Customer Communications Management

How Different Generations Prefer Customer Service

By Chuck Underwood

There are five living generations of Americans and each perceives customer service different:

1. G. I.: age in 2012 is 86+
2. Silent: age is 67 to 85
3. Boomer: age 47 to 66
4. GenX: age 31 to 47
5. Millennials: age 18 to 30, and still coming

Each generation has different preferences and needs as consumers and customers. Each possesses unique likes and dislikes regarding the manner in which you pitch and sell your product or service to them.

And so, when working in sales and/or customer/client service, you must develop a “generational gearbox” that enables you to understand these generational differences and shift smoothly from dealing with a member of one generation to a member of another.

A training program in Generational Selling and Customer Service Strategy is usually a half-day or full-day program. Here is three minutes’ worth:

G. I.s and Silents

They came of age buying clothing, insurance, hamburger, furniture and just about everything else from salespeople who were also the shop owners and their neighbors and friends. The hardware store was locally owned and operated, not part of an impersonal coast-to-coast chain. Because of this intimacy, salespeople were overwhelmingly ethical, fair, courteous and skilled in customer service. They couldn’t hide behind today’s anonymity afforded by technology and layers of corporate gobbledygook. I refer to this as the “pre-mall” era, which lasted until roughly the 1970’s.

Want to connect with G. I. and Silent consumers today? Human interaction, not digital. Look them in the eye. Transparency. Honesty. GenX and Millennial salespeople: talk more slowly and clearly, not because they can’t keep up with you but because salespeople of your generations frequently sound rushed and this is a red flag to these generations. Don’t behave like telemarketing call centers—how many customers can I process in the shortest amount of time?—but instead like someone who truly wants to put each customer service first and earn an evaluation by the customer of A+ … six months from now.


Demanding, inquisitive consumers. They want integrity and common courtesy from you, and don’t waste their time with puffery and scripted pitches. Cut the crap. Your customer service is better than that.

Boomers worked their tails off for decades. As a result, they now control a disproportionate percentage of our country’s wealth; which means every slimy, carpetbagging hustler has tried to pitch this generation every conceivable product and service. Don’t try to trick them; you can’t. They’ve seen and heard it all.

Want to get a Boomer to read the SECOND sentence of your direct-mail piece? Then earn her with your first sentence. The moment your message drifts from “fact” and “relevance” is the moment you’ll lose them.

The world’s first computer generation. Before buying your product or service, they’re likely to do their homework online. They are also America’s most time-poor generation, juggling career and marriage and parenthood. And so? Audit your company’s website for ease of navigation and speed. Because this generation came of age during the birth and growth of cable television with kid-dedicated channels, X’ers—like Boomers—are very street-smart when it comes to marketing. They also enjoy little sense of financial security and job stability, so cost-value is a prominent consideration in their purchasing.

This generation came of age just as common courtesy in America was taking a hit. So although they’ll appreciate it, X’ers do not place the same high premium on it as the older three generations do. GenX is a no-nonsense, get-me-from-point-a-to-point-b-as-efficiently-as-possible generation. And that’s the operative word when selling to, and serving, this generation of customers: efficiency.


As kids, they enjoyed significant purchasing power, thanks to dear ol’ Mom and Dad. So they’re marketing-savvy. Where GenX is our computer generation, Mils are our Tech Generation. They’ve grown up dominated by technology, and we’re finding there is extreme good and extreme bad to that.

They live online. They buy online.

They also usually trust online, although they’ve now seen the down side of placing their entire lives on MySpace and Facebook. And speaking of Facebook, they’ve moved on. In my training seminars, I routinely ask Millennial audience members if, one year from now, they feel their generation will be spending more time on Facebook, less or about the same. Overwhelmingly, they answer much less.

Marketers and salespeople must be careful to not invade online spaces that Millennials want to keep pitch-free. Which sites? By the time I typed them here, their answer would have changed.

Good customer service to this generation is an app. A close relationship with a salesperson is texting.

But this is also an outgoing, people-friendly generation. Where X’ers are a little more solitary, Millennials are very much group-think, we-think, us-think. And they love their parents and include them in their big decisions. Want to sell to a Millennial? Then involve their friends and parents.