Millenials, Digital Natives
While overall communication channel preferences are changing based on age group, these changes are less dramatic when it comes to customer care.
At the Interactive Intelligence Interactions 2014 conference in Indianapolis last month, CMO Joe Staples hosted a panel of millenials to better understand their communication preferences. Most people in the audience weren't surprised to hear that the use of voice mail is dramatically decreasing.
In a sign of the times, there were news reports last week about companies giving classes for the new generation entering the workforce on how to leave effective voice mail messages, as this generation has rarely used voice mail (unless their parents leave them messages on their mobile phones). Many new workers are uncomfortable leaving voice messages for people, and actually need to be taught best practices, such as the optimal message length, what information to include and not include in the message, tone of voice, etc.
One surprise finding from the panel was that this new generation of workers still prefers to use the phone when contacting customer service. Panelists noted that if there's an important and pressing matter, they'll call for support in order to get a more timely response. This seems a bit contradictory to the notion that this generation vehemently avoids using the phone as a talking device. Many people view their smartphones as a way to access apps and the web first, and as a device for making and receiving phone calls second.
I decided to do my own informal, unscientific survey at a family gathering and while on a plane (the things we analysts do in the name of research!). The unsuspecting survey participants ranged in age from 15 to 32, with the average around 24.
Some of my findings were not all that surprising. IM is by far the preferred channel for both work and personal interactions. Email comes in second, although its use outside of the work environment is shrinking sharply. Voice mail is rarely used outside of work, and its use within the work environment is decreasing even faster than email. According to one 23-year old, "No one checks voice mail, so no one bothers leaving messages. It's much easier to send a quick text." One 30-year old noted, "I use it sometimes for work, but hardly ever with friends and family."
It is no surprise that video is being embraced by this demographic, which uses video on a regular basis to communicate with friends and family, but not as often for business purposes. All of the respondents use Skype or FaceTime and are comfortable using video for personal interactions. One 30-something financial manager noted that he uses FaceTime to interact with his family, but never uses it at work. A 25-year old uses Skype video to connect with co-workers during the day, and to connect with his friends and girlfriend at night.
When it comes to customer support, however, channel preference isn't as clear.
Despite the prognosis that "voice is dead", it is still the preferred method when it comes to customer support. Some 90% of my survey respondents noted that if they have a problem or question, they will first try to find a solution by doing a Web search or using Web self service. If they can't find the information that way, the respondents were split between calling the customer service number for support and doing a web chat.
Several noted that a phone call is the last alternative, but the majority believe phone calls to a support agent will get the most effective response. One respondent (late teens) noted that "it's too hard to explain what I'm looking for in web chat and it takes too long; I'd rather talk to someone to explain my problem."
One 22-year old said that she's "still trying to get a handle on how to use web chat on companies' websites", and she doesn't see this option very often though she is starting to use it more. A 24-year old noted that voice is the last option, and that he generally does web chat if it's available, but if it's not, "I'd prefer to send an email and wait longer for a response than have to waste time on the phone."
Mobile apps that connect a customer to a phone agent are highly desirable, but most of the respondents haven't experienced this yet, and weren't aware that this capability exists.
Most agreed that if given the option of video a la "Mayday" for customer service, they would use it. One respondent who uses video regularly to interact with friends would love to see more companies offer desktop sharing for customer care, but not necessarily the ability to see the agent. He noted, "It would be great for them to be able to show me things on my computer, but I don't really need to see the person I'm talking to." The 22-year old thought it would be nice to see the agent, but not all that helpful.
What does this tell us? With some exceptions, regardless of the age of the customer, voice is still the preferred channel for customer support, as it's the most timely and effective. Web chat is gaining ground, but needs to be made more available and obvious to customers when they're on a company's website. Video is still seen as a "cool" but not necessary tool for customer care.
While overall communication channel preferences are changing based on age group, these changes are less dramatic when it comes to customer care. Many of my survey respondents don't use web chat for customer care because it's not offered as an option, but many companies don't offer web chat because they don't see the demand for it. This is also the case for social customer care, as most companies are waiting for the volume to increase for social media customer care interactions before offering it as a formal interaction channel.
The key take-away from my non-scientific survey are:
--Just because a channel is offered, doesn't mean it will be used. For example, most respondents noted that while IM and chat is their preferred communication mode for personal and work-related interactions, it's not their preferred choice for customer care. Web chat needs to be easier to use and more user friendly.
--These 20- and 30-somethings are eager for customer care mobile apps that make it easy to speak with a live agent over the smartphone.
--Don't ignore your voice channels as you roll out new customer service interaction channels such as web chat--voice still rules in this area.
--Finally, don't rush out to offer Mayday-type video capabilities until there are more use cases leading to increased demand.