Using Generational Differences To Prepare for the Customer of Tomorrow

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By Gabe Larsen, VP, Growth, Kustomer

Retailers have experienced a cataclysmic shift over the past year. What used to be considered standard is no longer relevant as online shopping has progressed at warp speed. Even as the world returns to business-as-usual, a whopping 85% of shoppers plan to continue shopping online more often in the future.

Knowing who your business is servicing, and how they prefer to communicate with customer service, is critical for success. But knowing what younger generations prefer gives organizations insight into what is on the horizon. Here are some key ways that generational differences are defining what customer service organizations must do to create stellar experiences at every stage of the customer journey.

Customer service is consultative vs. transactional

As the retail landscape has changed dramatically, so has the role of customer service. More and more, modern customers are looking at retail relationships as an extension of brand identity rather than just being transactional. In a survey Kustomer conducted of over 500 consumers, 64% of consumers under 55 expect customer service agents to take on the role of a product expert, answering questions or suggesting alternatives, compared with only 37% of those 55+. Further, consumers under 25 had a completely even split across pre-, during, and post-transaction conversations. As the tides shift among younger consumers, businesses must prepare for this new role of the customer service agent now.

Chat is where it’s at

While phone and email still reign supreme, consumers under 34 continue to veer away from the phone as the top way to communicate with brands, preferring digital-first channels like email, text and live chat. Interestingly, consumers 65+ also preferred live chat as a top method of communicating with retail customer service. This makes sense when we think about the experience of a new online shopper. An individual may find the perfect birthday present for their grandson, but have a question about whether batteries are included. Instead of trying to track down a phone number or email for customer service, there is a chat widget that can allow questions to be answered effortlessly.

As younger consumers begin to age, retailers will benefit from investing more heavily in self-service tools like chatbots. Although chatbots aren’t always the first choice for communicating with customer service, 77% of consumers aged 18-24 and 67% of consumers aged 25-34 find chatbots helpful for retail support. Notably, chat allows you to instantly meet your customers where they are, which can be advantageous to both customer service organizations and first-time shoppers alike.

Older generations are more demanding while younger generations have lower expectations

Our survey found that the age group with the highest expectations when it comes to customer service are within the typical range of “heads of household”: 34-54 years old. They also reported the most decisive and harshest consequences when it comes to poor customer service. For example, 57% of 24-54 year-olds surveyed think the customer is always right, as compared with only 15% of consumers 24 and under. Further, an average of 83% of consumers thinks they should be treated better for their loyalty, compared to only 62% of those 24 and under.

While the majority of older demographics all reported that they would reach out to a retailer after a bad customer service experience, the majority of consumers under 25 reported that they would take no action at all. That means negative experiences with the “heads of household of the future” may easily fall under the radar, and negative brand associations could build up over time. It’s thus imperative to measure customer satisfaction and get ahead of problems before it is too late.

Customer service can be a differentiating factor

Interestingly, 77% of consumers under 25 reports that they are willing to spend more money for good customer service, compared to an average of 62%. This means that while younger consumers may be more forgiving when it comes to customer service, they still value it highly, and there is a huge opportunity for organizations to leverage customer service as a differentiator. It’s clear that younger generations plan to continue to do their shopping online, and retailers should take this into account when planning out their supportive customer service practices.

As expectations for customer service continue to change alongside shifting shopping patterns, retailers should take the time to fully understand the nuances in how different generations see and interact with customer service. Knowing what different age groups want and need will allow customer service organizations to invest in the right technology, tools and strategies to meet the unique needs and expectations of the customer of tomorrow.