Generation Now: the demand for real-time customer service

Generation NowI work fast and hard. But I have learned to prioritize as expectations of people have grown over the years. I used to try answering all emails the same day and starting and finishing every task as soon as possible. To make sure that the work didn’t stack up and to keep the inbox as empty as possible.

Through the years I realized that this was not the most profitable and healthy way of doing things (we all do learn each day, some faster than others) and noticed how people have changed. Before you know it you are always busy and overwhelmed by deadlines. This has changed the way in which I handle communication channels. Now an email can easily remain in my inbox for a few days and even much longer if I know that what is called ‘urgent’ by the sender is in no way urgent at all. One has to prioritize indeed. But it isn’t easy. We’ve become a – behavioral – generation of ‘asap’, ‘COB’, ‘urgent’, ‘last-minute’ and ‘right now’. We even send emails like we send tweets: a few words in a subject line, ended by that horrible acronym, EOM (End Of Message). Send a longer and in-depth mail about an issue or idea and no one ever reads it.

Fast, rapido, really quick like torpedo: Generation Now

It’s a clear evolution in the behavior of consumers/people: they have become more impatient, they want replies to their questions as soon as possible, ideally right now.

People – and certainly the digital and mobile ‘enabled’ as we call them – seem to have less time and less patience indeed. I can feel it when I once again need to say “stop”. Your business feels it when customer service takes too long in an age where we want responses faster than ever and, unfortunately, instant gratification exceeds all limits. It is one of the consequences of the real-time economy and even a social phenomenon. And it reminds me of the lyrics of a song from the band, “Black Eyed Peas”.

They have this famous song called “Now Generation” which is full of words and brand names from the digital age: Google, MySpace, Facebook, Wi-Fi, podcast, iChat, SMS etc. The song also contains several strong sentences that describe really well what many people feel.

Such as: “I just can’t wait, I want it immediately cause time can’t wait and I sure can’t wait, I ain’t got no patience”. Or this: “Fast, rapido, really quick like torpedo, need for speed is my credo”.

I do not know the Black Eyed Peas personally but the song seems to be either a modern protest song against the impact of the “Now Generation” either a snap shot of today’s society. The “now” generation is not per definition the digital generation or a generation in the sense of age but this behavioral generation of “I want everything right now, immediately”. Is this the same as the digital generation, the digital natives’? Or have we just always been like this and can we only show, express and claim our demands for “the now and fast” today? My take is the second but with a clear impact from our ‘digital, social and mobile’ life style and an abundance of, well, everything really.

This post obviously is not about a song. Neither is it about the clear evolution towards a society wherein everything must have an immediate purpose, where everything should run smoothly, “go rapido really quick like torpedo” and where patience is a rare commodity. And time a scarce and precious good for the consumer who has a shorter attention span than ever whereby you have less time to make an impression than ever as well.

Speed and the customer experience

What I want to tackle with it, however, is also the impact on marketing, service and customer experience. This evolution is after all reflected in the real-time way in which people and consumers wish to be served, wish to be assisted when they have problems, wish to have a product delivered at home, etc.

I have my own opinion about this evolution but this is not relevant here. What is relevant is that companies, marketers, help desks, etc. are dealing with ever more demanding clients. Just ask the average contact center agent.

Proper and rapid customer service is important. But sometimes the real-time desires of people border on the impossible, to put it lightly. What do you do as a company? Sorry, but unfortunately: you have no other choice but to participate although as a brand you can take a stand. The “here and now” customer exists and the only thing that one can do is take care of him or her – in a prioritized way, just as in a customer-centric approach. Obviously this does not mean that one should comply with all impossible demands, things like sale and service conditions still apply.

However, not responding fast enough quickly leads to customer frustration and a frustrated client quickly spreads the word in a world where everyone has a vote and a one man war can be started against any company. Should we have compassion with companies? Obviously not, we should also not exaggerate. It is not only the consumer who lives in the “here and now” age, the people within the companies also form part of this age.

On top of that, real-time customer service provides competitive benefits. To obtain this you will have to make the necessary investments on the level of evolving into a customer-centric organization, removing silos, listening very closely, engaging in cross-channel real-time interactions etc.

Reputation and trust

One of the competitive advantages of companies that can play in on the needs and comply with the “now” expectations of today’s Generation Now is reputation, which has become an economic asset. If the customer gets what he wants the way he wants it, he will share his experiences. Great customer experiences are not and end, they are a start. And the need for speed, beyond obviously quality, personality and relevance, simply is part of everything that shapes today’s end-to-end customer experience.

A second advantage is trust. Consumers see a real-time interaction opportunity, for example via social media, as a sign that companies are listening to them and they can always turn to them for assistance.

There are many more advantages and those who want to profit from this have a lot of work waiting for them. Speed and real-time interactions and services have become an asset to companies that wish to score with the “Generation Now”.

And this generation is more than a song…

Originally published on our Social Marketing Forum blog

Top image purchased under license from Shutterstock