Self-service expectations: From ATMs to Apps

We’ve come a long way since ATMs were introduced as one of the first self-service technologies. By today’s standards, ATM adoption occurred slowly, taking decades to reach two million global locations. Now the Baby Boomers, those growing up in the ATM era (1946 – 1964), have ceded their status as the largest generation to the Millennials, digital-natives born between 1981 and 1996. How do these generations differ in their desire for self-service and what does it mean for today’s call center?
We’ve come a long way since ATMs were introduced as one of the first self-service technologies, and once again the latest generation (this time it’s the Millennials) are bringing their desire for self-service to new levels.

I have an aunt who, to this day, had never withdrawn cash from an automated teller machine (ATM). Almost fifty years after ATMs were first introduced, she still doesn’t trust interactions with the cold, impersonal screen. Instead she heads to the nearest, smiling teller for assistance with all her banking needs – confident the human-to-human contact is keeping her money safe and secure.

ATMs were one of the original self-service technologies offered to consumers. In the 1970s, society was just beginning to flirt with the idea of ‘do it yourself’ service experiences. Citibank invested over $100 million to install ATMs all over New York City (without huge adoption), and then a massive blizzard hit, covering the city with 17 inches of snow and closing the banks for days. Suddenly the appeal of an “always open” bank branch caught on and within days ATM usage had increased 20 percent.

Fast forward to 2015. Devices are ubiquitous, obscure information is just a few keystrokes away and we have apps for managing almost everything – anytime, anywhere. Our pursuit of convenience has been fueled by the ingenuity and preferences of the Millennial generation. Now the largest generation in the workforce, these digital natives have already transformed the world we live in – think Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Aaron Levie (Box) or Brian Chesky (AirBnB). Yet, when it comes to buying power, the Baby Boomers, who, like my aunt, came of age in the era of the ATM, continue to have a mighty voice. How aligned or opposed are these generations when it comes to their definitions and expectations of good customer service? For companies looking to keep both segments of their customer base satisfied, these are critical requirements to understand.

In a survey of 1,000 American consumers, Nuance found that the generations – Millennials, Generation X (born between 1961 and 1978) and Baby Boomers – are much more alike than you may think. The research revealed that the attitudes and preferences of Millennials are impacting the behavior of all generations. We are experiencing the Millennialization of customer service.

Embracing self-service.

The research revealed that nearly nine in 10 consumers (88 percent) have used an automated self-service system to access information or complete a transaction – including 86 percent of Baby Boomers. Across generations, the majority believes self-service has improved customer service – with ninety percent of those who self-serve saying customer service has a significant impact on their decision to do business with a company.

Craving a human touch.

However, it appears my aunt’s desire for a human dialog is not a completely outdated notion. When it comes to their wish list for better self-service, the generations were aligned in their desire for technologies that could help them find answers and solve problems more easily. Seventy-three percent of consumers agreed that interacting with an automated phone system they could converse with and be understood as if it were a live agent would significantly improve the service experience.

In short, it appears consumers as a whole are comfortable with the technology that allows us to find answers and resolve issues ourselves, but want those interactions to be as easy as a conversation with the teller with the welcoming smile. No complex menus, no wading through lists of possible answers, no need to repeat themselves again and again. Industry leaders such as USAA, Delta Airlines and Windstream are already offering conversational self-service experiences that empower consumers. As this trend toward more human self-service continues, it’s possible my aunt will finally be convinced to not simply use an ATM, but join her peers in the App Store.

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Lynn Ridenour

About Lynn Ridenour

Lynn leads the solutions and channel marketing efforts for the Nuance Enterprise Division. She enjoys engaging with customers, learning about their businesses, listening closely to understand their challenges, and exploring how they are optimizing their customer care experiences. Lynn has spent more than 20 years working at the intersection of marketing and innovation. She’s a veteran of several venture-backed companies in the telecommunications, software, Internet and clean technology industries.