How Your Customers Connect: Communication Preferences by Generation

Find out how the age of your customers can help predict their preferences when it comes to communicating with your business.

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How Your Customers Connect: Communication Preferences by Generation

Do you get frustrated when someone calls you instead of sending a text? Do you lose track of important communication threads if they’re not in your email inbox? Do you think phone conversations are more efficient than live chat? If so, it’s likely that others your age feel the same. Communication preferences tend to be influenced by age, shaped by the experiences of each generation.

In your business, you probably already understand the importance of tailoring the content of your communications to match your audience. You may look at your customers’ geography or buying history to inform your outreach plans. However, it’s also important to think about the ways your customers prefer to communicate. Although you have many communication channels available to engage with your customers, they won’t all be equally embraced. Luckily, knowing a customer’s birthdate can provide valuable insights into their preferences.

Understanding Generational Communication Preferences

Reaching or supporting each customer with the right information at the right time on the right channel is the challenge of every organization—from sales to marketing to customer service. A critical component to mastering this challenge is knowing how your customers prefer to communicate. With customers spanning multiple generations today, understanding who you are connecting with can make the difference between communications that annoy and those that delight.

Each generation grew up with different technological advancements and social movements. Knowing the nuances of how these pivotal experiences determine communication preferences is a key element to creating successful customer experiences. Let’s take a look at how this concept applies for each generation.

Note: The U.S. Census Bureau, Pew Research, and demographers Neil Howe and William Strauss classify generations into the categories used here. People born three to five years on either side of a generation are known as “cusp babies.”

The Traditionalists

This is a term often used to describe two generations combined: The "Greatest Generation" (or GI Generation), who were born in 1924 or earlier, and the "Silent Generation," who were born in 1925-1945 (sometimes listed as 1925-1942). These generations lived through the Great Depression and WWII. For most of their lives, their primary forms of communication were rotary telephones and handwritten letters sent through the mail.

Because they survived times of considerable economic uncertainty, holding a single job for decades was seen as ideal and worthy goal. Today, this generation expects communications to be respectful and even formal. They prefer a phone call or even better, face-to-face interaction, over electronic communications. And they appreciate a handwritten note. In conversation, they like to be recognized for their knowledge and experience.

Baby Boomers

Born between 1946 and 1964 (sometimes listed as 1943-1964), this generation was named for the surge in the post-WWII birth rate. This was the first generation to grow up with television, which shaped their ability to stay informed about world affairs. As consumers, research shows that Baby Boomers prioritize price over anything else and are more interested in an extensive product selection than a personalized customer experience. They still appreciate face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations and although they do text, their digital channel of choice is email.

You may have less success engaging with Baby Boomers via SMS or social media channels. According to Facebook research, Boomers typically begin their retail customer journeys in-store, but are increasingly shopping online (just over 30%) and on mobile devices (just under 20%). They are less likely to use apps.

Generation X

Born between 1965 and 1980 (sometimes listed as 1965-1979), this generation was shaped by numerous technological advancements such as the Walkman, VHS tapes, and cordless phones, followed by personal computers, email, and cell phones. This was the first generation to assimilate the internet and digital technology into their daily lives. Email became the main source of communication for this generation and remains their preferred channel.

Although they use SMS, they still check and use email frequently. When it comes to social media, Gen X uses Facebook and YouTube regularly, racking up more than 1.5 billion YouTube views per day. However, they tend to keep social media for personal use only and don’t associate it with communicating with businesses.

Millennials

This is the generation who was born between 1981 and 1997 (sometimes listed as 1980-2000). Millennials came of age with social media and relied on email for school. They have a natural proclivity for technology and are comfortable navigating and switching between multiple channels and devices quickly. Although Millennials are likely to make purchases as the result of an email, more and more are embracing SMS and chat apps as a convenient way to communicate with businesses. They generally don’t make phone calls, as they’re accustomed to instant forms of written communication such as instant messaging, texting, and email that let them choose their words carefully.

Being short, concise, and fast are key characteristics to keep in mind when communicating with this generation, and you can assume they are interacting with you from a mobile device. As far as social media goes, they currently prefer Facebook more than any other generation but are highly adaptable to new trends and channels. Studies also show that Millennials value personalized interactions with brands more than any other generation.

Generation Z (Boomlets)

Born post-2000, Generation Z are often referred to as “digital natives.” They’re growing up with smartphones and a plethora of channels at their fingertips. Perhaps this is why they don’t naturally gravitate toward traditional channels such as phone and email. More than 80% of this generation looks to social media when making a purchase, with 44% claiming Instagram is important to their purchasing decisions and 21% finding Snapchat important.

As much as they are engaged on social media, however, this generation shops in-store more than any other generation because they “enjoy the in-store shopping experience.” They are more trusting of digital communications than any other generation, and yet expect their interactions with businesses to be personalized and tailored to their needs. Natural multitaskers, the most effective communications with this generation will be short and visually stimulating.

Making Your Communications Plan

In your quest to create the ideal customer experience, understanding generational communication preferences can help you connect in ways your customers prefer. However, as with all rules, there are always exceptions. The best way to know how your customers prefer to communicate is to observe them. This is where A/B testing on different channels is useful. Do they respond better to email? Do they read your SMS messages? Do they give you a phone number and indicate that they prefer phone calls? You may even be able to ask them about their communication preferences via a survey or intake form.

Your relationship with your customers is built one point of contact at a time. Having the right contact center technology is key to being able to create a personalized customer experience where all of these data points are accounted for. Make sure you have the tools to support you to make every point of contact count.

Sources:

Mind the Gap: Communicating Through the AgesThe Business Leader’s Guide to Communication Across GenerationsHow Each Generation Responds to Marketing Communications