two blonde millennials
The millennial mentality for customer service has helped craft the vision for the customer experience today. PHOTO: Asa Aarons Smith

The digital revolution has led to rapid change no one could have foreseen. Many of these changes are playing out in the customer service arena where consumer expectations seem quite different than those of generations past.

Companies are quickly realizing that they must become more flexible and provide a more personal and seamless customer experience across all communications channels to stay relevant.

With Gartner predicting more than 50 percent of organizations will redirect their investments to customer experience innovations by 2018, it’s clear companies view customer service as a key differentiator. This has presented new challenges for companies that try to strike a balance in a world where expectations across generations greatly differ – or do they?

Great (Shift in) Expectations

When looking to resolve an issue 20 years ago, baby boomers and members of Gen X would head to a store or pick up the phone, dial a company and speak with a live representative.

While frustrating at times, a human agent was the only solution for tackling an issue. Today, the customer service experience looks vastly different due to technological advancements.

Gone are the days where “business hours” matter and payments take days to process.

Thanks to the digitally native millennial generation, people move at the speed of light and expect everything to move just as fast. Whether it’s same-day package delivery or a live chat prompted through an online query, millennials have raised the bar for expectations.

Millennials Redefine Customer Experience

The millennial mentality for customer service has trickled beyond their generation and really helped craft the vision for the customer experience today.

Whether it’s a millennial, baby boomer or member of Gen X, consumers of all ages demand expanded options for engagement and expect the companies they interact with to not only know them, but anticipate their needs.

And while today’s customer service landscape relies heavily on technology, it’s interesting to see how the customer experiences of past generations still play a prominent role. Even though customers want immediate gratification, they also want a personalized experience.

Technologies Are Driving Customer Experience

To address changing customer needs, companies must understand the role that human (or human-like) agents play in meeting expectations. They must understand the interplay of technology and continue to innovate and look to provide more options, such as the ability to chat with agents in real time or incorporate video chat.

According to Forrester’s Top Trends for Customer Service in 2016, “Analytics will be used to better route a customer to an agent who can most effectively answer a question based on skills and behavior data, or to better understand customer call patterns and preempt future calls.” This is just one beneficial tactic as it helps alleviate negative anticipation from customers.

Another appealing technology is “customer choice routing.” This is the ability to view and select available agents to interact with based on a list of demographic information, skills, experience, interests, etc.

A customer might click on an agent and instantly view qualification information to ensure the agent is a good fit. This puts the customer in the driver’s seat. In a way, it feels more like a social interaction on Facebook than calling an impersonal 800 number.

Regardless of generation, people naturally seek an efficient and personal connection in a way that is native to them through their channel of choice – mobile, tablet, kiosk, etc.

A Myriad of Tech Options

Other emerging technologies on the forefront of driving better customer experiences include:

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR is widely seen as the next major platform in the tech industry. A number of key players, including Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Sony, are actively pushing VR technology forward and betting big on its growth.

Many are convinced that in a few years, people will reach for their VR headsets in the same way they reach for a cell phone or a laptop today. An example of VR in use today is a customer interested in booking a cruise, who calls an agent, and using VR, the agent takes the customer on a guided virtual tour of the ship.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI makes technology so smart that in theory it can remove humans from an interaction. In reality, humans are still needed for complex interactions. Popular uses of AI today are virtual supervisors and agents. AI-based virtual agents can be used for simple interactions via phone or web chat.

They can use the customer’s native language and access databases to resolve issues, which frees up human agents to deal with more complex interactions – or when simple interactions turn more complex. Virtual supervisors can sift through massive amounts of information to spot problems and patterns. And they are constantly learning, thus getting smarter.

Multimodal

It’s no longer sufficient to enable customers to choose from a variety of interaction channels – often referred to as multichannel or omnichannel interactions. Increasingly, they want to use more than one within the same interaction, which is called a “multimodal interaction.”

An example is a phone call, which transitions to a co-browsing session. Multimodal content and personal interaction brings life to these channels to help meet customer needs quickly and intuitively. Everything about multimodal interactions can be supervised, tracked, recorded and analyzed just like a single-mode interaction.

Brace for Anything

At the end of the day, companies must continue to explore technologies and remain flexible and ready for anything, or they run the risk of becoming obsolete.

We can’t predict what the world will look like for the next generation. We do know generational expectations will continue to drive the customer experience.

And while new forms of interactions are sure to come, whatever the age of the consumer, one thing remains the same: we’ll always want a fast, effective, convenient and personalized experience.