Author: Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at Webhelp UK

Is it time for brands to stop basing automation or AI strategies for CX around generational assumptions? Recent Webhelp research showed that whatever their age, what customers really want is great service with a human element. Here Webhelp Chief Customer Solutions Officer Helen Murray looks at the evidence for CX equality across the generations:

I was interested to read our CEO David Turner’s recent blog on the importance of the human touch in CX, which was supported by our Whitepaper on AI and Automation. The survey, conducted with YouGov was focused on how British consumers view Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it may change the way that brands offer service to customers in future.

As David notes, the initial impressions were somewhat sceptical about AI. A large majority of UK consumers still prefer dealing with humans rather than automated services. This was consistent when querying a bill (85%) making a complaint (84%), for first time purchases (77%), chasing orders (73%) and fault reporting (78%). The preference for people was overwhelmingly clear.

This raises a pertinent question, is this prevailing consumer attitude related to a particular age demographic?

We are used to thinking of the Baby Boomer generation, born from the late 1940s to early 1960s, as slow digital adopters as they entered the workforce without influence from digital technology.  The same assumption pinpoints the Millennial and Generation Z demographics (born from the 1980s and millennium respectively) as digital natives – people who grew up surrounded by technology.

It is staggering to think that, in fact, those born after the millennium will never have known a time when it was not possible to communicate with a friend anywhere in the world immediately at minimal cost. And now, these young people are entering the workforce and becoming consumers in their own right.

Writer Douglas Adams, famous for his ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ series, suggested that in general people follow three rules for reacting to new technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

These rules are clearly humorous, but they do help to illustrate the accepted way that companies approach different demographic groups. But, a closer look at the Webhelp research doesn’t back up these assumptions. In fact, what it shows is that consumers across all age groups are dubious about the current benefits of AI when used for customer service processes.

Mark Davies, a Director at PA Consulting, recently published a paper called ‘Customer 4.0’ on how technology and generational dynamics change the way we connect and relate to brands. Interestingly, this research correlates with Webhelp findings and points to a change in consumer behaviour that is not being acknowledged – as most companies are still talking about millennials as ‘consumers of the future.’

On the impact of Millennials, Mark says: “These 18 to 30-something year olds have grown up as digital natives which has defined their expectations. They’re social in all they do and share and seek opinions. They tend to collaborate and cooperate, and don’t readily recognise boundaries – including those between brands and customers.”

He believes their influence to be even more profound: “they are influencing back ‘up’ the generational line to Gen X, Baby Boomers and even the Silent generation. As has been said before, ‘We’re all Millennials now!”

Unfortunately, too many Brands are still using 20th Century tactics or employing new technology based on out of date assumptions.  In the current market the digital consumer is firmly in control. Indications are that we need to stop thinking in terms of demographics and start tracking individual behaviours. The focus needs to switch to people-based marketing.

Gone are the days when, just because a customer is over 60 – a brand can assume that they will not want to engage on a social platform. Surprisingly, the biggest demographic group currently signing up to use Facebook is the over 55s. Yes younger consumers are choosing different social networks, but this does demonstrate that older consumers are comfortable with chat, social networks, and online interactions.

It’s time for brands to stop basing automation or AI strategies for CX around demographic assumptions. What customers of all ages really want is great service and that often requires a human element.

A firm believer that one size doesn’t fit all in the CX arena, Webhelp is commissioning new research on generational impact, as we prepare to launch the next chapter in our highly successful Disrupter series – watch this space!

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