How Are Customer Service Expectations Different from Generation to Generation?

9 min read
Mar 26, 2020
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Whether you’re a business owner or a customer service agent, the way you execute your customer service strategy can be a significant brand differentiator. We’ve lived in the digital era for quite some time now, and news about your customer service being good or bad spreads rapidly. Research conducted by New Voice Media says that businesses based in the United States lose up to $62 billion because of the poor customer service they provide. Furthermore, 91% of your customers will switch to a competitor if the quality of your service is not up to par. We all want to avoid that, don’t we?

While creating a customer service strategy, we have to consider several different factors. One of them is our target audience. Businesses that cater to relatively small groups of customers have it easier than products or services that serve customers representing different generations ranging from Baby Boomers to Gen Z. Members of those generations can be as much as 60 years apart. They have different comfort levels with technology, and we need to keep that in mind when establishing our channels of communication. 

Boomers? Gen Z? What does it all mean?

The vast majority of sources are in agreement that the Boomers are the people born between 1946 and 1964. The generations that followed include Generation X, Millennials, a.k.a. Generation Y, and Gen Z. Depending on the source, the beginning and end dates for each of these generations are slightly different. It’s especially tricky with Millennials. While most experts put this group between 1981 and 1996, it’s not uncommon to find websites that extend that period to 2004.

Usually, a generation spans across 15 to 20 years. For some of us, that doesn’t seem like a long time. However, from a technological standpoint, it is an eternity. Think about yourself 20 years ago. Did you even think about smartphones back then? I was nine, and I didn’t even have a cell phone that could now be called vintage. I’d say only the true visionaries had an idea of what the future of communication was going to look like. Anyway, I’m going a little bit off-topic. The point is, the generations we’re going to talk about vary a lot. One of the key differences is how they approach customer service. 

Baby Boomers are more tech-savvy than you think

A generation that dates back to the years immediately following World War II, Baby Boomers are now 56 to 74-years-old. Out of all the groups that we’re going to discuss, they are the most traditional. A Baby Boomer facing a problem with a product or service is most likely to try and solve it face to face or over the phone. If your business doesn’t have a physical location they can easily walk into, make sure to have your staff trained to handle their problems effectively on the phone. At times, it will be more time-consuming, but the extra effort you put into helping a Boomer is going to pay off. 

However, the fact that they are the oldest group we’re talking about doesn’t mean they struggle with more technologically advanced means of communication. In fact, 68% own a smartphone, and 57% use social media. Some are going to be more fluent in using them than others, but the key takeaway here is not to exclude them from any of your communication channels. While 84% of Baby Boomers still prefer to buy a product at a brick-and-mortar store, keep in mind that a very similar number, 86%, research products online before they make a purchase. Considering the fact that they are the group with the highest disposable income among four generations, adjusting your customer service to meet their needs fully is a no-brainer. 

You won’t find more loyal customers than Generation X

Generation X is a much smaller group of people. Born between 1965 and 1980, they grew up watching their parents chase the American dream. As a consequence, they learned how to take care of themselves and how to make decisions independently at an early age. 

We’re talking about the group that moved American entrepreneurship forward with the businesses they founded. They are more technologically advanced than their parents, with over 80% actively using social media. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are the social networks they are the most active on. Make sure you’re present on those platforms to react to your customers’ questions in a timely manner. While they prefer more modern support channels, they won’t shy away from a phone call or a face-to-face conversation.

One of the reasons for their distinctive shopping behavior is the Great Recession (2008), which highly influenced their spending habits. No other generation reads more reviews, or spends more time doing research, before deciding to buy a product. They highly value other people’s opinions, but they also want to see the real value behind what they buy.

If there’s one piece of advice on how to handle Gen Xers the most effectively, it’s to get to the point and be as clear as possible. Both on your product pages and, more importantly, in your customer service efforts. On another note, people who belong to that group are among the most loyal customers. If you impressed them with your customer service skills, their brand affinity is going to be even stronger when you offer them loyalty programs that provide additional rewards.

Avocado toast, anyone?

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. It’s a little bit funny when I look at that from a more personal perspective. Both my siblings and I are Millennials, yet we’re all so different in how we perceive customer service and interact with brands.

Google SERP for a "millennials ruined" keyword.

The first thing that pops into my mind when I think about Millennials is avocado toast. I mean, where did this even come from? Being a Millennial has felt like being a black sheep for the last couple of years. According to the media coverage, we’ve been killing industries and a lot of other things one by one. Should Millennials blame themselves for the ways they are perceived? Partly, yes. But it’s not about our struggles in today’s world as much as it is about how we deal with customer service, or how we like to be dealt with. 

We’re the first generation that was fully digitalized from the beginning, even though the Internet started getting some traction in the mid-90s’, and the iPhone was unheard of until 2007. With technology being available to us from a very early age, it turned out Millennials were extremely fast learners who rapidly adapted to new, emerging technologies and communication channels.

Social media completely changed the way Millennials communicate with each other. Businesses realized that they need to keep up with a group whose buying power is steadily increasing. They had to establish a presence on social media and use those channels to communicate with Gen Y. Plus, this was the only way to stay on top of reviews and product recommendations that Millennials share so willingly across social networks. In fact, 82% of Millennials claim that word of mouth is the deciding factor when it comes to making a purchase.

Millennials want their customer service communication to be simple and efficient. Most of the time, they’ll choose to tweet or a direct message on their preferred social medium instead of using more traditional channels. I can serve as anecdotal evidence: There are few activities that I dislike more than a phone conversation, and 99% of the time, I am going to go for Messenger if I need to contact a brand. If you need more data to back it up, 81% of Millennials use social media to interact with customer service, and 22% of them expect a reply from social media customer service within 10 minutes. 

Gen Y is also happy to solve a lot of their problems on their own. Sometimes, an FAQ page is enough for them to find a solution. Make sure you address the most common questions your customers have. If it’s not enough, Millennials will come your way, probably on social media, expecting a quick reply and a personalized approach based on the data collected from their previous purchases. 

Are they really glued to their smartphones?

Gen Z has taken the changes introduced by Millennials even further. Born from 1996 until 2012, they want to change the world. A survey by Mattersight says that 84% of Gen Zers are happy to advocate for a brand that is vocal about what they believe in and is aligned with how they perceive political and social problems. On top of that, they are allergic to corporate messaging. 

Businesses that want them to stick around need to tread lightly. Send out genuine, on-brand messages because Gen Z is notorious for its lack of brand loyalty. If your business truly wants to build a connection with the youngest group of consumers, an omnichannel presence is going to help you with that. They want to have as many channels to contact you as possible.

People have shorter and shorter attention spans, and it holds true for Gen Z. Businesses that want to captivate them with their customer service need to act fast. It’s worth the effort. 89% of those young adults and teenagers are happy to take to their social media accounts. They'll personally promote brands that provided them with top-notch customer service. It’s even more critical when you realize that 92% of them have multiple social media accounts to share information with their followers.

Another essential aspect that we didn’t cover while discussing the older generations is the option of purchasing goods directly from social media. It’s been a while since you could just click on an Instagram photo and buy a product directly through the app. While this shopping behavior is not exclusive to Generation Z, they’ll be the driving force behind it. 69% say they’d buy something directly from social media. 

Surprisingly, Gen Zers are bringing us back to the Baby Boomers we discussed at the beginning of this article. It turns out that despite a significant age difference, some similarities indicate that those two generations are not as far apart as you’d initially think. According to one of the studies, 98% of Gen Zers said they’d rather buy a product in a store than order it online. They find it extremely important to touch, try, and experience a product before they buy it.

Reevaluate your customer service

Despite differences in customer service expectations, there’s one aspect that’s equally important to Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. First and foremost, they all want to be heard and cared for. 

Some of them will come up with problems so easy to solve (at least for you) that you’ll just want to roll your eyes. Other customers will surprise you with questions that you won’t be able to answer yourself, and you’ll have to reach out to your more technically advanced colleagues. They represent different backgrounds and experiences. Unless you serve a single generation, it’s in your best interest to bridge the generational gaps when talking to your customers.