16 Mar

Losing your Voice

I have been doing some research for a presentation that I will be giving next month.  I am going to be talking about our future customers – Generation Z.  They were born after 1995, so the oldest will now be into their 20s and will already be travelling.  They are a growing cohort of customers, so it is important to understand them. 

Gen Z has never known a time when there was no Internet, no mobile phones and no pervasive connectivity.  Just as we all take it for granted that water flows from our taps, so Gen Z simply takes it for granted that information flows from their connected devices.  As far as they are concerned there are no geographic constraints to communication.  Communicating with a friend living on the next block is no different to communicating with someone on the other side of the World.  The only inconvenience is the difference in time zones.

I think of Gen Z as the ‘convenience’ generation.  To accommodate Gen Z (and the rest of us), the online goal of every commercial organisation has to be to provide a frictionless service delivery experience.  It should be so easy to do business with your organisation that your customers don’t have to think for even a second about how to interact with you online.  Companies such as Uber and Amazon excel at this.  In travel, trainline’s and easyJet’s mobile apps are excellent.  How does your company do?

One trend I have noticed – and my own Gen Z kids are a good example – is that they have a preference for messaging rather than voice.  WhatsApp, Messenger and Snapchat are the preferred methods of communication.  Why bother talking to someone when you can more easily fire off messages, keeping your mobile screen in front of you rather than having to hold it to your ear?

There is a new technological trend, though, that is feeding into the mix and it is powered by artificial intelligence (AI).  One of AI’s features is the ability to learn as it goes along; sometimes called machine learning.  I see it taking ‘convenience’ (I don’t like the word laziness) to a new level.  I am succumbing to it for sure.  I wear an Apple Watch.  When I receive a text message I can read it on the Watch.  Usefully, I am offered a number of possible replies that I can simply select by tapping.  I don’t need to actually type the reply. 

At the moment, these replies are not intelligent.  They are just a list.  They are words such as “OK,” “Sure,” “Yes, “No;” but other devices are using AI to produce context specific replies.  So, if you receive a message such as, “Can we meet on Thursday?” AI might inspect your calendar and offer a range of replies such as, “Cannot make Thursday.  How about Friday?”  The original sender’s device on seeing this would likely offer a reply such as “Sure.”  And so we have AI technology conversing for us.

I would expect Gen Z to become perfectly at home with this.  As the power of handheld devices continues to increase, you would expect AI to provide really quite sophisticated conversational capabilities. 

How about asking your device, “Find me some good holiday deals to USA next month?” Contact centres are already using AI powered chat to speed conversations with customers.  I wonder if we will reach the stage where contact centres need no human staff at all?  For a good example of how far AI powered chat is advancing, take a look at Sophia in action, the AI robot from Hanson Robotics.  We may be losing our voices but technology is taking over.  Will Gen Z care?