Have you heard? Voice is the hot new thing. We speak to machines with the same ease as when we’re conversing with humans. Yet something curious is happening: people are making fewer voice calls.
In 2014, a Gallup poll found that 68% of American 18- to 29-year-olds—the oft-maligned, yet frequently exalted Millennials—had used text messaging a great deal within the past day. Only 50% said the same for voice calls using a cell phone and 7% using a home landline. For Americans under 50, text messaging is now the primary method of person-to-person communication.
And the change is not happening only in our personal lives. Corporations are abandoning voicemail: JP Morgan and Coca-Cola have both killed voicemail for all employees except those who can make a business case to keep it.
Further afield, the UK’s largest mobile network, EE, reported an ongoing decline in voice minutes. For operators, lost voice revenue is often replaced by data revenue. If you run a contact center, though, how do you maintain high levels of customer satisfaction while accommodating a preference for non-voice communication?
Why Aren’t We Talking to Each Other As Much Anymore?
Before we look at solutions, we need to understand what’s behind the change. The causes are partly cultural but also a result of technological change.
“Calling someone without emailing first can make it seem as though you’re prioritizing your needs over theirs.”
Those are the words of a 32-year-old California tech company CTO, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
What’s happening to voice is a mix of cultural change—as reflected in that tech CTO’s view of telephone calls as impolite—and technological change. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with text messaging, email and chat as established communication methods. While elders berated previous generations for reading too little, textual communication is the norm for millennials.
And textual communication has one characteristic that feeds easily into cultural change. Whether it’s a letter delivered by the mailman or a WeChat message sent from Beijing, text-based communication tends to be asynchronous. Telephone calls, on the other hand, demand immediate attention and interaction. They’re an interruption made at the convenience of the caller.
Asynchronous communication makes it easier to schedule a response at a time convenient to the responder; it also helps to juggle the increasing amount of electronic communication that all of us must process. Perhaps most importantly, it’s part of a self-service culture encouraged by web and mobile apps that let this generation personalize and control all manner of services—from home insurance to pet food deliveries—in a way that would have seemed implausible just a generation earlier.
So, when it comes to contact center inquiries, who can blame millennials for favoring text over voice? In a world of self-service, reaching out for help is a last resort. It adds to the noise and it’s an admission of defeat. Asynchronous text communication fits into the lost moments of life: firing off a quick message while waiting in line at the Post Office is more efficient than calling a contact center with its queues, hold music and endless questions to establish context.
What Does This Mean for the Contact Center?
Brands must set up their contact centers to meet millennials on their terms, or face irrelevance. There are three ways that contact center operators can meet this challenge today:
- Prevent the call.
- Make SMS and popular chat applications first-class citizens.
- Use communication contextual.
Prevent the Call
Put self-service at the heart of all your interactions with customers. Do your web and mobile apps allow your customers to manage every aspect of their relationship with you? Do you have clear and concise help information? Are service interruptions—and their likely time of resolution—clearly communicated on your website and in your mobile app?
Perhaps most importantly, are you being outright hostile to your millennial customers? Do you require that people call your retention team to cancel their account? Is it impossible to get a price without speaking to your sales team? Techniques that were tolerated in the past are now fodder for trolling on social media.
Make SMS and Chat First-class Citizens
Social media has proven to be a mixed blessing for customer service. Tweeting displeasure at a brand began as a way for disgruntled customers to shame companies into escalating an issue. Now, while it is an established customer care channel, social media is an oddly public, limited and detached method of customer interaction.
However, it has proven both that customers want chat-like customer care and that it’s possible to adapt contact center training and routines accordingly. Web-based chat has, similarly, proven somewhat popular but forces customers to visit the company website and seek out the often clunky dedicated chat interface.
There is a middle ground: use SMS or established chat services to provide customer care. Just as with social media, this allows the brand to meet their customers where they are. However, messages are private, the conversation is unencumbered by artificial character limits, and it’s easier to establish the identity of the customer.
Dutch airline KLM has offered WeChat and Facebook Messenger as customer care channels since 2014. Working with cloud communications provider Nexmo’s chat API, they’ve enabled customers to reach them through multiple chat services while providing their contact center agents with a single chat interface that integrates seamlessly with their Salesforce CRM.
The time has passed when it was enough to see chat as a way to handle trivial queries that would have been more expensive to process by phone. SMS and chat must be first-class citizens in your contact center strategy if you want to retain millennial customers.
Use Contextual Communication
Despite the promises of 360-degree customer views and all manner of tracking, most businesses still have a relatively unsophisticated understanding of customer activity. A customer calls and the first questions are to establish their identity and the nature of their problem.
Most often, that’s nothing more than wheel spinning, wasting both the agent’s and the customer’s time. Why? In a self-service world, businesses log everything that customers do in their web and mobile apps. Putting that data to work is at the heart of contextual communication.
Contextual communication lets businesses anticipate customer calls and bypass the very thing that frustrates customers the most: having to repeat themselves. By tracking customer activity, such as in a banking app, businesses can provide their contact center agents with enough context that they already know why the customer is calling when they answer.
Soon, Everyone Will Be a Millennial
Millennials don’t want to talk to companies. Help them avoid needing to ask for help by providing them with the tools to help themselves. And in those situations where they absolutely must reach out to your contact center, give them the channels that work best for them and monitor their context well enough to identify the purpose of their inquiry before the first “hello.”
Remember: What seems exotic today will be the established norm tomorrow. As millennials mature, their preferences and behaviors will become the standard way of doing business.