The Generational Divide When It Comes to Tech Solutions
Are chatbots a fun new way to interact online? A scary technology that’s putting people out of jobs? A convenient tool to address simple queries? Or, a poor substitute for a real live human being? How your customers respond to chatbots depends, at least in part, on how old they are. When considering whether to add these interactive apps to your online presence, you may want to think about where your primary audience falls on the generational spectrum.
A new study from ORC International’s CARAVAN® Omnibus shows that generations diverge in knowledge about and approval/disapproval of chatbot use. According to the survey, nearly half of millennials (47 percent) have heard the term chatbot versus only 22 percent of older generations. And while just over a fifth of millennials (21 percent) know what it means, only 8 percent of older generations are familiar with the term. Overall, millennials feel more favorable about chatbots than older generations (27 percent versus 8 percent).
What’s Behind the Generational Split?
Younger people may be more receptive to chatbots because they’re more comfortable with technology. Millennials, after all, grew up with smartphones and the internet as a major part of their lives. They adapt easily to new technology, leapfrogging from one platform to another as new capabilities emerge. They’ve been using the internet to connect and communicate, to shop, and even to pursue their education and career their whole lives. An automated interface does not intimidate millennials.
Older generations, by contrast, view technology more cautiously — and they like to feel that they are getting personal service. They don’t naturally communicate by text, as younger people do, and are apt to prefer real-life give and take with sales and customer service representatives.
Product Mix Has an Impact as Well
In addition, different generations are likely to use technology for different ends. Millennials may just be buying more of the products best serviced by chatbots. For instance, a millennial ordering food online may be perfectly happy to interact with a chatbot, while a baby boomer looking to reallocate his or her retirement plan may prefer to talk to a customer service representative.
If your company sells simpler, more impulsive purchases targeted to millennials like food, clothes, housewares, or entertainment, a chatbot makes sense. If you market complicated or highly customized items, such as medical services or insurance, your customers might balk at an automated interface.
Yet even here, millennials react more positively to chatbots. Roughly twice as many millennials trust chatbots for more complex interactions with companies in insurance (34 percent versus 18 percent), banking and financial services (34 percent versus 15 percent), and medical care (29 percent versus 15 percent) than older generations.
Generations See Trade-Offs Differently
Different generations have different expectations about service, which lead to variations in perceptions about chatbots. In essence, millennials don’t feel that they’re giving up much when they interact with a chatbot, while older generations often do. The survey found that only one-quarter of people of all ages thought they would get better customer service from a chatbot than a human, but almost 4 in 10 (39 percent) of millennials believed this. Millennials also expected accuracy from chatbots. Nearly half (48 percent) say that these apps are as accurate, if not moreso than human representatives; among older respondents only 30 percent agree.
The Chatbot Opportunity
The survey shows that attitudes about chatbots vary sharply among different generations and that, for now, at least, this technology appeals most to millennials. If millennials make up a significant part of your business, adding chatbots to your online platform won’t alienate this key demographic — and it may even increase your appeal to tech-savvy young people. However, if you serve older customers, recognize that it may take time and education to make this a viable tool.
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