future thinkers update

Communication explosion

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Teenagers will drive huge increase in multi-channel contact

Q1 Are predictions of a communications explosion over-hyped?

The reality is that there seems little danger of the situation being over-hyped. If anything, we need to shout louder about this because few organisations are sufficiently well-informed at a senior management level about the seismic changes taking place in how people communicate, especially younger ones who are the consumers of the future. That means they have little idea about the impact this will have on their operations and relationship with customers.

We have carried out several special research projects on mobile internet use and the consumer of the future, as well as into behavioural trends and attitudes among under-18s and we have overlaid these findings to create a highly detailed picture of how people will communicate in the next five to 10 years. The unequivocal conclusion is that the sheer volume of communication will increase exponentially, driven by a number of factors, including a proliferation in contact channels.

The key factors influencing this are an acceleration in mobile data traffic growth (it is forecast to rise 18-fold within five years as the number of mobile devices exceeds the number of people on the planet). In particular, growth in adoption of smartphones and tablets is fuelling increased communication, while the spread of social networking is also an important contributor, predominantly in the personal sphere, but increasingly in the corporate sphere also.

Contact Overload – Research Update

There are more generations than ever embracing social networking as a habitual form of communication but the most prolific of all are young teenagers who use social networking sites and also instant messenger twice as much as 18-25 year olds, who are already active users.

Q2 If teenagers are mostly fixated on digital communications won’t we see a reduction in contact via more traditional channels in future?

That is the prevailing received wisdom - but it is not an accurate understanding either of what is happening today or what will happen in future. What we’re seeing is a desire and need for continuous communication in the teen group not just via digital channels but across all contact channels.

Today’s teenagers are sophisticated communicators who juggle simultaneous communication across different channels with ease - they are frequently on Facebook, texting and speaking in person to friends, all at the same time.

Connected Generation – E-Journal

You might surmise that as they already use social media and instant messenger more than any other demographic; they are likely to give up on text, email or phone calls - but our research shows that is not happening. Texts are popular for personal contact but phone calls also remain popular. Email is rarely a top choice for personal contact among teens but is one of the most popular choices (along with phone calls) for contacting organisations. What this clearly tells us is that the future of consumer contact is not about channel substitution, it is in fact about proliferation of contact via every channel.

Q3 Are organisations prepared to respond to the communications explosion?

Speaking bluntly - no, they are not. A critical thing that is often overlooked in the customer communication debate is that there are often deep internal conflicts within organisations when it comes to customer contact strategy.

Opposing Tensions – E-Journal

For example, marketing success is frequently measured in terms of increased engagement which fosters increased contact via multiple channels, offering customers as many opportunities as possible to engage with a brand.

Contrast this with customer service operations where senior management are frequently incentivised to reduce contact in order to strip out the cost of service. There is also a common trend for service operations to attempt to drive channel migration to the cheapest channel rather than offering channel choice to customers.

Conflicting drivers within separate parts of an organisation complicate the picture, often obscuring the board’s overarching view of how customers actually want to make contact - which ultimately hampers their ability to plan for the future.

In simple terms, there is limited awareness of the fact that teenagers are communicating significantly more and that channel substitution is simply not happening. Organisations need to recognise that myth and tackle the contradictions within their own businesses on optimal customer contact strategies. That is a hard circle to square.

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