Category Archives: inclusion

Kevin Lee: Helping BT Group build towards a more Inclusive future

Kevin Lee, Chief Digital Officer, Consumer at BT, joined us on #Inclusively to talk about how the British telecoms company is building towards a more inclusive future. This is a short summary of a very wide-ranging discussion. The full video of the interview can be seen here.  

Kevin’s exposure to the Inclusion topic goes back 20 years under previous roles including eBay and Samsung. He found himself drawn into the opportunity and its possibilities and that lead him to championing it within the BT Consumer organisation.  Kevin’s role is to ensure that all the products and services built under BT, EE and PlusNet brands are open and available to everyone, especially those who fall into those demographics which may have been excluded in the past.   

It is within the power of the organisation to build products so everyone can consume them. Most importantly, this agenda is now very visible in the senior management team at BT Group and in the Board, where it is strongly supported by a Non-Executive Director who is a wheelchair user. 

Throughout the organisation the issue is being identified as an important pillar of the business.

  • Inside BT Group, the Able2 network represents all employees who identify as being disabled and is building up knowledge across different disabilities and helping create more work opportunities
  • In retail outlets, inclusive design, including hearing loops and wheelchair access are always included in the physical shopping environment.  And, simple adjustments such as extending appointments from 15 minutes to an hour can really help excluded groups.
  • Inclusion is also part of training for all those in customer service.  

BT Group’s tagline is Connect for Good. The elevation of inclusive design and building Digital Accessibility into all products and services is absolutely at the heart of that mission. BT Group want to embrace the abilities of all people and connect them in the best possible way for their own, business and societal benefits. Giving them access to all of the services available in a digital ecosystem will only improve everyone’s prospects.

Inside BT Group this also has a major impact, empowering all people, whatever disability, to be part of the decision-making process. In this way, products and services as well as the customer experience journey, are informed by all possible user types rather than the more restricted influences of the past. This approach to diversity is reflected in its workforce currently showing 34.9% female representation globally, 11.9% ethnic representation in the UK and disabled people representing 6.3% overall.

Part of Kevin’s philosophy is that all users run into problems at some time. This could be a login issue, wrong password, attempting to buy something, problem with a device or a setting on a router. Thinking about the ‘edge’ case where someone is unhappy, and designing around that will help everyone receive a cleaner, frictionless service. Identifying these use cases will benefit everyone ultimately. Design for the ’Happy Cases’ is easy. Designing to gradually rule out the ‘Unhappy Cases’ takes a lot more thinking and design up front but will ultimately make everyone’s life a lot simpler. This contrasts with previous approaches of designing add-ons for different groups such as the elderly and different disabled groups.

Traditionally, product design tends to be based around the individual’s own experience and it is difficult to think as a disabled person, vision impaired or cognitively impaired person. One of the easiest ways to build this broader thinking into the business is to get the business leaders to understand that there is an ROI in bringing people formerly excluded groups into the marketplace. Obviously, revenue is attached to these groups and opening up access to connected services can be life changing. This usually works like a charm because it has revenue uplift attached to it and usually improves NPS and other metrics.

Kevin has certainly used exercises like asking people to ‘literally close their eyes’ and try to experience a product or service in the way a disabled person would. People soon realise they have no idea where to tap, no spatial awareness and a feeling of frustration about getting relatively simple things done. And the same is possible for the hearing impaired or those with physical restrictions. This can be extremely powerful.

 This is a ‘common sense’ approach to walking in the shoes of different user groups.

So, common sense, plus international standards for Digital Accessibility and inclusive design will make everyone’s lives easier.

The design process also means that it is aimed at problem solving. Once a problem is solved it is logged and available to all. Hence, building up a more inclusive set of services. This is, of course, aided by a more software-centric environment where the former hardware-centric services would be much more expensive, time consuming and difficult to adapt.

Kevin sees a lot of emerging technologies helping this move to a more inclusive future. This includes device specific initiatives in IOS and Android, but also in the broader compute, consumer electronics and applications environments. Artificial Intelligence based service today, especially Generative AI have enormous potential to change the inclusion landscape.

In Kevin’s mind, this all-embracing approach will result in a greater return for the business and society. It is a mindset change for the business and results in a richer cultural environment to work in and ‘happier’ customers.

Accessibility and Inclusion: a perspective from Tareq Amin of Rakuten Mobile

We were delighted to welcome Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony to Inclusively in December. Tareq has pioneered the Rakuten Mobile business, embracing a more open network and software environment and building a mobile operator from scratch. You can see the full discussion between the three of us Senza Fili.  It is well worth a watch but here are the highlights.

Tareq expressed his support for having a forum such as this to raise awareness of the inclusion topic. It is a subject close to his heart as he went through major challenges as an outsider when moving to the US as a young man, studying and starting work. His epiphany was realising what he can learn from other people’s journeys so conversations and engagement around diversity are an important part of his ethos.

What does an inclusive future look like?

A world in which everything is accessible to anyone regardless of gender, culture, nationality or disability. Feeling included is such an important factor for everyone. Reasons for feeling excluded can vary dramatically, but it’s particularly easy to do in a technology-centric industry like ours.

How do we make the individual feel included?

Rather than thinking from the point of view of individual minor excluded groups, we need to think of inclusion holistically. “We have a long, long way to go.”

“Customer experience today in the telecoms world is an empirical percentage point” rather than an interaction with an individual human being. The goal is to know who we are dealing with whether through a chatbot, contact centre, email or in person.

On what basis are people excluded today?

The main ones are disability, age and technological skills. Being able to interact with our industry without sight, hearing, physical dexterity, or technical know-how poses different problems across all channels of interaction. The aging population, such as that in Japan, is a serious topic. For example, the complex sea of apps on mobile devices today makes life easier for many, but these solutions may leave the less technologically able behind.

Tailoring our products to meet the needs of each individual is a great goal, but we are still some ways off now. AI is helping enormously. Voice AI especially is a key pillar of what Rakuten is doing. “While we are obsessed with touching the device” – speaking to it has got to be an easier interface.

Whilst this option opens up access for a large group, it also excludes people with speech impairment. But, there is a lot of work being done in this area – for example, take a lot at this initiative with cross-industry support from Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft.

Everyone feeling included – or more importantly not feeling excluded – should be the goal for our industry. “Awareness of our differences is as important as the common ground we share.”

For Tareq, setting the percentage of employees with disabilities, ethnic, gender, is not the issue. These factors are secondary compared to being a productive member of staff!

How much does software change the game?

“There are some big technology inflection points coming up.” The software world should be a massive agent for change for the world of inclusion. We don’t need to wait for the Metaverse nor 6G.

The key for Tareq is that every business leader should understand how important inclusion and diversity are on so many levels. The inclusive vision is now shared with the team and Rakuten has put structured awareness training into practice across the company. However, having enough representation of all groups both inside and outside the organisation is really the only way to drive the business inclusively.

Rakuten Group (which incorporates all Rakuten companies) created a subsidiary called Rakuten Socio to help promote disability and other employment diversity along with skilling and training. This is also part of meeting the obligation of companies in Japan.  For instance, Tareq questions how we can bring this market into the 21st century and what are the needs? For example, is it a simplified app, interface or limited product set?

Rakuten provides a service called Rakuten Senior specifically for senior citizens, and team members must develop a deep understanding of how the elderly behave and think. One approach may be to use the flexibility in the Android operating system to build a smartphone more akin to the old styles that the older aged market identify with. “Bring back the flip phone!”

Customer support and channels of interaction

Tareq acknowledges that the early customer support provided by Rakuten Mobile required improvement, as operators spent lots of time on voice calls, often without resolution. It occurred to Tareq early on that a fresh approach was needed. Context and awareness of the contact just wasn’t available. He sees Voice AI as one of the key pillars of a solution to make interactions accurate and efficient.

Rakuten has developed its Customer DNA across the broader organisation’s vast ecosystem of services. The AI is gradually being trained to understand the individual and their requirements. The anonymized data within this DNA includes customer information, gained with their approval, to help shape the service. “It’s a smart characterisation of the customer.”

The Metaverse

Tareq is excited by the possibilities that the Metaverse will bring but acknowledges that today’s VR headsets are some way behind requirements. However, the world of hybrid working and creating a fully immersive working environment away from the office is more easily achieved. Also, healthcare offers some amazing opportunities to blend the physical and virtual worlds.

One intriguing aspect of the future is how can we learn from using the Metaverse to model how people with different disabilities ‘see’ the world and interact with it. Digital twinning will be the ultimate simulation of real life!

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