Customer service is changing, with the way we engage with brands online evolving as digital marketing tools and techniques improve.

Take, for example, the rise of the chatbot.

These helpful little guys are nothing more than computer programs designed to simulate conversations with humans, specifically over the internet. Recently they’ve become a popular alternative for digital customer service with brands adopting them as a way to enhance meaningful conversations with their customers, while collecting valuable user data.

Recently we’ve seen an increase in news and coverage around the utilisation of voice search, and whilst chatbots might seem like a completely different form of tech – they’re not really. The only difference between a voice activated assistant (like Amazon’s Alexa) and a chatbot, is that the chatbot typically communicates with users via text – rather than voice.

An alternative method

It’s because of this text-to-text application of the technology that many brands are applying it to customer service channels – providing users with an alternative method to engage.

But are people actually using them?

New research from YouGov and Navar shows that contacting a company via email is falling out of favour with younger consumers. The survey of 2,994 UK consumers, all of whom had bought something online in the previous six months, showed that millennials are 20 per cent less likely to contact a retailer via email than baby boomers.

This research reflects trends amongst millennials to be early adopters of new technology.

The research also noted that 22 per cent of baby boomers would rather talk to a customer service representative directly on the phone, whereas millennials selected live chat as their preferred method for brand communication and customer service.

So while chatbots certainly are on the rise, they’re not going to be revolutionising the way we speak to brands. At least not yet.

The important thing for brands to remember when it comes to online customer service is that they need to segment their customers into specific groups so that individual audiences can be streamed through the mediums that work best for them.

Specifically generated content

In the same way digital advertising should be segmented based on specific audience groups – ensuring that they see content specifically generated for them – so should digital customer service.

Even within segments, it’s becoming obvious that one size does not fit all – and while chatbots are facilitating greater familiarity and interaction with some customer segments, they’re still not native to everyone. And considering the technology itself is still in its infancy, chatbots have a long way to come before they truly simulate human conversation.

As the artificial intelligence that drives chatbots advances, their abilities will be enhanced and the conversations will become more sophisticated. The (sometimes clunky) customer service convenience they bring today will be incredibly streamlined, advanced and seamless. And as that happens, society too will change. It will become more tech-literate and adaptive until perhaps, eventually, we phase-out real, human-to-human customer service.

Until that day comes – if it ever does – it’s important that brands get their customer service channel mix right and ensure they provide customers with the ability to engage in whatever way is native and most convenient for them.

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