Companies respond to a generation that prefers message apps over phone calls
The generation that grew up with computers, smartphones, and the Internet is the reason why the term “call center” is giving way to “contact center”.
As just about any parent of a Millennial can tell you, these 18-34-year-olds typically prefer to communicate over a messaging app rather than make a phone call. According to a recent YPulse survey, messaging was the second most popular activity on Millennials’ smartphones, right behind social networking. Using the smartphone for a call was near the bottom of the list, between “fact-checking” and “sending pictures or videos.”
The habits of these “digital natives,” as they are often called, are influencing the way contact centers deliver customer service to a generation that wields $1.3 trillion in consumer spending power.
Customer service agents are trained to respond to customers’ text messages, using single-agent desktop software that lets agents switch seamlessly between messaging, email, and phone calls. Companies are also offering software solutions for contact centers that incorporate the messaging systems built into Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.
And Millennials are becoming accustomed to knowing that the first agent they chat with may not be a person at all. In many cases, a “virtual agent” or chatbot is perfectly capable of responding in a friendly and accurate way to customers’ inquiries. For example, a virtual agent, communicating through Messenger on a company’s Facebook page can answer the question, “What time do you close today?” Similarly, a bot can respond to a banking customer’s text requesting an account balance.
As artificial intelligence technology improves, expect to see more and more virtual agents handling the easy work in the contact center. For example, one company is using the IBM Watson artificial intelligence engine to understand and respond to happy or unhappy inquiries from hotel guests. And digital powerhouse Amazon is looking to shake up the contact center software sector by offering customer service chatbots that use the technology behind the Amazon Echo intelligent personal assistant. Millennials and post-Millennials (a.k.a. Generation Z) who have these smart voice-enabled wireless internet speakers at home will likely have no problem interacting with a company’s virtual agent that uses similar technology.
However, when a customer’s problem is too complex to be handled by a bot, the contact can be easily handed off to a human agent, who can continue the conversation via messaging or by voice over the phone. But increasingly, it seems, Millennials and others who readily embrace all things digital will be willing to continue the conversation through the messaging app.