Let me start by once again offering a real-world experience, such as the one I described in my April 2019 column, “CX Pundits vs. CX Practitioners: Real Life or Fantasy?” In it, I described the wonderful world of the customer experience as described, written about, and generally fawned over by contact center industry pundits, and how that wonderful world compares to the real-world that I often experience when it comes to customer service. In the end, the problem I described in that column was solved and I’m still a customer of that company.
Last month, I was getting ready to leave for a business trip on a Sunday afternoon when I noticed a problem with my airline boarding pass. This airline, based here in the Southwest, er, I mean southwest, is an airline I’ve flown on for many years, typically once or twice a month. I had an hour before I had to leave for the airport so I thought a quick phone call would solve the problem. I dialed the toll-free number and got a recorded greeting telling me that the wait time to speak to an agent was 83 minutes.
Yes, you read that right. 83 minutes. I tried calling again and selecting their priority customer option and again received a greeting telling me the same thing. 83-minute wait to speak to an agent.
No problem, I thought. I’ll webchat with an agent and solve the problem that way. So, I went to the airline website, and guess what? No webchat. With time now not on my side, I went to the mobile app and not only did I find a chat option, I was number one in the queue. Within minutes the problem was solved with the chat agent and, like any good consumer today, I went to Twitter and posted my opinion of this particular airline and suggested that they should perhaps consider implementing scheduling software.
The Twitter response to my posts was less than satisfactory as the social media agents tried to blame the problem on everything from the TSA to my failure to manually add data that has been on my profile with the company for years. I am happy to say that other tweeters who follow customer service jumped into the fray, supporting my position and questioning said airline’s response.
But here’s the crazy thing. I’m still a customer of that same airline. As I write this, I have two more flights currently booked with them. I think it’s because members of my generation are more-or-less hardwired for loyalty. You can mistreat us, insult us, ignore us and disrespect us, and it seems we still come back for more.
If I were a member of the millennial generation or Generation Z, chances are the loyalty outcome would be completely different. These generations have little tolerance for poor customer service and they are not afraid to leave a company after one bad customer experience. Generally speaking, these generations do not possess the same degree of brand loyalty as previous generations. For them, customer service is also a social experience. They have no problem going to Twitter, Yelp, Facebook and other social media channels to share their unacceptable customer service experiences.
Millennials and Gen Z’ers grew up with information retrieval at their fingertips—fast and efficient. An 83-minute wait for voice customer service or having to search multiple devices to find a chat option would likely send them running in the direction of the nearest competitor company. These are individuals who have a set of expectations for customer service, among other things, that are based on their life experience. Practitioners of old-school, defensive, inefficient customer service need to wake up.
I contend that the Generational Expectations (GX) that millennials and Gen Z’ers bring to the Customer Experience (CX) will be the most disruptive force the contact center industry has experienced since the advent of the PC platform over 30 years ago. The last time the industry was disrupted with such power, technology was in the lead. This time, technology will be following in compliance with GX.
The influence these generations will have on CX is undeniable. The chart illustrates generational representation in the population of the U.S. As the chart shows, Generation Z is now the largest population group in the U.S. While only about 5% of Gen Z’ers are adults, their force as future consumers should not be underestimated. Millennials are all adults and are making their mark on the contact center industry as both workers and consumers. Generation X is holding steady while the boomers are beginning to shrink. In fact, more than 10,000 people in the U.S. turn 65 years old every day. As the consumer influence of millennials and Generation Z grows, the influence of boomers and Gen X recedes. So, what will GX mean to CX?
I think it’s safe to assume that an 83-minute wait time to speak to an agent will quickly become unacceptable and, by extension, obsolete. Generation Z is the first digital native generation, meaning they have never known a world without the internet. Their life experience has been information at their fingertips, quickly and easily accessible with a user-friendly, intuitive interface. Similarly, millennials grew up while technology was evolving and developing at warp speed. Theirs is a world of new experiences, self-reliance, and multiple devices.
Being self-reliant, both generations will gravitate toward self-service as a first option, but not the kind of self-service we’re used to today. Painfully slow, complex, tree-based IVR menus are about to go the way of the buffalo. NewGen customers simply won’t put up with this antiquated method of information access when smartphones are the norm for them. Self-service will have to be conversational, accelerating the development and deployment of bots.
By extension, all customer-facing technologies will have to be intuitive. If it’s harder to use than a smartphone, don’t bother deploying it. Also becoming obsolete is the whining and moaning of older generations whenever new contact center technologies are deployed or existing processes are modified. Millennials and Gen Z’ers are as open to new customer service experiences as they have been open to using new devices and software updates throughout their lives. Not only are they not as resistant to change as previous generations, they welcome change if it improves performance and process.
In case I haven’t yet made it clear enough in this column, there is a degree of urgency to this. Contact centers that believe they can wait this one out and maintain business as usual until it blows over are in for a rude awakening. Those businesses simply won’t survive. The changes I’ve described in this column are not going to be optional. When CX eventually, inevitably collides with GX, everything in the contact center, including technologies and best practices, will change. It will be a case of adapt and act, or suffer a painful industry demise.