Generation Y will drive "fundamental shift" in customer service

21st Apr 2010

Attendees at this week's Customer Contact Planning Summit were warned that generational differences will lead to major challenges for contact centres.

Generational differences in the use of contact channels and expectations of customer service will present increasing challenges for businesses in the coming years.
That was the stark warning from the Professional Planning Forum’s (PPF) Customer Contact Planning Summit this week in Birmingham, as attendees received valuable industry insight from a variety of customer service experts.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the PPF demonstrated how radically the call centre environment had changed in the last decade. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the growing influence of the new generation of customers - and customer service employees.
"Right now we are living through a massive revolution in our sector," said Natalie Calvert, managing director at Calcom. "And it is up to you to decide if you are going to be at the heart of it or whether you are going to let it pass you by, because the changes require a real fundamental shift in our thinking and the first step is to get our head around it."
The maturing Generation Y in particular is driving the changes, according to Claire Richardson, director of workforce optimisation solutions at Verint.
"Generation Y are kids that have grown up and know what a computer is, they can figure out a phone in seconds, and these are coming into the workforce and are used to sending SMS. They would rather SMS someone than phone them. Generation Y are really driving the move to multichannel. Meanwhile, Generation X and the baby boomers are more comfortable with traditional telephony and actually are probably more comfortable writing a letter.
"That’s where we come to the issue of supporting these customers with these new technologies - we have to let them know that the opportunities are out there to use these different means of communication, because Generation Y will use whichever medium they feel happy using. And remember, providing this multichannel service can be a competitive advantage because if your competition aren’t doing it they are going to come to you as they can interact with you how they like."
However, Richardson warned that the adoption of new channels such as text messages can often lead to more questions. "We are starting to see growth in web chats and SMS. But how do we start dealing with the SMS brigade?" she said. "When I first started seeing SMS coming in I had a flashback to George Orwell’s 1984 because it looked like newspeak. And you need to make a decision as a business of how to respond to that – do you respond in English or use text speak?"
The increasingly diverse population is also presenting challenges within the contact centre working environment, according to Calvert. "There is a fundamental shift, because for the first time in our sector we’re actually working with three generations within our employment," she said. "Part of the mix up that is going on is that there is a breakdown between how the generations are talking.
"Providing information and data to teams of people means thinking in a different way because you are providing intelligence to a whole new world of people that see the world in a different way. Half the challenge as we move into this multi-customer multi-employee world is how we actually communicate with them. We need to find new ways of bringing it alive and making it ready – they want data at their fingertips immediately."
With the customer management journey having seen contact centres shift focus from cost, to value and then more recently to experience, Calvert suggested that in light of the changing demands both internally and externally, the next logical step would be for contact centres to change focus to community. 
"It is about forging new communities that are really into understanding what makes your organisation tick and how it is working and how you can optimise," she concluded. "If you start to look at the advisor of the future, it is one that is highly networked. It is an information resourceful person within your organisation that probably feeds back but still understands the customer relationship. The role of the team leader is fundamentally shifting. The team leader will no longer be the leader that sits above and directs everything. The team leader will sit beside the team and facilitate and empower. Because all the knowledge will be in front of them and your advisors will need to become very resourceful people in how they deal with that."
This growing focus on community will also see other benefits, as contact centres learn to harness the power of social media, predicted Peter Massey, MD of Budd. In particular, the use of ‘crowdservicing’ to support customer service efforts. "Crowdservicing really looks at how we can use customers to help eachother, and in doing so change both the dynamics of contact centres and also how the service industry works," said Massey, who highlighted several examples of crowdservicing in action.
"DIRECTV has a base of 18 million customers and eight of their customer handle 228,000 contacts per month. Why? Because they’re bored or geeks, but DIRECTV has learned to treat them as special customers. What they have also learned is that what they can’t do is pay them to do it. Whatever the rules are – and they are quite hazy – all they have got to do is just support them with information and give them access to whatever and then let them get on with it. And it is worth a lot of money to them. Microsoft has something called ‘most valuable players’, people who get recognition – not money, not anything else – and they spend lots of time helping people."
Elsewhere, at the PPF’s Contact Centre Innovation 2010 awards, Scottish Power was presented with the overall 2010 Contact Centre Innovation Awards, for its industry-leading integration of workflow and workforce management in the back office. Outsourcer Ventura was the other big winner on the night, walking away with the Contact Centre Innovation award for Quality and Performance Management and the Outbound award.

Replies (2)

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By davewelch
30th Apr 2010 15:40

As a proud member of Generation X, I and most of my friends are quite at home with SMS, Blogs, etc.

What we want is not to be patronised and to get straight answers to straight questions.

I have always felt that Customer Management was direspectful since it tends to classify us as dumb sheep who just need to be told what to do.

It is also amusing to see the rediscovery of People Development and Team Leadership Skills amongst the Call Centre Elite.

How do you think we managed to run businesses for hundreds of years before Call Centres.

A little more respect and a lot more Listening is what we ask for.

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By Neil Davey
02nd May 2010 12:44

Thanks for your comments, Dave.

A couple of points I'd add. Firstly, customer management has certainly had to reappraise its approach. Even the idea itself that you can 'manage' customers is insulting. Some organisations realised this long long ago, others have been forced to aknowledge this due to the empowerment of the customer. And of course there are others that have yet to have this epiphany.

And this brings me to my second point. The listening and respect that you mention will come hand in hand for the successful firms. Businesses now have to respect the fact that while Generation Y have been born into a cross channel world,  even the other generations are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their behaviours.

Those businesses that give customers this 'respect' - and reflect this in their customer strategies - will be the ones who can best listen, and therefore serve, their customers.

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