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Customer service for Gen Z: How to connect with the next power generation

Posted June 15, 2017
Customer service for Gen Z

Young people can be indecisive when it comes to picking a college major or a candy bar. But when it comes to customer service, they know exactly what they want.

Comprised of consumers born after 1995, Generation Z grew up with smartphones, tablets and the internet. Their digital upbringing has shaped the way they engage with businesses — and now it’s shaping the way companies engage with them.

A recent study by the IBM Institute of Business Value and the National Retail Federation (NRF) of consumers aged 13 to 21 found that the wants and needs of this demographic aren’t just specific, but unique. To effectively meet them, companies must first know who these consumers are, where they spend their time, and above all else, their expectations for customer service.

Meet Gen Z

Gen Z currently accounts for about 25 percent of Americans, and by the year 2020, that number will have reached a staggering 40 percent.

They may be young, but these consumers have colossal buying power. Uniquely Gen Z, the report resulting from that IBM and NRF research, reveals that the “post-Millennial generation” influences everything from their families’ food purchases to clothing, electronics, household goods and even furniture.

If you’re looking for Generation Z, you’ll find this cohort online. Close to three-quarters of these consumers choose to spend their free time on the internet. “Gen Z is very cyber-savvy, and very savvy in general,” says Mark Mathews, vice-president of research development and industry analysis at the National Retail Federation. “Companies need to be careful not to underestimate them, or think that because they’re younger they should be treated that way.”

Rather, businesses should bear in mind that Gen Z’s perception of customer service is unlike that of any other generation. “They really expect things to be frictionless,” Mathews says. Their world is one of immediacy and convenience, and they want their interactions with businesses to be just as seamless. According to Mathews, this expectation extends from making a purchase to the customer experience overall.

Where Gen Z and Gen Y collide

In many ways, Gen Z consumers are similar to their Millennial/Gen Y counterparts. Both demographic groups are accustomed to communicating with companies online, and both favor an online experience that’s easy to navigate. For them, an omnichannel experience is not just nice to have; it’s critical.

Something else these groups have in common is that they want the option to engage with businesses through mobile messaging. Lauren Kunze, CEO of chatbot development and hosting platform Pandorabots, notes the number of consumers with messaging apps is expected to reach 3.6 billion over the next few years — about half the global population. “This is overwhelmingly where customers, especially younger customers, are spending their time,” she says.

Kunze explains that today’s youth have “a higher threshold” for technologies like mobile and voice recognition. These methods of communication can also provide deeper insight into Gen Z users’ wants and needs. “Every interaction is a piece of feedback on how people want to interact with your brand or business,” Kunze says. “We’re able to analyze massive amounts of log data to understand how people want to use [these services].”

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Why speed, security and availability matter most

For companies who are serious about connecting with Gen Z, it’s important to deliver on three key criteria: speed, security and availability. “(Speed) is really one of the major things retailers talk about,” Mathews says. “Whereas in the past they would have advertising campaigns every now and then and longer product cycles, there’s a need now to do things so much quicker. There’s less patience with Gen Z.”

Security is another area of the experience to which Gen Z pays close attention. They want to know they can trust a contact center to handle their personal data, and they value transparency. “They understand the game,” Mathews says. “They know they have to share information to get other things in return, but they want clear terms on how that information is being used.”

To maximize contact center communications, businesses should consider prominently posting disclosures about issues like data collection and call recordings. Investing in quality assurance and agent training is equally vital to ensuring that customers trust that their sensitive information is secure.

Because Gen-Z consumers move quickly, they need the companies they interact with to do the same. The availability of “always on” chatbots is part of what makes them a popular choice for businesses. But, as Kunze points out, even when leveraging this technology, there’s still a time and place for human interactions. “If somebody actually has a problem and they’re angry, a chatbot is probably not the best user experience,” she says. “If they’re really upset, they’re likely to require something called the exception principle — when a company goes out of its way to make an exception for you,” adds Kunze, “Knowing when to route to a human agent is really important to providing good service.”

A balanced combination of automation and a personalized, human touch is the key to effectively meeting Gen Z’s high expectations for company interactions. Backed by its size and spending power, Gen Z is actively reshaping the customer experience, and those businesses that can keep up are sure to come out ahead in the long run.

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