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Older customers prefer phone calls to chatbots

Businesses are increasingly adopting customer-facing digital technologies, but the older generation are not so keen to embrace tech

Consumers over the age of 65 don’t feel like brands know how to cater to them, despite relying on digital technology in some cases, according to Twilio.

The customer engagement platform found that 76% of people over the age of 65 are reliant on online shopping, but only 12% feel like brands understand what they want when communicating with them.

Although Twilio suggested people in this age category are “digitally savvy” in many cases, they don’t trust methods of communication such as chatbots or in-app messaging, leading them to lose trust in businesses.

Sam Richardson, principal visioneering consultant at Twilio, said there is a time and a place for certain types of communication.

“Customer engagement needs to be inclusive in order to be effective, and good old-fashioned phone calls don’t need to fall by the wayside in an effort to modernise,” he said. “In fact, all age groups find them useful for chatting through more complex problems.

“While in-app chat and SMS are useful for delivery updates and might perfectly suit more digital-native audiences, businesses should also think about what people with accessibility needs require from them.”

This is not the first time the older generation have felt left behind by digital services. During the 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, a study by Civica found that while many people over the age of 70 use smartphones or laptops, public sector leaders were not targeting this age group when making online services.

As the use of technology skyrocketed during the pandemic, it became clear that technology has to be developed with all age groups in mind – whether through education, making technology easy to use and access, or using accessible designs to ensure things are easy to read and understand.   

Read more about online shopping

  • The past few years have seen an increase in online shopping as the pandemic shifted more consumers into the realm of e-commerce to purchase goods during lockdowns.
  • As the pandemic caused an increase in online shopping, fashion businesses began investing in technology to help them match customer demand.

About 85% of those aged 65 and over want to talk to someone over the phone – an option that is steadily being phased out by businesses – with only 16% saying they are willing to use chatbots and apps to communicate with businesses, and 85% saying they would rather speak to someone over the phone.

However, Twilio also found that people over the age of 65 are actually more likely to do their shopping online than those aged between 18 and 24. Only 6% of shoppers over the age of 65 said they never do their shopping online, compared with 30% of those aged between 18 and 24.

Twilio also found that consumer trust and loyalty is being affected by businesses failing to cater to the preferences of customers in difference age categories. While younger consumers feel understood by brands, they are less likely to engage with them, whereas just over half of those aged 65 and over read and retain digital marketing that they are sent by brands.

Half of those aged over 65 are not sure how brands access their contact details, and 20% think brands are only concerned with making money. This is affecting how they perceive brands, with only 10% believing they are the target audience for brand messages and only 32% feeling valued by brands.

Even before the pandemic, sectors such as retail have been rapidly shifting towards the digital rather than the physical, with the shopping habits of Generation Z forcing many retailers to shift their marketing strategies online. With only 44% of people aged over 65 claiming to understand why they would interact with a brand digitally, and 88% saying online brands leave them feeling “shut out”, it shows the contrast in how different age groups want to engage with retailers and services.

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