During the past 30 years, we have seen some amazing technological advancements. We have witnessed the creation of the cell phone, the personal computer, the Internet, and, of course, speech recognition.
We have also witnessed these technologies enter the mainstream and eventually permeate virtually every facet of how we communicate. These technologies—once high-priced and rarely used—are now commonplace and regularly used by billions of people worldwide.
Indeed, gone are the days of the rotary phone and single-mode (voice) communication. In today’s world, customers communicate through such means as the Web, SMS, social networking, IM chat, and video using a plethora of multimedia devices. These advancements, however, have brought enterprises to a very interesting and challenging crossroads regarding their customer communication strategies. Today, speech practitioners and vendors now find enterprises asking questions like:
- What are the demographics of my customer base?
- What are the communication styles within each of the various demographic groups?
- Do my customers prefer to talk on the phone?
- Do they use text and IM?
- Do they prefer to communicate through some combination of these technologies?
- How often and at what time of the day or night do my customers want to contact me?
- Do they want me to keep them informed proactively by using technologies like outbound notifications or email?
- Where do social media and communities fit in, and would my customers use them?
One of the best places to start when answering these kinds of questions and developing your strategy is to segment your customer profile information. One basic, yet effective way to figure out how to serve a multifaceted customer base is to segment your base according to:
- customer age/demographic;
- preferred communication device(s);
- mode of communication most often used; and
- the frequency of contact from that demographic or from you to that demographic.
For simplicity purposes and example, you can segment customers into three groups:
Early Consumers: This demographic ranges in age from their early 20s to early 30s and has grown up with technology. This group of consumers is very mobile and technically savvy. The preferred modes of communication within this group are social media, IM, and text, used individually or in combination to communicate with peers and preferably with the companies with which they do business. This group also uses traditional Web sites and, on occasion, leverages automated speech systems and live agents. All things being equal, members of this segment prefer to handle most of their transactions through electronic means. Generally, this group is not a large source of direct communication to enterprises.
Established Consumers: This demographic encompasses those in their late 30s to early 60s, and has watched these technological advancements evolve. They have varying levels of technological shrewdness, tend to be very mobile, and regularly use various technologies, such as traditional Web sites, chat, automated speech systems, and live agents, to execute their transactions. This set of consumers also tends to leverage social media outlets, though not to the levels of the early consumer, and they tend to generate quite of bit of communication to enterprises.
Senior Consumers: This set of consumers is in their mid-60s and beyond. Generally, this group is less technically inclined and would prefer to handle transactions over the phone. This group interacts with automated speech systems well, but prefers to talk to a live agent. They also use traditional Web sites to perform transactions and sporadically use social media, mainly to communicate with their peers. This group creates a fair amount of communication to enterprises, mainly during normal business hours.
In summary, it is important to remember that customer segments have their own unique characteristics and communication modes and styles. The distribution of the customer base between the various groups should be one of the drivers of an enterprise’s communication strategy. While speech can play a large role, it is by no means the only mode with which you should communicate with customers. To formulate a successful enterprise communication strategy, you will need to assemble all of the technologies that best match the customer base and their behaviors, including speech.
Aaron Fisher is director of speech services at West Interactive, where he oversees the design, development, and implementation of speech applications for the company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.