I was reading a post yesterday about some research published by Desk.com which highlights what Millennials expect from customer service compared to other generations: “Crossing The Generational Divide: Providing Customer Service for Today’s Consumers.”

The findings can be summarized as follows:

Millennials prefer social media for customer service, particularly Facebook, expect a response within ten minutes, and are unforgiving when it comes to poor service.

But we kind of guessed that!

I also received an email yesterday which among other things mentioned a report published by IBM in 2013: “The Customer-activated Enterprise”. There’s a nice infographic that goes with it as well.

A few things I found of interest:

  • Customer Service is still not represented at the C-Suite level. There is a CEO, CFO, CHRO, CIO, CMO, CSCO (Supply Chain)
  • Three key themes were identified that will help to shape an organisation’s future: Open up to customer influence; Pioneer digital-physical innovation; Craft engaging customer experiences
  • The biggest barrier preventing CxOs from doing more to unite their business and digital strategy is how social media fits into the mix

Hang on a minute… social is the biggest barrier?

Yes! Apparently CxOs simply don’t know how to strike the right balance between the social, digital and physical worlds. Remember the report was published in 2013 though. So much has changed since then, right!?

Technology has gone from being something that is separate and distinct from me to becoming an integral part of who I am and how I interact with those around me. My mobile phone or tablet and the apps that I download onto them say as much about me as the clothes I wear, the shoes I buy and the food I eat. My mobile phone or tablet are inextricably interwoven into my life.

When I think about some of the changes that have taken place over the last 70 years or so, I suddenly realize  that where we are today seems a world apart. The business conditions that gave rise to Salesforce, Facebook or Snapchat were not the same that gave rise to Best Buy, Singapore Airlines or BT.

We now live in a world that is dominated by images, data, immediacy, transparency, information, and mobility. Existing boundaries are being challenged and new ones set and reset with increasing frequency. We live in a world in which the ability to discern, to share, to know ‘how to’ is of paramount importance; hat tip to Howard Rheingold’s digital literacies. A world in which the pursuit of serendipity, not for its own sake, but for what can result from it is of paramount importance.

And if we look at this fluid changing world from a customer service perspective we start to understand what the next generation of service might look like:

A type of customer service that is not limited by time or geography, a type of customer service that takes place around us and automatically adapts to our ever-changing context, a type of customer service that has passed from being proactive to preemptive, responsive and predictive… a type of customer service that is in the moment and of the moment. Find me an SLA for that!

Then I go back to the two articles I was reading, and it dawns on me that the world that many CxOs inhabit (Baby Boomer & Gen X), is not the world that many of their customers live in; I suddenly comprehend why social media could be a barrier! 

But I’m also struck by the thought that social is simply a proxy for change and an inability to change, to adapt. Is it laziness? Is it a lack of comprehension? Is it arrogance? Is it a vainglorious last-gasp effort to cling to the familiar?

Companies must adapt to their customers

Regardless of whether your customers prefer social media for customer service, particularly Facebook, expect a response within ten minutes, and are unforgiving when it comes to poor service — there is a disconnect between the CxO narrative and the expectations of the customer. There is a disconnect between the thinking of a CxO, the way organizations are structured, and the way that their customers buy, communicate, engage, complain, interact, and experience.

I doubt whether companies are even part of a customer’s narrative (as long as they receive a response within ten minutes!).

Generational labels are just labels

Whether you’re a Baby Boomer, Gen X, Y or Z is largely a moot point. Labels are, well, just labels. What holds true is that as the Generations unfold so too does the way they think, the technology at their fingertips, and the way they communicate.

The generation that comes next will likely react against the generation that came before it. It’s called human nature, so let’s not allow ourselves to be taken in by fancy labels.

If as each generation unfolds, it is allowed to experience and interact with the serendipity that naturally results from the increasing democratization and ubiquity of technology, which brings with it a greater sense of freedom and creativity, then what will determine success or failure is our individual and collective ability to not just adapt, but adapt at speed.

KLM is at the forefront of this adaption, where Best Buy once was, and in time companies from the Middle East and Asia will be, because it recognizes the need to adapt at speed; it accepts that mistakes will happen along the way. It accepts that it needs to experiment and try. It accepts that it needs to be bold and courageous.

giffgaff came about in 2009 because of a unique set of circumstances and variables that came into play. Its founders understood the subtleties and nuances of change, understood the need to be bold and courageous. giffgaff did not succeed because its ROI or KPIs stacked up. giffgaff hadn’t even written its own narrative at that point… the journey became the narrative.

It’s all about adapting quickly

This isn’t about one way being better than another. This isn’t about one way replacing another. It’s not a simple binary equation of out with the old, in with the new. How many subscribed to the view back in 2008 that Twitter and Facebook would replace contact centers? Be honest now! How many uttered the phrases: “Customer service is the new marketing” or “Customer service is the new black”?

This isn’t about one way of thinking being better. This is about adapting and about how quickly you allow yourself to adapt. This is about realizing that these different tribes of thinking can co-exist. Yes, there might be friction and tension when tribes rub against each other, but ever was it thus. And if social is the catalyst that reduces the friction and eases the tension, then perhaps today might just be the right day for you to join Twitter and in doing so, begin to realize that it’s not about the technology, it’s not about social.

But social teaches us about learning to be open, learning to share, learning to trust, learning to collaborate… learning the literacies that we will all need to engage, to communicate, to think, to transform, to adapt at speed in the years to come. Because at the end of the day or on the weekend, when you’re not at work, when you’re a customer, you’re already adapting at speed without even thinking about it!