.

2020: The Digital Employee Experience

As organisations adopt new ways of working and technology to increase their competitiveness, the employee experience – the interaction between an organisation and its people – is radically changing. So what might the employee experience be like in 2020? Here are some ideas…

Agile loyalty: The ability of an organisation to respond effectively to rapidly changing market conditions is a key source of advantage in today’s global economy. For example the sharing platforms created by digital disruptors like Airbnb or Uber have helped lower supplier costs and increased customer choice.

Arguably this sharing platform capability could be developed further to create other forms of competitive advantage such as enabling collaborative or even competing organisations to share their human resources on-demand. In 2020 an employee may be expected and supported by their parent organisation to work in different areas of the same sector as a form of short-term resource exchange that delivers mutual benefit for all participating organisations.

Traditional and digital integration: In B2C markets today there is a strong focus on integrating the traditional and digital experience of a brand to create seamless, insightful customer offerings anywhere, anytime. The adoption of Bluetooth beacons in stores to personalise the physical shopping experience as a complement to digital channels is an example of this omnichannel approach.

For such integration to be commercially successful the employee experience needs to blend offline and online work tools together effectively. The use of smart devices like tablets by shop floor employees to access stock information instantly to support the sales process demonstrates the positive impact of such change. Yet as digital technologies mature, such integration is likely to accelerate further – for example van manufacturers are now prototyping drone-equipped delivery vehicles. In 2020, an employee may need to have the skills to work successfully with a range of old and new technologies integrated together for customer benefit.  

The trust economy: The digital employee experience is fundamentally changing the intrinsic relationship – the bond or trust – between an organisation and its employees. Driven by disruptive factors such as the globalisation of the labour market and proliferation of social media, the need to have aligned cultural values between these stakeholders is critical to realising the advantages of employee self empowerment and agility.  

Today, many organisations are making the public move from a corporate social responsibility approach to the combined goals of social, environment and economic sustainability – a shared set of values with their employees. In 2020, such trust may be essential to the employee experience with an organisation communicating daily updates to its people about its performance against its sustainability goals to help intrinsically motivate their performance.

If you would like more information about how digital employee experience design can benefit your organisation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Seamless accessibility: improve user experience with end-to-end business support

Have you had an online experience which has been of great quality but found the accompanying business service less than satisfactory?  I recently went through a similar experience with a popular cultural festival. There was an inconsistency in the ticketing process where an online ticket purchase required a visit to the ticket collection point to get a print of the ticket. Some of these points were difficult to reach and were poorly sign posted. It got me thinking how one inadequately supported aspect of an otherwise fantastic event was sticking out like a sore thumb for me! Allowing the customers to print the tickets at home would perhaps resolve the issue? Or offering a mobile e-ticket which would also be environmentally friendly?

A similar thought was mentioned by a speaker at the Accessibility Scotland 2016 conference that I attended recently. Accessibility expert Mark Palmer highlighted:

Accessibility needs end-to-end support in a business and web accessibility is just one aspect of it

Quoting the example of booking a flight ticket for a customer travelling with a guide dog (which is yet to be made a fully online process by some airlines and can be quite laborious), he explained that unless the business processes around this idea are well designed, it does not serve much purpose to just get the IT part of it right. Say if a software implementation has delivered a perfectly accessible web based system to place order for a product but the ordering process needs the user to physically go to an inaccessible collection point to pick up the product, the purpose is defeated. Yes, we do want the web accessibility requirements fully addressed but there should be an associated review of the business set up as well.

Coming to think of it, I can see many examples around me where the quality of an online experience is not followed up in the delivery of the actual service / business process. The priority seat booking in some of the low cost airlines that still requires the customers to wait in a long queue to make sure they get to keep their hand luggage on the aircraft with them. Another instance is when I booked classes for my son with a local swimming company, which had marketed their website in all flyers. The highly presentable website did not have the option to pay the fees online; hence the transaction did not end with my online activities, I had to follow up with a phone call to make the payment. While this could be true of any online service, the same principle is applicable to accessibility i.e., user experience as a topic is not limited to the web part of the customer’s journey in accessing a service.

An excellent example of getting this idea right is the ‘Accessible Tourism’ initiative by the public sector organisation Visit Scotland. The aim of this project is to encourage tourism businesses to consider making the full experience to be completely accessible. Right from practical tips around a disabled person using their facilities to case studies of success stories, there is extensive information provided to encourage businesses to make the overall experience fully accessible. This measure is to be appreciated as a step in the right direction to encourage the thought process of thinking through the end-to-end user experience.

Can you see such processes around you where the overall service experience is inconsistent with the online service?

It could be a project you are part of, an experience as a customer / end user? Can you imagine the frustration of such an experience? Perhaps it’s something we should bring to the attention of our clients / project teams who are on such missions. Project managers and business analysts need to look at this more closely perhaps? After all, it is the end-to-end user experience which ensures customer loyalty and complete user satisfaction.

Leave a reply below or contact me by email.

Have you reached your digital tipping point?

Here at Sopra Steria we have been talking to our clients about their plans for digital for several years. We’ve seen them move from mild curiosity, through active experimentation towards full-scale transformation activity.

Given the diverse nature of our customer base, spanning public and private sectors and the many and varied organisations that comprise those vertical markets, you’d expect each and every one of their experiences to have been different. You’d be right, too! But you might also be surprised at the similarities across businesses of all shapes and sizes as they evolve to greater levels of digital maturity.

Certainly, many organisations over the past few years have focused their early digital efforts on enhancing the customer experience. Driven by an ongoing consumer-driven demand for better services, across an ever-lengthening list of channels and devices, companies have recruited creative agencies, consultants and advisory partners to help to introduce compelling new user experiences, in order to retain both relevance and customers in an environment of swirling change.

Many of these organisations have had some outstanding results. However, many others have found themselves frustrated at an inability to transition their successful experiments, whether working in-house or with partners, across to their mainstream delivery portfolios. Knowing that businesses need to ‘keep the lights on’ whilst also transforming their culture in order to be more responsive, more agile and altogether more digital is proving to be the real challenge of the day.

This is where Sopra Steria makes a massive difference, as it helps its clients recognise this digital ‘tipping point’ and, more importantly, move beyond it!

Years of experience delivering and assuring large scale business and IT transformation programmes for our clients, combined with UX leadership, agile expertise and a growing network of emerging and established tech partners, puts Sopra Steria in the ideal position to work with clients to identify and select early digital wins in order to inject them, via a proven digital integration layer, into in-flight business and IT transformation programmes.

The ability to demonstrate the innovation required to retain market position, attract new customers and transform not only the infrastructure of the organisation but its culture is the key challenge our clients face today and the key reason they are turning to Sopra Steria as their digital partner of choice. View our interactive cityscape to see how such organisations are digitally transforming.

Don’t forget the lampposts 

I was recently reviewing a ‘complete’ checklist for testing web applications but at no point in the list was accessibility even mentioned despite being quite thorough in other areas. I would like to try to kid myself that this was just an oversight but it is sadly all too common even though it has been a legal requirement for well over a decade. Of course, a legal requirement where enforcement is practically unheard of is rarely a motivation for an organisation to spend more money on something. That being said, there is strong evidence of the real business benefit to accessible services and information being available to the ten million disabled people in the UK (two million of which have sight problems), but that would be a whole other article.

When testing for accessibility is carried out, it is done so to a set of guidelines. The W3C[1] WAI[2] WCAG 2.0[3] are widely regarded as the guidelines to use, with the middle road AA standard the most sought after level. While the AA standard is quite adequate for the majority (AAA is better and readily achievable with a little extra effort), testing relying solely on the guidelines does not guarantee the final product is accessible and usable. It is entirely possible to have an accessible website that is very difficult to use.

When I was a child, my mother used to paint the front door of our house a bright colour in the belief, unbeknownst to me, that this was necessary for me to be able to find my way home from school. When I asked about our door and this was explained to me I thought that it was a really silly reason and promptly told her, “You just need to count the lampposts”.

This may seem like quite a bizarre anecdote to throw into a web accessibility article. However, my point is that…

just because you expect someone to do something one way does not mean they have not already found their own preferred way to do it.

The same applies to people with disabilities accessing websites and applications. The developers may intend a site/app to be accessed in a specific way but, particularly for non-visual users, the content order and methods they use will be quite different and vary upon personal preference.

Your test team can ensure the site/app designs follow the WAI guidelines, and that your content authors are trained in how to maintain the accessibility standards of your site/app but until you perform real user testing you will not know if you have completely succeeded in your goal.

There is no substitute for having a couple dozen people test your site with various technologies and tell you all the things that annoy them about it, as they will all do so in a slightly different way.

Many of the issues that arise during accessibility testing come from developers not being properly trained in HTML features for accessibility and implementing them incorrectly, which only serves to aggravate the user and drive them away from the site. This has become a particular problem with the increasing reliance on JavaScript without proper alternatives in place and most recently the use of ARIA[4] in HTML 5. ARIA has many potential benefits, particularly for fast navigation using screen readers, but when implemented poorly it can render a site extremely unpleasant to use.

Having worked in accessibility testing for over 13 years and having a lifetime’s experience of visual impairment I can’t help but feel depressed at times at how little regard is given to web accessibility.

The need for systems to be fully accessible will only increase due to the growth in essential services being provided via web applications.

With a little training and care, it is simple to implement accessibility at early development stages, thus providing a superior product that will benefit the customer and users alike (and fewer headaches for myself will be a nice bonus too).

If you have any comments about this topic, please a reply below or contact me by email.

Footnotes

[1] World Wide Web Consortium
[2] Web Accessibility Initiative
[3] Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0
[4] Accessible Rich Internet Applications