future thinkers update

Dial S for Service

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Despite advances in technology, young consumers prefer to use the humble telephone to reach their favourite brands  
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Phone trumps Facebook chat – for now

Young consumers are often portrayed as self-contained Facebook addicts who only communicate by text. If true, it should be very easy for companies to reach them with a few clever viral campaigns and self-service customer help desks – so why isn’t it?

The main problem is that the stereotype outlined above does not fit the reality. If anything, the customer behaviour of teenagers and young adults is more akin to what we traditionally associate with over-25s.

While texting and Facebook are the preferred tools for communicating with friends and relatives, the phone is actually more influential with them in purchasing decisions and a strong personal interaction with a company has a huge impact on the brand loyalty of the younger audience.

In short, reaching young consumers requires use of more communication channels, not less. The goal of customer service for Generation Y must be constant and instant interaction. Plus, each of these channels must be state-of-the-art.

However, a key finding of our Future Consumer study is that young and older consumers interact with brands in broadly the same ways: when dealing with companies, for the foreseeable future at least, we all prefer the telephone and email.

Clearly, social networking sites (SNS) are becoming increasingly important because, according to many of those we questioned, “it is the first thing [they] use” – but it is significant that they are referring to their personal lives, not necessarily for communicating with organisations.

So let’s have a closer look at the figures from our Future Consumer research and analyse what they tell us.

In general, one in five people communicate through mobile instant messenger and, as a rule, texting increases with age. However, the phone is still the most popular communication tool among under-18s: seven out of ten like to call and 71% text their friends and family.

Inevitably, Facebook is growing in importance. It is the favoured means of communication for 58% of those questioned, which is 8% higher than email. This is especially true of the 12- to 14-year-old age group.

However, this usurping of email still has some way to run. It remains the preferred channel of contact with a company for 38% of under-25s, far higher than any of the alternatives. Interestingly, the figure for over-25s is a very similar 42%.

Email is popular among under-25s for corporate communications because it acts like a filter. Whereas they are comfortable about being public property with their “friends” on Facebook, email allows them to be more discerning about who to let into their world.

They would see no reason to be shy about pictures of them having fun on holiday, but they know the value of their email data to marketing departments and it is almost as if they are forcing companies to work harder to get to them.

However, when under-25s latch on to an organisation they like they will tend to communicate with it much more than older consumers – and when this bond of trust is established they will want to use all channels, from video chat to Twitter.

Online channels such as social networking are more likely to influence purchase decisions for under-25s than older consumers. Around 60% of the younger generation find browsing the internet a fun way of killing time which makes them more likely to be influenced by product suggestions or well-received products or services on review sites.

Nevertheless, and despite under-25s being savvy with technology, the use of the traditional channels of phone and email has a positive influence on the impression of a company three times stronger than the use of newest technology.

Around seven out of ten under-25s say how they are spoken to and the way they feel they are treated is very important when dealing with companies. Phone and web chat gives them a feeling of being looked after and one-to-one attention.

However, the good impression that can be created can also be fragile. Too much contact irritates, especially unsolicited sales calls. This might explain why around 30% of consumers try to have minimum contact with companies.

As a general rule, a broad range of communications from a company across many diverse technology platforms can positively influence under-25s more than it does the older generation.

So, that self-absorbed addiction to Facebook and texting so common in the stereotypical view of the young, far from being an alienating barrier to the outside world, can actually be exploited very effectively to win over the future consumer. Just remember to call or email first.

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