Contacting Gen Y the Web 2.0 way

Company contact centers need to accommodate Web 2.0 channels such as social networking to stay in touch with Generation Y -- those in their 20s and early 30s, says Darren Leffler, a Sydney-based product marketing manager with Nortel.

Phone and email are no longer enough, he told a TUANZ audience last week. Rather than seeing themselves as the center of a marketing and support realm, and the contact center as the interface to a ring of customers and prospects, companies need to become fully participating members of the online communities, "because that's where Generation Y are".

Nortel has gone so far as to set up an experimental "island" in the virtual world of Second Life, where a customer with a problem can walk into the appropriate division of the company's virtual office and consult a contact center operator, who can then "talk" through the problem using text displayed in either a speech bubble or on the customer's PC or mobile phone. Larger documents can also be passed over and be picked up from a simulated table.

Both customer and help-desker present themselves as avatars -- simulated figures often sporting an appearance, even gender, quite different to how they appear in the real world.

Social networking is often criticized for subtly eroding privacy, by persuading participants to "open up" and give away personal details. But Leffler argues that the opposite can apply to the contact center.

If you present as an avatar, with an assumed name, the staffer handling your problem won't know your real details "and you won't get follow-up telemarketing calls", he says.

Generation Y's ability to conduct several online conversations in parallel is also likely to make them productive contact center staffers, Leffler suggests.