We live in an interesting and unique age. A study conducted at the University of Southern California found that people are confronted with approximately 174 newspapers worth of data daily. Additionally, the average person produces the equivalent of 6 newspapers worth of information on a daily basis. In his book “Information Anxiety,” R. S. Wurman states that “a weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than average people in seventeenth-century England were likely to come across in their lifetime.” Access to this volume of information is only one indication of the absolute uniqueness of the current age.
Another singular characteristic is that fact that for the first time in history, businesses are challenged with meeting the diverse needs and expectations of four generations. Each generation is characterized by unique traits that offer general guidelines regarding how that group of people think, act and operate. Therefore, in order to meet the needs and expectations of such a diverse customer base, it becomes necessary for businesses to adapt their approach to meet particular generational traits.
Depending on the research you explore, the dates and demographics of each generation can shift slightly, however, regardless of the minor differences, larger truths can be found.
This group often referred to as “The Silent Generation,” is comprised of individuals born before 1945. Members of this generation were raised by parents that experienced the struggle of the Great Depression and were brought up to value discipline, adherence to rules and the merits of hard work. Additionally, for many in this generation, their views on customer service were shaped by experiences interacting with small, locally owned businesses that highlighted a connected, personal touch.
It is also important to keep in mind that members of this generation have adapted to the presence of technology. Unlike other younger generations, they were not raised in a digital world; this fact combined with a formative experience focused on high touch customer service, makes it understandable that phone based or face-to-face interactions are preferred.
Baby Boomers, so named for being the children born into post-WWII prosperity, are individuals born from 1946 to 1964. Members of this generation were born into a mindset where the idealized vision of the quintessential “American Dream” was set forth as a goal to be seized through focused and dedicated hard work. The opportunities presented to this generation created an optimistic outlook that anything is possible.
Unlike the previous generation, Baby Boomers did not adapt to technology; instead, technology was something to be acquired. Boomers watched in childlike awe as mankind stripped the confines of Earth’s gravity to step foot on the surface of the moon; technology was something to embrace. As a result, this generation is willing to connect through technology such as e-mail and is even willing to accept social media (if there is a significant ROI), however, communication over the phone is still preferred. Boomers still seek connection and realize that while it is not always possible, resolving customer service concerns over the phone is the best option for them to develop said connection.
Members of Generation X are often seen as the disillusioned youth born between 1965 and 1980. Xers comprise a generation impacted by a clear cultural shift; this was the first generation to be epitomized by a childhood shaped by the effects of divorce. Many of the perceptions shared by Xers were formulated by being the first generation of latchkey kids; a generation that had to take care of their selves from an early age. The unique nature of upbringing produced a generation that is highly entrepreneurial, self-reliant and technologically literate.
Generation X did not adapt to nor acquire technology; instead, this generation assimilated technology. In essence, this generation grew up in an era where the best way to learn where one’s friends were, was to ride your bike through the neighborhood and see which house had a small army of bikes parked in front. At the same time, this generation has fully embraced being connected digitally and consumes technology ravenously. The flexibility in approach to technology highlights that any approach will work for Xers: phone, e-mail, chat or social. The bottom line for Xers is to be able to resolve a concern as quickly as possible, regardless of the format used.
Aside from being the current butt of much generational humor, Millennials (or Generation Y) make up the largest generation in the US. Millennials consist of people born between 1981 and 2000. Many of this generation, like Gen Xers before, grew up in a single-parent home. However, unlike previous generations, many millennials were raised sheltered and protected from the difficulties of the world around them; this upbringing has led to many analysts decrying millennials ability to handle criticism. However, this generation is also characterized by a high drive for achievement, a strong sense of civic duty and a desire to connect in community.
Unlike previous generations, millennials were raised in a culture where technology was integral to their day-to-day lives; they represent the first generation of digital natives. Epitomized by high degrees of reliance on technology, millennials seek to utilize technology to drive change and development in causes they are passionate about. Given this high comfort with technology and willingness to invite tech into all aspects of their lives, electronic forms of communication are widely embraced by millennials. While phone and e-mail serve a purpose, chat (IM) and social are go-to resources.
The trends towards technological reliance that we see with millennials show no sign of slowing with the next generation; according to the National Consumer League, 56% of children age 8 -12 have a cell phone. Additionally, the average age an American child gets their first cell phone is only 6 years old. Clearly, in order to meet the demands of a wide range of consumer expectations, it is vital to implement a wide range of customer service options. Being limited to only one channel negates the preferred communication style of the majority of your potential customers. Customers need a variety of ways to connect and you know the old saying… ”the customer is always right.”