Article

Customer Service Channel Preferences: Is It Generational?

Luna Tidrick

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Everyone has different preferences when it comes to customer support. Some prefer talking over the phone, some prefer self-service and some would rather speak to someone in person. Question is, do these preferences vary by age? Read on to learn more.

When it comes to customer service, one thing is for sure: everyone has an opinion. And those opinions can differ depending on the customer's age. Some experts say that different generations have different preferences when it comes to customer service channels. So what are those preferences? And which generation is most likely to prefer which channels? Let's take a closer look.

Understanding Different Types of Customer Service Channels

With the advent of the digital age, customer service has transformed to meet the needs of today’s modern consumer. Each service channel has its own advantages and disadvantages, and it's important for businesses to understand the difference. 

Before, customers were limited to receiving support one of three ways: in-person, over the phone, or by mail. Now, customers have additional options to choose from when it comes to getting the help they need when they need it. 

In-Person 

In-person customer service is still preferred by many customers. It is personal and interactive, but it can also be expensive and time-consuming. Depending on the volume of customer service requests, certain businesses may have to hire additional staff to meet the demand, especially during busy times like the holidays. 

Phone

Traditional over-the-phone customer service is typically more efficient and isn’t going away any time soon. According to a recent 2020 Statista report, 42% of customers in the United States still prefer to handle customer service requests over the phone. When it comes to synchronous messaging, the value of phone customer support is undeniable. Customers are familiar with the process and prefer this method because they know they can speak directly with another human being.

Phone calls also pose the opportunity to be more personal and experience greater success when explaining more complex issues. Yes, it is common to experience wait times, but having the ability to engage in verbal discussion with another person has proven to decrease confusion for both parties involved, far outweighing any downsides to this service channel option. 

Live Chat

This option offers customers a quick and convenient way to get the assistance they need. Many companies now offer live chat support on their website or mobile app. This is also a great option for customers who need a quick answer to a simple question or who don’t want to wait in line or be placed on hold. 

Social Media

Yes, you can get customer support through social media channels. In fact, social media is becoming an increasingly popular customer service channel. Companies are now offering customer support on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, providing quick response times for those who prefer to communicate through text. 

Chatbots

Chatbots are a great option for customers who have simple questions that don’t necessarily require the assistance of a human advisor. This support is available 24/7 and can provide people with immediate responses to multiple queries. If you are dealing with a more complex problem, you might want to pass on this feature as most chatbots struggle with unusual requests. 

It also comes in handy when a company is experiencing peak volumes of customer inquiries.

Automation and self-service features are an important investment in your overall customer experience. When implemented correctly, tools like chatbots can share valuable knowledge in an easy and accessible way. 

E-mail

Sending an email to customer support is still a versatile tool, especially when someone has a detailed problem they want to formally communicate with the company. However, the average response time tends to be slower. 

Web Forms

Web forms are often made available directly on a company’s website. It is a great way to capture valuable information about the customer and their needs without the customer having to leave the website entirely. 

Video Chat

This form of customer service offers the personalized attention of in-person interaction from the convenience and comfort of your home. If you need more assistance, this option allows you to communicate effectively and easily while having the option of live demonstrations during your chat.

Ultimately, the best customer service strategy is one that meets the needs of both the business and the customer. By offering multiple customer service channels, businesses can ensure that they're providing the best possible experience for their customers.

Different Service Channels Are Preferred More Than Others

Each generation has their own consumer behaviors as well as their own preferences when it comes to customer service communication. There are currently four generations of consumers buying in the marketplace:

  • Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964)
  • Gen Xers (those born between 1965 and 1980)
  • Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996)
  • Gen Zers (those born between 1997 and 2012)

As consumers, Baby Boomers are more likely to prefer face-to-face or over-the-phone interactions, while Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers are more likely to prefer digital channels such as email, chat, or social media.

In fact, according to Gartner, Inc., 52% of Millennials and 44% of Gen Zers prefer to pursue third-party customer service channels such as YouTube or Google Search before contacting the company’s customer service department. 

There are a number of reasons for these generational differences.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers grew up in a time when customer service was only available in person, so they're used to that format. As consumers, they are known to be straightforward and have high expectations when it comes to who they do business with. Raised post WWII and Vietnam War, they value discounts and bargains, and expect 24/7 customer support to be available over the phone

Gen X

Gen Xers are known to straddle the line between preferring more traditional customer service channels and newer digital channels. These individuals witnessed the introduction of personal computers and the internet. This means they remember the time before this updated technology, but are also exploring new ways to exercise their buying power.

Digital advertising, smartphones, and social media have gained equal interest from this generation as compared to traditional consumer advertising. Gen Xers are known to hold more college degrees than the previous generation, which explain their value for personal choice and independence in their consumer habits. 

Millennials

This is the first generation that actually grew up with the internet, often referred to as “digital natives.” They are responsible for shaping the way for ecommerce, peer-to-peer payment systems, and pioneering the world of social media as a primary form of communication and sales. 

It comes as no surprise that the millennial generation is more inclined to choose a self-service model for customer support and is willing to pay more for higher-quality products and services. In fact, millennials are expected to increase their buying power over the next few years as their income stretches to an estimated $8.3 trillion dollars by 2025.

With this in mind, millennials expect faster customer service with more options for personalization and are more inclined to share negative consumer experiences on social media. 

Gen Z

Gen Zers are the first generation to grow up not knowing the world without the internet. Early on, this generation was exposed to social media, digital advertising, and influencer marketing, so it is understandable that they are more likely to gravitate towards platforms like Twitter and Instagram to handle customer service inquiries.

Gen Zers buying habits are heavily influenced by social media and their peers.

They are also more aware of ethical practices and try to make more conscious decisions when choosing brands to support. By incorporating a variety of customer service channels, you can not only empower your employees with the latest technology trends, you can also maintain your reputation with valued customers.

Overall, customer service professionals report that each generation has its own preferred style of communication, and the key to providing excellent customer service is to be aware of these generational differences so you can tailor your communication and customer service accordingly.

Can Social Media Really Be a Cost-Effective Customer Service Tool?

The Pew Research Center began tracking social media consumption in the United States starting in 2005. Back then, only 5% of adults used at least one social media site. Now, according to recent 2021 survey results, 72% of adults use at least one social media platform in the United States. This upward trend shows how prevalent social media has become in the past 16 years, and poses an interesting question — where will we be 16 years from now? 

There’s no denying that social media is changing the way consumers interact with brands, from communication preferences to purchasing behavior, to how they show their brand loyalty over time. According to McKinsey, 4.6 billion social media users were present in October 2021, and an average of 13 new users signed up each day for their very first social media account.

These numbers further reinforce the common understanding that social media has quickly become one of the most popular ways people choose to communicate today.

With this in mind, business marketing efforts have to meet their target audience where they are at. And in this case, that means making themselves highly visible on social media platforms, in addition to traditional tried-and-true service channels.  

At SupportNinja, we understand the importance of customer experience in digital transformation. That’s why we strive to provide the best customer support for our customers' diverse needs and interests. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to customer service, it is important to diversify your customer service strategy.

One method may be more cost-effective for Company A but not for Company B. It all depends on who your target market is, what their needs are, and the volume of customer support inquiries you manage on a daily basis.

Multiple Support Channels: How To Provide the Best Customer Service

A recent 2021 Statista poll reported on the total resident population in the United States by generation. Results showed Millennials now have the highest population at 72.19 million, closely followed by 70.23 million Baby Boomers, 68.6 million Gen Zers, and 65.8 million Gen Xers. As digital communication continues to grow in popularity, it is important for businesses to know who they are serving and how to serve them best. 

In the end, taking a multi-channel approach to customer service is the best way to meet the needs of your diverse customer base. Offering multiple channels for support and communication can not only increase customer satisfaction, it can also build customer retention. Ready to offer your customers the support they prefer? Contact us today to get started.