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Gen Z and your Customer Self-Service

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

When it comes to your customer service strategy, does age matter? Do you make decisions about how and where you deliver support based on the generations of your target customers? Are you planning for the expectations of younger customers as they gain more buying power over the next few years?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you are doing your company and your customer base a huge disservice. You are opening the door to your competitors and welcoming them in to steal your customers away. You are missing out on a prime opportunity to put your customer service efforts on the path to future success.

Customer service and CX expert, Shep Hyken recently published his 2022 ACA Study: Achieving Customer Amazementdownload a full copy of the report here – which explores the state of customer service and customer experience. For the study, a 26-question survey was completed by consumers in the United States between the ages of 18 and 65. The report breaks down generational responses into the following groups: Gen Z (ages 18-25); Millennials (ages 26-44); Gen X (ages 45-56); Boomers (ages 57-65).

One important question asked in the survey focused on the future of customer service. Participants were asked: Which of the following customer service experiences do you expect to be essential to you in the near future, 3-5 years?

2022 ACA Study

The report called out these two important stats:

  • In the next three to five years, non-human customer service will be more essential.
  • In the next three to five years, older generations expect 24/7 availability, online chat, human interactions only, and never being put on hold or transferred more than younger generations. Younger generations expect mobile friendly and intuitive self-service options more than older generations.

The finding that non-human customer service is becoming more important doesn’t come as a surprise. This has been a growing trend, especially over the past decade, as access to and the use of more technology has increased across age groups. Digital literacy has also improved greatly in the past few years, partly due to necessity as public health concerns have reduced in-person activities during the pandemic.

This is important for organizations to remember as they develop and tweak their customer support strategies for the next few years. Human interactions are still essential to a positive experience, of course. However, it will become increasingly essential for the human parts of your customer service to be linked with the non-human pieces in a way that creates consistency across your business.

More significant for the future of your customer support strategy is the second key stat highlighted in this part of the survey. If your company has customers across older and younger generations, then your strategy for the near future must take into account the preferences of both groups. However, the expectations of Gen Z and Millennials are where your focus should be as you plan for the long-term.

Younger generations selecting mobile friendly and intuitive self-service options as essential over the next three to five years reflects a crucial change in customer preferences. The evolution of preferences towards mobile and digital-first has been happening for years, particularly as smartphones have become a key part of everyday life. These preferences aren’t a passing fad. They indicate the expectations that will be placed on your customer service tools and engagements as younger generations of customers gain more buying power.

The survey also delved into current self-service usage, finding 71% of respondents use self-service tools. When asked more specifically ‘When you have a problem or issue with a company or brand, which solution do you prefer to help solve your problem?’, 49% of Gen Z participants and 41% of Millennials said they would use a digital self-service option rather than make a call to talk to a live customer service agent. These percentages were significantly higher than Gen X and Boomers, further reflecting the generational shift towards self-service.

Now is the time for every company to examine how self-service currently fits into their customer support strategy and what steps are needed to plan for self-service success in the future. Keep in mind that younger generations don’t just want self-service options, but rather are coming to expect intuitive self-service. More advanced technologies like conversational AI deliver the capabilities you need to create those self-service experiences.

Investments in these types of solutions can sound risky, but the real risk is in not making changes to your customer service approach now. The survey results shared in this report reinforce the need to take actions that not only create positive experiences now but lay the groundwork for successfully meeting the expectations of Gen Z in the future.

Download The 2022 ACA Study from Shep Hyken’s website for more insights on customer preferences and habits.

Also check out the three steps in Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to be a Risky Investment for tips to help get you started on creating proven, reliable, and intuitive self-service tools.

Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to Be a Risky Investment: Step 3

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Conversational AI is a technology that is regularly described as ‘innovative’ and ‘cutting-edge’. Simply having ‘AI’ in the name makes some people think of it as being futuristic or only for companies with the resources to implement it for the cool factor. It can be easy for business leaders to associate conversational AI with being a high-risk investment.

For many companies, proven and reliable results are more important than being innovative and flashy. Projects that get budget approval and management backing are ones that are considered safe bets because they utilize established technologies that have documented business benefits. They don’t have the financial flexibility or company culture to take a high level of risk, whether that risk is real or inferred.

The good news is that conversational AI projects don’t have to be risky. In this blog series, I’m sharing three steps for achieving conversational AI success while minimizing the risk. You shouldn’t let the common misconception that conversational AI has to be a high-risk investment keep you from implementing it to improve your customer experience and employee engagement.

The previous posts in this series covered the first two steps to minimizing your risk:

Once you’ve read through those steps, you’ll be ready for number three:

Step 3: Start with a pilot and expand with a staged approach.

Before you go all in with a conversational AI project, look to do a pilot or proof-of-concept (POC) with the vendor. This gives your organization the opportunity to test out the technology on a limited basis to make sure it is a good fit for you and your digital strategy. The financial risk associated with this pilot should be shared by the vendor.

Typical pilots run for 30-60 days which will provide sufficient time for you to see results, evaluate initial performance, and make decisions about taking the next step in your conversational AI plan. A successful pilot strengthens your business case and enables you to finetune your strategy based on real feedback and user interactions. Also be sure to use the pilot phase as an opportunity to test integration points to ensure your solution will work end-to-end as you expand the deployment.

Starting with a pilot, and sharing that financial risk with the vendor, makes moving forward with a larger conversational AI investment less of a gamble for your company. When you do convert from the pilot to a full system, you still don’t need to jump directly into a massive project. Taking a staged approach to development and rollout is not only less risky, but also often the best way to achieve success.

Typically, the best method for deploying a chatbot or virtual agent is to use an agile approach, starting small and scaling the solution over time. This could mean focusing on a particular area of content, a specific use case, or a key contact channel that will have the greatest impact as a starting point. Your vendor will collaborate with you to design a staged rollout based on your biggest pain points. This reduces risk because you are streamlining your efforts in a way that supports your identified KPIs. You can also take advantage of new insights as you go to improve the tool and tweak your plan to maximize on successes and avoid potential problems.

It’s a common misconception that conversational AI is always a high-risk investment for organizations, but one that shouldn’t keep you from implementing your own chatbot or virtual agent. Being a risk-adverse business is not a barrier to deploying a successful and valuable conversational AI project. These three steps can help you join other savvy companies in taking advantage of the proven, reliable benefits of this technology while minimizing your risk.

To make it easier for you and your organization to apply these three steps to your conversational AI approach, I’ve compiled them all into a single document which can be read, shared, and downloaded here: Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to be a Risky Investment.

Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to Be a Risky Investment: Step 2

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Innovative, cutting-edge, ground-breaking – these are all words used regularly to describe conversational AI technologies. Being the organization that deploys an innovative technology typically requires being comfortable with a high level of risk. However, most companies don’t have the financial flexibility or company culture to take that degree of risk, whether real or inferred.

Deploying conversational AI solutions like chatbots and virtual agents can be risky but doesn’t have to be. You don’t need to be an early adopter of innovations to benefit from the technology. These solutions have been used by businesses for over two decades as part of their customer engagement and employee experience strategies, and you can take advantage of those learnings to deploy reliable, successful projects.

In this three-part blog series, I’m sharing three steps for achieving conversational AI success while minimizing the risk for your organization. Last time, we delved into Step 1: Be selective when deciding on a vendor and technology. If you missed that post, I recommend you read it first before moving on to the second step:

Step 2: Build a business case with realistic goals.

Embarking on any business project without identifying the goal is always a risk, so it is essential that you have a realistic business case and clear objectives for your conversational AI project. An experienced vendor will be able to assist you with this process by performing a textual analysis of your existing data, such as live chat or contact center transcripts, to identify what queries can and should be automated with conversational AI.

Starting with this analysis immediately reduces risk because your business case is being built around your own data. It’s combining the vendor’s expertise directly with the information that is unique to your customers, employees, and company. Instead of guessing your users’ self-service needs or taking a generic approach, your business case is customized to you and your pain points from the start.

Follow that initial analysis with a consultation workshop to review the results and collaborate with the vendor to identify your key performance indicators (KPIs) and set realistic goals. These business objectives will directly inform how your chatbot or virtual agent is built and implemented. Having clear goals and deciding how you will track progress and measure outcomes minimizes the danger of investing in a project that won’t really meet your needs.

The key in this step is to build your conversational AI business case around realistic and obtainable goals. Being practical about what you are automating and setting sensible targets for your solution creates a solid foundation for your project. It keeps your investment focused on reliable, reproducible outcomes and business benefits.

In the third and final installment of this series, we will talk about starting your conversational AI project with a pilot and the best approach to minimize risk while rolling out a full deployment. A great resource for better understanding the financial investment needed for a successful virtual agent or chatbot is the Guide to Enterprise Conversational AI Pricing: Calculating the Cost of a Successful Chatbot or Virtual Agent. Even if your company isn’t at the enterprise-level, this guide provides valuable insights into budgeting and calculating ROI that’s useful for all organizations.

Conversational AI Doesn’t Have to Be a Risky Investment: Step 1

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

In the technology industry there tends to be a focus on being innovative, cutting-edge, and ground-breaking. Industry awards, conferences, and articles frequently showcase and reward vendors for technological innovations. Analysts and expert speakers regularly highlight case studies of companies that are early adopters, deploying technologies in inventive ways, or finding success by taking a chance on something new and unproven.

Innovation is essential to the advancement of technology but doesn’t automatically equal practical business benefits. Having companies try out new technological developments and deploy existing solutions in creative and unfamiliar ways is important for finding practical applications for new innovations. However, being the organization that deploys an innovative technology typically requires being comfortable with a high level of risk.

Most companies don’t have the financial flexibility or company culture to take that degree of risk, whether real or inferred. For them, proven and reliable results are more important than being innovative and flashy. Projects that get budget approval and management backing are ones that are considered safe bets because they utilize established technologies that have documented business benefits.

Conversational AI is one technology that is regularly described with words like ‘innovative’ and ‘cutting-edge’. Simply having ‘AI’ in the name makes some people think of it as being futuristic or only for companies with the resources to implement it for the cool factor. It can be easy for business leaders to associate conversational AI with being a high-risk investment.

Deploying conversational AI solutions like chatbots and virtual agents can be risky but doesn’t have to be. Your organization doesn’t need to be an early adopter of new innovations to benefit from this technology. Chatbot and virtual agent technology has been used by businesses for over two decades as part of their customer experience and employee engagement strategies, and you can take advantage of those learnings to leverage conversational AI within your organization.

Over the course of this three-part blog series, I’ll outline three steps for minimizing risk and maximizing benefits of conversational AI projects. Let’s get started with the first and most important step:

Step 1: Be selective when deciding on a vendor and technology.

The conversational AI market is oversaturated with new, inexperienced start-ups and technologies that haven’t been well-tested in the real world. The first step to reducing your risk is to choose a vendor that is established in the industry and provides a technology that has proven results. Both criteria are important when it comes to risk level.

Vendor experience is critically important because the more knowledge your selected provider brings to your project, the more confident you can be in their advice and guidance. You want a vendor that will become an extension of your own team and knows what they are doing because they’ve done it all before. Working with experts means you benefit from their many years of experience, thereby making your investment less risky even if your company is new to this type of technology.

When evaluating a vendor’s experience, ask specifically about how many years the company has provided conversational AI technologies, as these solutions may be an offering added recently even though the company has been in business for decades. Also ask about the experience of their individual team members and staff turnover rates. If they have high staff turnover and are constantly training replacements for departing employees, then you will likely miss out on the risk-reducing personal expertise you want the vendor to bring to the collaboration.

Just as critical as the vendor experience is having proof of their technology delivering positive results in real world applications. Don’t assume that just because a provider isn’t a brand-new start-up that they have a well-performing conversational AI technology. If the company has been in business for four or five years and only has one customer, you should question why more companies aren’t using their technology and if working with them is a risky option.

To reduce risk, ask about how the vendor has deployed their technology within your industry and what documented business benefits those solutions are providing. Saying they have the ability to deploy important features and functionality is great, but you want to see the technology in action in live installs. Also ask them about the length of their customer relationships as long-term engagements indicate that existing customers are happy with the technology, their results, and the collaboration. The vendor should be able to provide you with customer references so you can get first-hand feedback on their conversational AI projects.

Keep in mind that even if your company is minimizing risk by selecting a proven solution with reliable results, you still want to partner with a vendor that is consistently innovating. You may not be the organization trying out those new innovations first, but you don’t want to invest in a solution that’s not going to improve as those advancements become well-tested and are shown to deliver business benefits.

In my next post, we’ll explore building a realistic business case as part of Step 2 for reducing risk. In the meantime, check out the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience. It explains in more detail the most important questions to ask a vendor about their experience during your procurement process.