Customer service expectations across the different generations

Which demographic of your customers is more likely to enjoy face-to-face communication? Which generation of people is typically averse to phone calls? Which age group likes a formal tone of voice?

When it comes to creating customer service experiences for multiple generations, one size most assuredly does not fit all. Every generation has different general traits and preferences. Your business, then, needs to meet these different generational needs to create great customer experiences.

So, who likes what when it comes to customer service? Here’s a closer look at customer service expectations across the generations.

Who are the different generations?

To give an idea of scale, you may need to target as many as five different generations of people with tailored customer service.

These generations are:

  • • The silent generation (1928-1945, ages 94-77)
  • • Baby boomers (1946-1964, ages 76-58)
  • • Generation X (1965-1980, ages 57-42)
  • • Millennials (1981-1996, ages 41-26)
  • • Generation Z (1997-2012, ages 25-10)

What, then, are the key customer service expectations for each demographic?

Customer service expectations: the silent generation

Stoic by nature, the silent generation tends to keep their thoughts to themselves. They may not speak unless spoken to. For customer service, this means that your silent generation customers might not always reach out with an issue. At least, not without a prompt first.

It’s important, then, to send follow-up communication to silent gen customers. This will help open the dialogue and check everything is okay. In other words, a proactive approach is recommended to meet silent gen needs.

This quiet characteristic also means that direct, one-on-one communication will always be the most effective method for getting feedback from, or providing service to, this generation.

As for expectations, the silent generation prefers and expects a more formal communication style. They are doing business with you. So, don’t be too informal or ‘chummy’ with them — keep it polite and professional. 

Their contact channels of choice are mostly phone calls or, where possible, in person. While some members of this generation have no doubt embraced technology, they all grew up without it. This (comparative) digital detachment informs their preferences and customer service expectations.

Customer service expectations: baby boomers

The second oldest of the generations is the baby boomers. Baby boomers are more outspoken than the generation before them, particularly if they are concerned about something.

They’re also, on average, the wealthiest of the generations you’ll be serving. But, raised by the silent generation who were influenced by the great depression, they’ll still look out for a good bargain and choice discounts.  This means that rewarding loyalty or offering a deal — be it a free extended warranty, a small discount, etc. — will go a long way to keeping them happy.  

The customer service expectations of a baby boomer typically revolve around flexibility and options. They want details and information so that they know every possibility is being explored. So, when providing customer service, it’s advisable to have more than one option/solution available for them to choose from. Give them all the information you can before requesting they make a decision.

Baby boomers like to do business in-store, where possible. In fact, 67% prefer to go in-store than order online. They are also comfortable using phones for customer service, and expect support teams to be readily available by phone.

Customer service expectations: Generation X

Generation X is the first group to be influenced by the accessibility of computers. They’re much more likely to make use of such technology to reach out for service than the previous generations.

Generation X has often been ‘forgotten’ in popular media. Typically, attention goes to the discord between the older baby boomers and the younger millennials.

Perhaps as a result of being overlooked, Generation X likes to feel heard. For customer service, this means responding to emails in a timely way. It means checking in if you’re waiting for some information. It also means that empathy statements can go a long way to creating a great experience.

Generation X tends to research products and services thoroughly before they look to buy anything. They make extensive use of online resources including reviews and social media before committing to a purchase.

As such, they also have online-based customer service expectations. Email is a popular channel of choice for Gen X, but keep them short and to the point. They want information before they want any kind of customer-business relationship. Other online options, like live chat and self-service resources, can also prove helpful to Gen X customers.

Customer service expectations: millennials

The generation rowing into the biggest buying power at the moment is millennials. This group came of age alongside technology. They grew up while technological advancement was booming around them. So, they are both comfortable and happy using newer tools to contact you.

Millennial customers resent being ‘talked down to’. They want to be viewed as equals. This means, then, that part of their customer service expectations revolves around tone. They’re more likely to find terms like ‘simply’ and ‘just’ in instructions insulting. (Such terms suppose that an instruction is simple, when it may not be for the reader.)

They’re also social consumers – they like to use social media and will leave public comments and reviews to share their experiences. They also value personalised experiences.

Additionally, the boom in communication technology has led to an increase in instant gratification availability. That is, millennials expect speedy replies and timely customer service. Having to wait is a sure-fire way to degrade their experience.

Another customer service tool that millennials are likely to look for is self-service materials. Indeed, a large part of the customer service expectations of millennials is the ability to circumvent conversational service altogether. If they can fix it themselves, they will.

As for channels of choice, millennials are typically phone call averse. They prefer emails, social media, and messaging. Synchronous messaging such as live chat software is often preferred to asynchronous messaging, due to the desire for speed and quick resolutions.

Customer service expectations: Generation Z

Perhaps predictably, Generation Z is not at all tech-averse. They’re the true digital nomads, born with technology already available and growing up with it in hand. This generation is comfortable using all manner of technology to make purchases and request customer support.

It might be tempting to equate age with tech preference. That is, to say that the older the customer, the less likely they are to have customer service preferences full of technology. Despite their technical comfort, Generation Z flies in the face of that presumption.

Indeed, they show an observed like for face-to-face interaction and in-store experiences. As many as 98% shop in-stores “some or most of the time”.

This means that both in-person service and online or remote service need to be well managed to please Generation Z. They expect digital immediacy — they’re used to fast results from their tech, and expect fast results from you.

Generation Z also uses social media for customer support — and they will be vocal about experiences good and bad on social media. A good customer experience makes them likely to advocate for your brand. However, Generation Z is not as likely to be as loyal as, say, the silent generation or baby boomers.

As for customer service channels of choice, the immediacy of live chat software is a real draw. But unlike millennials, Gen Z is also happy to pick up the phone for service. Social media is another popular option. In short, to meet the customer service expectations of Generation Z, you must have an omnichannel offering.

Customer service expectations across the generations

Service preferences will always vary from person to person. But understanding the common traits and preferences of each generation you’re serving is a solid starting point for every business.

So, whether your target audience covers every generation or only a few, you now know the customer service expectations and preferences you need to meet.

Useful links

A guide to tone-matching in live chat interactions

Omnichannel calling: a feature dive

A roundup of the worst chatbot feedback on Twitter, and what to learn from it