May 05, 2020

The Age of Engagement

By [24]7.ai

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems have come a long way since they hit the customer service mainstream back in the 1980s. Because IVR remained relatively static for around two decades, for many consumers it still brings to mind the outdated and frustrating question and answer trees that were designed to shepherd callers to the right agent or department, but all too often felt more like a barrier to reaching an actual human. 

Today, modern IVR systems powered by advanced AI with natural language processing/generation capabilities enable consumers to speak naturally, support two-way conversations, and can even automate actions. And while the rise of digital channels and automated self-service may have taken the pressure off the voice channel, many consumers still prefer to pick up the phone and call when they need support, particularly for more complex needs. Even in an omnichannel environment, IVR still plays an important role. 

It’s a common perception that older generations prefer to use the phone and younger, more tech-savvy consumers prefer to self-serve on digital channels. The truth is, every generation uses voice as part of cross-channel customer journeys. And they may not use it as differently as you’d expect. [24]7.ai recently conducted a survey of over 3,500 consumers from the US, UK, and Australia, across a variety of age groups, and found both similarities and differences between how they go about getting customer support . 

[24]7.ai surveyed consumers across generations to find out how their customer service approach compares:

•    Millennials (ages 18-30)
•    Gen Xers (ages 31-49)
•    Baby Boomers (ages 50-69)
•    Greatest Generation (69 and older)

The generation gap
Not surprisingly, the biggest difference we found between generations was in device ownership, with Gen X leading the way in multiple smart device (i.e., smartphones and tablets) ownership, followed by Millennials, then Baby Boomers, and finally the Greatest Generation. However, you may be surprised to learn that nearly 80% of the oldest generation respondents are considered “digital,” meaning they own both smartphone and tablet devices.

Overall, we found that for all generations the majority of customer journeys begin on a company’s website, with most starting on a PC or laptop. Millennials opt for smart phone web access next, with Gen X and Baby Boomers preferring tablets. More significantly, nine out of ten consumers will use three channels during a customer service journey. If they can’t complete their task in their first channel of choice, 78% will cross channels to get it done. Nearly a third of overall respondents pick up the phone to call a company if their initial efforts aren’t successful. 

Nearly a third of overall respondents pick up the phone to call a company if their initial efforts aren’t successful.

At this point, the old image of IVR as a barrier to reaching a live agent comes to mind—but it’s also where modern, conversational IVR can make a real difference to customer engagement. Imagine a disgruntled caller reaching a conversational IVR that’s web aware and able to pass along the context of their call to an agent. When the agent picks up and is ready to address them personally and assist them quickly and efficiently, that’s going to be a good customer experience and leave them with a better brand perception.

Combining voice and digital 
With consumers across multiple generations still turning to voice when they’re unable to help themselves, companies can tap into new revenue opportunities by combining voice and digital channels. An intelligent IVR system paired with an AI-powered platform can turn a smartphone conversation into an interactive digital experience, pushing rich content like product or account information right to the caller’s screen. Or, if a caller is also on the company website on either a tablet or a laptop/PC, the IVR or agent can push the content to that screen, creating an equally rich, interactive experience on multiple channels at the same time. This allows customers to get things done in their channel of choice more efficiently. With the right blend of NLP and AI, an IVR can even enable conversational commerce—not just answering customer questions, but helping them complete transactions. 

IVR as a platform helped companies develop the technologies that now enable other voice-powered interactions, such as automated speech recognition (ASR), text-to-speech (TTS) and voice synthesis, scripting language like VoiceXML. Virtual personal assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home would not exist if these technologies had not been tested and refined in the IVR environment. As these new technologies move beyond providing information to supporting transactions, companies have even more opportunity to reach consumers across generations who prefer voice-first interactions. At the end of the day, it’s all about providing a better experience for individual customers.  

To find out how the [24]7.ai Engagement Cloud can help you support omnichannel experiences for every generation, contact us today.

Source: [24]7 2016 Customer Engagement Index

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