Beyond the Call Center: Meeting Expectations of Consumers Across Generations

By Christian Szpilfogel

The proliferation of digital devices and always-on networks have entirely transformed how many of us approach and interact with nearly everything in our lives—how we arrange transportation (Uber), how we answer random questions (Google and Siri), and how we communicate with one another (emojis and messaging apps).

Why would we not expect to interact with all organizations this way? It’s fast, convenient, and natural for many of us. Isn’t this what we expect from our favorite brands? For example, Amazon’s 1-Click® checkout process is arguably a key reason it’s one of the world’s ten largest retailers. But few organizations offer seamless communications within their digital touchpoints.

Knowing your customer has always been important to business success. Given these newly heightened expectations resulting from digital advancements and trends, understanding how your customer wants to interact with your brand is more important than ever. Gartner, Inc., an information technology research company, predicts the competition for customers will be dominated by customer experience by the end of the decade. Will your organization lead the way in connecting its specific customers’ preferences to communications strategies or follow its rival?

Who Is Today’s Customer? Identifying your customers and their preferences is a fundamental first step in developing your strategy. Making this complex, today’s consumers span a number of generations—ranging from the post-war era to trendy teens and “tweens”—each preferring a different way to communicate with each other and with businesses. And because many or even all of them are your customers, it is important to identify and overcome the challenges you’ll face personalizing interactions with members of each generation.

As you evaluate each key demographic, consider the most traveled customer journeys encountered with your organization and how interaction preferences may differ at various touchpoints. As an example, simple transactions may be preferred over text messaging by Generation X, while financial consulting calls for voice or video.

Consumers in their mid- to late-eighties certainly don’t have the same buying or communications preferences as teens. Acknowledging these differences and personalizing services across the generational spectrum will allow you to excel at customer experience. In order to do so, you must consider trends found within and across these generational groups.

Customer Journeys: Surprisingly, there is a wide gap between organizations’ views of customer satisfaction and what is reported by customers. This has attracted top business thought leaders such as McKinsey and Co. to examine the root cause; a leading one is the difference in how each party views interactions with the other.

Organizations tend to develop and monitor processes at each discreet touchpoint. For example, a customer searching the company website for information is one discreetly managed touchpoint. The resulting web chat for more information is another; the submission of an online purchase form, yet another; and sending the bill, still one more. In many instances, each touchpoint is owned by a separate manager, staffed by a different team, and measured by a distinct key performance indicator.

Customers see all this as one interaction, which management leaders have come to call the customer journey. In your customers’ eyes, making a purchase is a single event. While three of the four touchpoints may have been handled perfectly, failing in the fourth one renders the entire journey dissatisfying. Without taking a holistic view of the journey, simply emphasizing two opposing key performance indicators at two different touchpoints may set the system up for failure.

Mature Customers and Their Journeys: Once you know your customers, you can segment how each key demographic approaches the highly used customer journeys. A banking institution may start with retirees and people peaking in their careers, as these demographics consume more services and hold higher balances than younger generations. Considering retirees, the highly traveled journeys may include receiving investment advice and managing IRA accounts. Their preferred touchpoints are probably paper or email statements, voice calling, in-person visits, and even video chat. Not only will these modes of communication be more generally preferred by the target demographic, but the sensitivity and complexity of the information transmitted are inappropriate for text messaging and SMS. And forget about social media.

Digital Natives Prefer Mobile and Social: Younger generations overwhelmingly prefer using their smartphones to do just about everything. This ranges from shopping online and surfing the Internet to keeping in touch via text, checking email, Twitter, or Instagram. A recent study showed that younger smartphone users (ages 18 to 29) primarily use their phones to avoid being bored. Unlike older generations, they rarely use them to make phone calls but instead prefer texting, tweeting, or using a digital app to execute everyday tasks such as ordering a pizza; calling to place the order is considered a last resort.

When considering customer journeys for this demographic, think digital. The more automated, digitized, and in-app the touchpoints are, the better. If you can, insert hooks into social media platforms to post winning moments in real-time. When that perfect pair of shoes is customized and ordered, help your proud customer tell the world.

It’s Time to Move Beyond Simple Call Centers: Most of today’s consumers are self-reliant and happy to manage their relationships with businesses using minimal human interaction. They expect the flexibility and convenience of communicating using the methods of their choice anytime, whether that’s the Internet, mobile apps, email, text messaging, social media, or even a phone call. Companies unequipped to serve customers as they wish will not remain competitive for long.

Christian Szpilfogel is the VP of Strategy at Mitel.

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