Does your pulse quicken, just a little, as you glimpse your favorite computing device? Do you warm to the gentle and familiar glow of your home screen? Do your favorite apps shine like a cluster of precious jewels? If any of this rings true for you don’t worry, you’re not alone - owning technology is an emotional business.
In fact, organizations are just starting to wake up to the complex emotional and even neurological factors behind trends like BYOD. As this article from Network Computing explains, we’re not only emotionally engaged with our devices and the applications they run, they’re starting to shape the way we think; perhaps even defining the boundaries of where we stop and start as individuals.
So what does this process look like? how do we get from our initial flirtations with a novel technology, to a deep and abiding love that will conquer all? And is there anything we can learn from this process that can help us shape the way we engage with consumers of corporate IT?
Phase 1 The Experiential
Ahh, the first flushes of attraction. Oh how you marvel at the balance of straight edges and curves in the design of the casing. The smooth animations are like the oil-damped eject mechanism of a tape deck (listen, I’m over 40, ok?). You’re not entirely sure what it does yet, but you’re pretty certain you need it in your life. At the very least, you feel moved to explore.
Design and aesthetics really matter in the snap decisions people make about whether to engage with a technology, be it hardware or software. And it’s not just about pulling people in for a closer look: good design can give a strong sense of usability and familiarity. As humans, we automatically equate pleasing form with ease of use; a phenomenon well documented in the aesthetic usability effect.
Many a self-service IT initiative has foundered on the rocks of design, aesthetics and usability. Even a well laid out and simple portal will often fail to attract a meaningful percentage of the workforce. Why? Because expectations these days are incredibly high. Just look at the quality of the apps people now use: an exquisite balance of design, usability and utility. This is where the bar has now been set.
Phase 1, the initial experience of technology, is the most important phase in getting people on board with a new technology or service; in fact, it’s one of the guiding forces that shaped our own MyIT app. The message is simple: if you want people to move beyond a brief and meaningless encounter with your technology, then make them want to use it. In which case, experience is everything.
Phase 2 Getting Engaged
Having got those awkward first dates out of the way, something tells you you’re into something good. In phase 2 of digital love, you find yourself turning more and more to the object of your new found affection. You start exploring its capabilities more fully, probing beyond the look and feel to see if this thing has genuine utility.
This is where trust is built, as you deliberately (and sometimes subconsciously) put the technology to the test. Is this worthy of greater emotional investment? or is it going to let me down badly when I need it most?
Remember, getting people this far was a small triumph, so make sure the substance and delivery of your service matches the promise of the interface. Something we explored in an earlier blog.
Phase 3 Feeling Empowered
In phase 3 your relationship with the technology deepens. You like interacting with it, it does something you find useful and you trust it; so now you start to incorporate it into your life. The technology becomes part of how you do things. It has real and tangible benefits: it makes you better at important tasks or perhaps it saves you from having to do those tasks at all. Maybe it tells you something about the world (or about yourself) that you wouldn’t otherwise know.
In short the technology has started to empower and enrich you; it has somehow both extended your capabilities and simplified getting things done. You can see some great examples of technologies doing just that for IT in this piece on inc.com.
Phones, tablets, apps, services, tools - regardless of what the technology is, the things that take people to Phase 3 (and beyond) are always well aligned to the audiences they serve. This sounds obvious, however, these days the trick is not necessarily being relevant, but staying relevant.
Like any relationship, you need to work at it. As a provider of IT services, staying in the hearts and minds of your employees in a world that is changing as fast as this one takes constant effort. They will always be comparing and contrasting the technology they experience outside the workplace with the services you deliver.
Phase 4 Ownership (aka: try to take this away, and I will hurt you, a lot.)
I’m not a man given to violent acts, but if someone decided to help themselves to my iPad, trust me, I would take it personally. There would be crying, gnashing of teeth and endless cups of tea to help me through the grieving process. My friends and relatives would be forced to listen to anecdotes that began with “Remember the time when I...”
A strong sense of ownership is the ultimate stage of falling in love with digital technology. There’s no longer a clear boundary between it and you, something that is starting to be borne out in the neuroscience as we saw earlier. Here, we’ve crossed the line between usefulness and are now firmly in the territory of dependency.
Cultivating this degree of attachment is not without risks though; this is where serious resistance to change can set in. The fickleness and relative fragility of phase 3, can be replaced with a kind of defensive zealotry. Things may not reach the almost religious heights of fandom exhibited by the Apple Newton (remember those?) community- but -just try taking away (or radically changing) a technology people feel they own. Not for the faint hearted.
So keep the channels of communication with your customers wide open, and make sure any planned improvements or changes are mutually agreeable and build on what got everyone hooked in the first place.
How about you?
Got any technology crushes you think might go somewhere? How about your true loves? what devices, apps or systems have become a part of what you do and maybe even who you are?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or you can reach me on Twitter as @messagemonger
Until next time, be careful out there...