Self-service: Why millennials want it

Kap Maceda Aguila (The Philippine Star) - October 11, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - People aged 18 to 34 (a range that varies depending on who you ask) comprise the segment we call millennials. Millennials are today’s new adults who, of course, are the most adept at navigating an increasingly tech-based world.

As they make up a significant portion of the population (the Philippines is an obvious example), firms that ignore the millennials’ needs and expectations do so at their peril.

“Primary research we have done specifically focused on how this new generation (show they) are not only changing the economy as a whole but also having a very specific impact on how consumers engage with the companies you do business with and what those expectations are,” says Aspect senior vice president and chief marketing officer Jim Freeze.

In town to present the results of a survey commissioned by the call center software solutions firm, Freeze continued that millennials want a good deal of self-service – to have control from their end, instead of the traditional customer service experience.

“We believe that consumers – not companies – are reimagining and redefining how they want to interact with companies they do business with,” he continues. “They are screaming how they want to be able to solve problems on their own. Increasingly, we have a text-savvy group of individuals, all of whom carry a smart phone.”

Pointing to his own smart phone, Freeze observes with a smile that the irony of today’s handsets is that the voice call appears to be the least useful application for many, and yet: “I heard that an average iPhone today has more computer power than Apollo 13 did.”

It’s but natural and logical then for people to leverage the capability and capacity. “These devices empower people to redefine all of their interaction, including customer service. We believe that customers want to be able to help themselves. They do not want to have an agent in a contact center be the user interface to the information they want,” Freeze underscores.

The executive says customers do not want companies to dictate the experience. The Aspect survey revealed an aversion to the traditional customer service response that goes something like: “You can contact us from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or send as an e-mail and we’ll get back to you in 48 hours.”

Freeze warns: “Millennials will not tolerate that and they will switch and business with somebody else who they feel doesn’t understand them and doesn’t support them in a way that they want.”

Armed with this insight, Aspect goes about helping “enterprise contact centers deliver remarkable customer experiences across every conversation and every channel – through a single, elegant software platform.”

In his presentation, Aspect’s country manager for the Philippines, Alfredo Lallana Jr., reports: “As the global leader in customer engagement solutions, our unified interaction management, workforce optimization, and back-office solution integrates or orchestrates seamlessly people, processes in airlines, telecoms, and financial services, health care, and retail.”

He adds the company has had a long history of innovation – having introduced automatic call distribution in 1973, workforce management in 1980, and the first dialler in 1981.

These days, its performance numbers remain solid and robust. Technology research firm Gartner reported a year-on-year revenue growth of 8.4 percent in 2013, which trumped the company’s competitors.

In 2014, its 6.5 percent rate made Aspect, insists Lallana, the “only vendor of the top five (in the) contact center market that showed growth.”

More than a decade back, the burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines promised ready, good-paying employment, even if observers predicted it the sector to fizzle out.

Today, Lallana says that BPO revenue is now at par with OFW remittances. Worldwide, around 1.5 million agents in 80 countries handle over 100 million daily transactions.

Freeze maintains that Aspect devoted resources to recast its user experience and interface to one that is “browser-based, (featuring) incredibly intuitive widgets, (and are) very colorful…so that the training curve to use our software is very, very simple and allows us to build software interfaces that aren’t based on functions and features but based on roles – a key differentiator for us.”

But wait, will Aspect’s solutions that give power to the customer be detrimental to the contact center employment base? Would this undercut their usefulness?

Freeze responds to The STAR’s question thus: “No. Keep in mind that part of the value proposition we talk about is increasing the number of interactions.

Philosophically, there’s a change going on within companies where the contact center used to be viewed as an expense to be managed, so you do anything to try to decrease the amount of interaction.

“Increasingly companies view the contact center as an opportunity to drive top-line revenue in an area where they want to invest. Part of the value of what we believe we offer in terms of the self-service capabilities is that it increases the interactions and actually elevates the role of the agent to being much more critical and much more important because they are working on more difficult transactions. We think that the mind shift, of viewing the contact center to an enabler to growth top line is going to be huge for companies.”

Aspect is working on four primary areas in the contact center domain: interaction management, workforce optimization, self-service, and multi-channel reporting.

In addition, Aspect is “invested very heavily” in the buildout of its cloud, as Freeze predicts that in three to five years, “the majority of software across all enterprises… the primary method by which companies will be acquiring software is through cloud deployment.”

This, he says, is also borne out by businesses seeing the wisdom in cloud computing. Even financial services firms who used to be wary of security concerns in the cloud are singing a different tune.

You could say that, well, in all aspects, Aspect has its niche covered.

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