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The Kids are Alright – Communicating with new generations of customers

The Kids are Alright – Communicating with new generations of customers

David Webster, Financial Services Expert at GMC Software 

Lots has been made of the influx of new generations into society. From Millennials to Generation Z, financial organisations are pondering how best to reach these new customers and workers – what will be the best form of communication, and whether old expectations need to fall by the wayside. However, there’s nothing new about preparing for the new generation. From the first consistent use of “teenagers” to describe adolescents in the 1950s, to later generations of Baby Boomers, to Generation X; for decades banks have had to adapt their messages, language and even communication channels to reach new consumers.

The greatest difference in the 21st century has been the eruption of new communications channels. While post and the telephone reigned supreme in the 20th century, the rapid growth of email, SMS, mobile apps and other avenues means that the industry has not only had to adapt to new audiences, but to the new ways to reach them. In this situation, it can be tempting to focus purely on the needs of current customers, but by doing this, the industry is missing the much bigger picture.

 Yesterday’s news

As we’ve already seen, generational change does not stop. For instance, Millennials took the bank’s attention from Generation X, only to have it snatched away by Generation Z who in turn are soon to be replaced by the next generation of current high school students. In turn, there is no way of predicting how these new generations of consumers will communicate. Ten years ago, organisations were convinced that SMS was the whole future, before the arrival of smartphones brought other forms of instant messaging to the fore. Looking at the current generations, can we be certain how long Twitter and other social media platforms will prevail? Or whether younger consumers will want to communicate in emoji at all?

Essentially, there are two options available for the financial services industry. It can either commit to continuous innovation in order to keep pace with new generations, or resign itself to only ever serving a constantly ageing market.

 Go with the flow

 With no ability to predict what channels new consumers will favour, banks need to be adaptable; able to shift their communications between channels as needed to ensure no customers are missed. The first step in ensuring this can happen is sharing customer data. If customers’ data is walled off between different business functions and communication channels, it will be impossible to present a unified face to customers across all channels. After all, the last thing a savvy younger consumer wants is for a bank to treat them as an entirely new person every time they interact over a different channel – particularly as younger consumers will use every channel available, from email to phone to the apps they have downloaded on their phones.

Instead, customer data should sit above these channels and business functions, so that customer communications can “plug into” it as appropriate. Not only does this ensure consistent communication with customers in the present. It also means that, as new generations favour communication over different or new channels, these can be added to the business’s repertoire without creating another silo of data that simply adds to the problem.

Loitering with content

 It’s not enough to meet new generations on their preferred channels – financial organisations also have to meet them with the right content. This doesn’t only mean content that will appeal to its audience, although this is important. It also means content that is consistent with the organisation and its messages. At the most basic, a bank cannot be saying one thing over social media and another over email, or whatever channel the youth of 2030 adopt. Yet there are also questions of branding, regulation and customer experience to consider. For instance, does local legislation require organisations to share specific information with customers – and can that information realistically be shared in, e.g. a Twitter message? Whatever channel is being used, the bank must be certain that the customer is getting the right information in the most effective, understandable manner, which may mean following up initial contact on one channel with another.

As with data, there is a significant risk of content becoming separated across channels and business functions, meaning that an email from customer services or a Twitter direct message from finance might look like they come from completely different organisations. Again, the best solution is having a central library of content that can then be shared and modified across channels and business functions as appropriate. By automating much of this process, it is also possible to ensure that the right information is always included in content at the right time – for instance, if legislation demands that all messages include customer service contact details, these can be added before any communication is sent.

 River of time

As mentioned, no consumer relies on a single method of communication. Even a simple conversation can jump from social media, to email, to the phone, back to email and perhaps culminate in posting an official form to sign. Future generations will be no different – organisations will have to not only ensure they can add new channels as they appear, but allow those channels to form part of a smooth, flowing conversation. In doing this, the integration of data, content and communication channels will be critical. Banks have to know the details of a customer, when they last spoke and what they spoke about, what information has already been shared, and what the customer is expecting to happen next. Armed with this, the bank can create a seamless interaction for customers of any age, which crosses communication channels on its way to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.

Ultimately, there is no way to halt the march of time. The more that organisations can keep their communications fresh and ensure that data and content can always be accessed and shared by any channel, the more they can maintain the same relationship with new generations as with their predecessors.

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