Paul Stockford, Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research
3 minute read
By Paul Stockford, Chief Analyst, Saddletree Research
Posted in Customer Engagement
The contact center industry is about to undergo changes the likes of which it hasn't seen since the advent of computer-telephony integration (CTI).
Every decade or so, the contact center industry seems to undergo a major shakeup of one sort or another. In the 1970s it was the creation of the automatic call distributor (ACD), which augmented the 1960s customer service model of a bunch of representatives sitting in a room answering calls. If there were no available agents, the caller just got a busy signal.
In the 1980s it was open platforms, which allowed customer service professionals to buy solutions from different vendors and have them all work together. Then the '90s came along and computer-telephony integration (CTI) came with it, allowing agents to know something about the caller before answering the call. In the 2000s it was fully integrated solutions suites, and in the current decade we're witnessing the advent of conversational self-service and software solutions powered by machine learning -- allowing them to become smarter with each interaction.
All of these changes have been on the technology side of the customer service equation. On the people side, very little has changed. The era of employee engagement, however, is forcing the industry to reevaluate how contact center workers will be treated today, and in the future.
I believe the magnitude of the changes we're about to undergo in the contact center will be unprecedented in the 40-year history of the industry and this time, technology will have only a secondary role. I'm referring to the changes that are occurring as a result of the demands and expectations of the new generations of workers and customers; specifically, the Millennials and Generation Z.
We're already seeing changes in the industry as Millennial generation workers and customers make their preferences known. The Millennial generation is roughly defined as those born between 1981 and 1996. They currently represent about 22 percent of the U.S. population and the comprise the majority of the U.S. workforce at about 35 percent. As workers, we know that Millennials like to work in a collaborative environment and prefer to stay connected with their peers and co-workers. They also look for job flexibility that will allow them to maintain a work/life balance.
Turns out they're also very similar as consumers. As consumers, Millennials expect to find information at their fingertips; the same as they do with texting and social media channels. Speed of response is highly important to this generation as consumers. Long telephone hold times and 24-hour turnaround of e-mail inquiries won't cut it with Millennials.
Millennials grew up using multiple devices and communications channels, often simultaneously. There is an expectation among these consumers that contact centers will also support these various devices, and will respond to customer service contacts across channels with equally short response times. Beyond that, this consumer group expects that any customer-facing technology they encounter will be as intuitive as their smartphones.
Millennials are also a very self-reliant group and in the customer service context, they expect to always have self-service options. But, traditional menu-driven interactive voice response (IVR) is already proving to be slow and inconvenient for this group accustomed to instant access to information. Conversational bots, driven by machine learning, will have to become the standard for any contact center whose parent company expects to keep their customers in the future.
With Millennial generation consumers, the customer experience is also a social experience. Similar to their preference for working in groups in a collaborative environment, it turns out that Millennials also like to shop in groups. In other words, they are keen to share their consumer experiences with others on social media channels such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Amazon and many others.
Coming on the heels of Millennials as customers is Generation Z. If the expectations of the Millennial generation aren't enough to get you thinking about changes ahead, wait until you read about Gen Z as customers -- which you can do in Part 2 of this blog.
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