Step aside Baby Boomers—those born in the ’80s and ’90s, otherwise known as Gen-Y (totaling upwards of 80 million people), now represent the largest and most influential group of purchasers today. Many grew up with an internet connection and PC; today they carry smartphones and can access their social network within seconds. Companies trying to grab the attention of this demographic are realizing that engagement begins with their love of technology—equipping mobile and online channels with next generation support technology is the surest path to interacting positively with Gen-Y.
Courting Customers with Technology
Understanding how to leverage this love of technology to work for a company, rather than against a company is a balancing act. A recent Forrester report states that consumer confidence in technology actually correlates with lower brand loyalty. The path to customer faithfulness may seem like an uphill battle to companies when a device in hand and an internet connection equals instant access to alternative products, peer reviews, and price comparisons. This creates higher availability of options, and can erode brand loyalty—but this isn’t the case when companies start playing offense with proper use of customer experience technologies. Forrester advises businesses to not balk at fickle tech-savvy consumers, but rather embrace their love of technology, listen to what they truly want, and then deliver an experience that uses technology to build a connection between consumers and the brand.
Forging this type of connection with customers begins by building holistic experiences around products—from pre-purchase discovery and marketing all the way through to post-purchase support; and it can be achieved through digital technologies and devices. Creating a fast and helpful customer support experience online, and across mobile devices, is critical to the success of eBusiness interactions with Gen-Y. Just as a store hires more sales reps with every physical expansion—customer service channels must evolve to keep pace with companies as they innovate (and thereby complicate) online shopping with next-gen selling technologies.
Creating a fast and helpful customer support experience online, and across mobile devices, is critical to the success of eBusiness interactions with Gen-Y.
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It’s no new concept that technology (when used correctly) can improve the shopping experience. And now, businesses are adopting all kinds of cutting edge strategies to grab the attention of Gen-Y and transform the purchasing process. Virtual supermarkets and changing rooms, endless-aisles, and connected stores are some of the innovations that are leading us into tomorrow. For today, creating a digital, interactive experience boosts brand awareness and engages customers on their own time. Innovations will continue to separate the leaders from the laggards, but how are companies working to control the customer experience, and ensure that service channels can keep up with demand and innovation?
An increased emphasis on omni-channel retailing has called attention to the importance of a uniform customer experience across all channels—online, over the phone and in-person. Providing connected support across these channels gives customers seamless service as interactions escalate to live representatives. Impatience is a trait held by all generations, but 60% of Gen-Y agrees that valuing the customer’s time is the most important thing a company can do to provide a consumer with good online customer service. Oftentimes current customer service and online purchasing models place the burden for a successful transaction on the buyer, making them work to complete a purchase and therefore demanding more of the consumer’s time. In an ideal scenario, customers should be able to see a transaction through from start to finish, and access customer service if required, using one channel.
Companies are starting to recognize this customer experience necessity. Equipping their websites and mobile channels with scalable next-generation support technology, such as intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs), companies are able to deliver a unified online shopping experience; and approach customer interactions as an opportunity to not only assist customers, but to also gather information and promote their brand. Generation to generation, IVA adoption rates are already on the rise; Forrester reports that 36 percent of Gen Z (18-22) and 34 percent of Gen-Y (23-31) are embracing the technology.
The Digital Divide
eCommerce is far from perfect—shopping cart abandonment rates sit at an all time high of 72%, and are expected to rise. How will this stat be affected as companies continue to enhance the online shopping experience?
This battle against poor service begins with engaging customers. It’s not enough to simply make helpful information available, companies need to direct their customers to it. And by offering interactive support to do this, an experience is made personal and a brand comes to life. Suddenly online support isn’t just FAQs or slow chat—it is engaging and instant.
Companies across diverse industries—such as Alaska Airlines, Aetna, Shaw Communications, BECU, and the U.S. Army—are using human emulation technology to provide this interactive online experience. With the click of a mouse, users have access to the brand’s virtual ambassador—an expert on the organization and the content that lives online. These IVAs converse with online users using natural language understanding to answer questions and collect information through a dialogue, so users can complete the tasks they arrived at the site to do.
For an organization such as the U.S. Army (which heavily targets Gen-Y)—online channels are imperative to reaching their market. Extensive focus group research showed that a vast majority of recruits go online to research what the Army has to offer before walking into a physical recruiting station. Sgt Star (the Army’s IVA) has become the go-to resource for this initial information gathering. He is specifically programmed to interact with Gen-Y, to understand texting shorthand and other neologisms that may be used in conversation with a prospective recruit.
With the right technology in place, a company can use every customer interaction as a way to both assist customers and gain insight on their desires. Service is no longer just a drain on resources—revenue and cost can be directly tied to customer experience, and Gen-Y expects that experience to be available online. Gartner explains this in basic terms: create a superior, simple, engaging and powerful experience and revenue will grow.
Online shopping technology is evolving and customer experience is more important than ever. Some customers will flock to brands as a result of high-tech offerings—others won’t have the savvy to keep up. Now is the time to incorporate technology that will assist the customer and inform the business—serving as the link between cost and growth.
Next-Gen Shoppers Need Next-Gen Service
According to Gartner, addressing customer experience is in the top 10 technology priorities for CIOs in 2012. Digital channels and devices have created an empowered customer—and it’s through this technology that businesses start to build an experience and instill customer loyalty. So what should a company look for in a next-gen service offering? Recognize three important factors:
- Scalable assistance. Technology needs to assists customers and help them accomplish tasks efficiently, 40% of Gen-Y will abandon an online purchase if their questions are not answered quickly. Implement a service that can drive simultaneous engagement with a limitless number of users around the most common customer inquiries. This is essential to delivering high-quality customer experiences across touchpoints, while still keeping service efficient and cost-effective. The purpose of the technology is to enable all customers to complete tasks without taxing live service representatives.
- Gather information. When a user arrives at a website, click-throughs and navigation behavior show just that—behavior, not desire. Navigation and resources are organized online according to how the company expects users to interact—but is that what the customer really wants? The best way to learn—ask them. Gen-Y is more connected than any other generation, and they are ready to share their opinions. Customer experience technology exists to serve both the customer and the business—be sure to implement one that enables the organization to learn.
- Promote the brand. Build an experience; for the U.S. Army this meant creating a digital extension of its brand. The result (as touched upon above): Sgt. Star, a U.S. Army expert modeled after the average soldier and available to every visitor of goarmy.com. By offering a digital service representative that users can identify with and trust, the Army created an experience that helps bond its audience of potential recruits with the organization it represents.
The bottom line?
Better customer experience yields millions in revenue benefits and by 2017, Gen-Y will have more spending power than any other generation. Equipping online shopping channels with technology that compliments next-gen selling strategies means Gen-Y customers will have a better overall experience and build a bond not only with a company’s product and service, but with its technology.