“You can observe a lot just by watching.” — Yogi Berra
Just as customer service (CX) makes all the difference in the contact center, user experience (UX) matters significantly in the collaboration space – where workers have a never-ending variety of applications and platforms to help them be more productive. For the most part, the underlying technologies work decently. But getting workers to adopt and then use them effectively long term is another story. That’s the crux for any of these offerings to have real success, which is why UX is so important.
A key challenge all collaboration players face is that IT, which typically signs off on a purchase, often thinks about use of these applications differently than the workers across the organization who need to use them daily. With IT’s guidance, UC engineers and developers wind up focusing on features that end users aren’t necessarily all that interested in. That often results in a usage gap, as clearly exists with UC, especially for mobile applications.
I recently got to wear my market researcher hat and conducted a series of focus groups on this very topic. A full report is coming soon, and while I can only be high level here, this study validated some realities that help explain why end-user adoption of mobile UC is so hard to achieve. No matter how remarkable the technology is, the real test is putting it into the hands of end users, and focus groups provide a front-row seat for observing just how well that goes.
Engineers Just Think They Know What Will Work
In the perfect world of an engineer, we would be all-knowing. There wouldn’t be a need to simplify things, and everything would precisely operate as envisioned. Since we live in a highly imperfect world, the real challenge comes from translating that vision into a great user experience. Nobody had a better understanding than Apple founder Steve Jobs, and at least when it comes to mobile apps for collaboration, his kind is sorely missed.
That isn’t to say that mobile UC apps aren’t well-designed — there’s a lot to like in terms of look and feel — but this particular use case faces challenges that the desktop environment doesn’t. A good starting point would be a form factor where the smaller screen on smartphones constrains how engaged workers are willing or able to get. On the other hand, the touchscreen makes some features easier to use than with a desktop user interface (UI), but that presumes end users know about the features in the first place or feel compelled to use them.
Another fundamental challenge is that most employees use their personal smartphones for business. BYOD is nothing new but managing both worlds on a single device isn’t easy, I heard from focus group participants. Perhaps if we only talked to tech-savvy Millennials, this wouldn’t be a problem, but at this point in time, they only represent one segment of the workforce.
Managing dual personas has been a selling point for many UC offerings, so this isn’t an unsolvable problem. However, even when that problem has a solid solution, a more recent twist of events is working against the best intentions of UC providers. The scourge of robocalling has spread from landlines to mobile devices, a pain point clearly identified in our sessions.
Most participants feel inclined to answer all incoming calls, even from unknown numbers, since they could well be for business. They end up wasting a lot of time and energy when those calls are scams received via their personal number. While solutions are in the works, they haven’t made it this far downstream yet. As such, the best intentions from engineers for UC are being undermined because the mobile telephony experience is becoming an adventure that nobody enjoys.
Getting to First Base Is the Hardest Part
Across our sessions, we asked participants to use various mobile UC&C features for different UC platforms (who shall remain nameless in this article), starting with basics like answering a call and progressing to more collaborative modes of working on a mobile device. In almost all cases, participants required assistance to find the features, and once located, they often needed a few tries to get it right. Engineers and developers don’t want to hear this, but it’s ultimately what keeps UX designers busy.
It’s easy to attribute this to a pool of people who are too old school, or not tech savvy enough to use mobile UC. But we had plenty of tech-savvy individuals, and more importantly, they aren’t strangers to collaboration tools. Many participants use platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, and GoToMeeting, and concepts like presence or file sharing are familiar.
When conducting this type of market research, it’s difficult to know exactly what to expect — given how amorphous “collaboration” is. There is no singular way to collaborate, and people generally use the tools with which they’re most comfortable using. Again, this reiterates the importance of UX, and if mobile UC applications aren’t easier and more intuitive to use than what people are doing already, getting their buy-in is going to be an uphill struggle.
Engineers and developers can’t pick and choose their target user base. To varying degrees, all workers need to use some semblance of these tools, and in a multi-generational workforce, it’s a real challenge getting widespread UC adoption, especially for mobile. That brings us to a second reason why UX is so significant in this case — namely how mobile-centric everyone’s life has become. The desktop may offer a better overall UX for UC, but mobile is where much of their workday happens, so that’s where UC really needs to shine.
The good news is that once participants got the hang of using these features, they were comfortable with them — which holds true for most cases where new technology comes along, but it’s particularly relevant for mobility. When sitting at a desk, workers are stationary, both hands are free, the screen is bigger, and icons are easier to see and move around. Mobile environments are often the complete opposite, so applications need to work with minimal effort. That was not the case on the first take during the sessions, and without getting any external help, it’s easy to see how workers wouldn’t even get to first base with mobile UC apps.
Getting to Home Plate
As per the opening Yogi-ism, focus groups reveal a lot about how people engage with technology. Aside from how individuals use phones, their body language, facial expression, tone of voice, etc., tells a richer UX story. Add to that group dynamics where everyone is airing and sharing their grievances, and you take away a greater understanding of the gap between what gets built in the lab, and how it’s actually used in the field.
To be fair, Apple-style UX isn’t the panacea for making mobile UC ubiquitous. Whether the perfect UX here may only need a tiny tweak or a major re-do, it’s not the only factor driving better adoption. You can’t get to home plate without getting to first base, and as we saw during the groups, that means somehow executing some handholding at the outset.
Remember, these people are active mobile users, interested in having better tools to collaborate on their mobile devices. They only need to know these applications are available, receive a short demonstration on how to use them, - and then - hopefully – they’ll be on their way. I can’t say if the onus falls on the UC vendors or to IT for this, but without it, mobile UC adoption will remain low.
The more you listen to end users, the more you learn, and that’s why we conduct market research. Opening Day is just a few weeks away, so for now, every team is in first place. Over the course of a long season, staying on top comes from adjusting along the way — by listening and observing. Nobody knows better than end users what mobile UC apps are going to stick, and the vendors that pay heed to that have the best chance of getting from first to home and running up some big scores in the marketplace.