Managing the CX Demands of 5 Generations

By Andrew Stevens

Banks and other financial institutions serve customers in nearly every age group. But the way customers respond to different types of messaging, tone and media can vary widely based upon age. People who grew up using rotary dial telephones might have a different set of expectations from those who check their account balances three times daily via a smartphone app. Recognizing these differences and reaching out to customers appropriately can help in attracting new business and retaining long-term clientele.

Of course, broad generalizations are always tricky. Technically adept octogenarians are hardly a rarity, and the younger generations don’t entirely discount the in-person experience. In fact, a recent J.D. Power survey found that millennials who use both branch and digital channels for banking are far more satisfied than those who use only digital channels. However, a Gallup poll was able to identify generational trends that apply to the retail banking industry.

Here are brief sketches of the five generations you most likely work with right now, along with what each are likely to expect of their communications from your organization.

  • The silent generation, aged 75+, is made up of consumers who have spent most of their lives dealing face-to-face with bank tellers, loan officers and financial advisors. It’s reasonable to expect that most of them still prefer doing business this way. To provide them with the best customer experience, your messaging needs a more formal and respectful approach. Ideally, it should be conducted face-to-face in a branch office or through a personal conversation over the telephone. As a reward, they can be fiercely loyal.
  • Baby boomers, roughly 55 to 75, are often solutions-oriented and expect live, human interaction in response to queries or issues—either face-to-face or over the phone. Boomers were witness to the digital revolution, and most have familiarity with the internet and smartphones. But often they prefer receiving information via email rather than through texting or social media. This group shops and banks online, but they are less likely to use mobile apps than younger customers. Though regular users of social media, boomers are primarily active on Facebook or Instagram to keep in touch with friends and family, rather than for commercial purposes. They didn’t grow up snapping and tweeting, but they still expect a seamless customer experience.
  • Generation X is now in the 39-to-54 range, at the most financially productive part of their lives. And according to a study by the Pew Research Center, more than 80 percent of them own smartphones. They want an easy-to-use and streamlined customer experience and often employ multiple communications channels—mainly mobile, email and face-to-face—to access information. Gen Xers who use mobile payments like the opportunity to earn rewards and appreciate the convenience of being able to pay quickly and receive an electronic receipt. Though Gen Xers show considerable loyalty to their favored brands, they are among the 89 percent of consumers who do business with a competitor following a poor customer experience, according to a study by Oracle.
  • Millennials, aged 25 to 38, are the up-and-comers in the financial marketplace, either just establishing or beginning to achieve a level of success in their careers. They’ve been using digital communications for the better part of their lives, are tech-savvy, and expect quick and personalized responses from the companies with whom they do business. Ninety percent of millennials own smartphones, preferring texts to phone calls. They are also more likely than Gen X or baby boomers to use mobile wallets and branded mobile payment apps from consumer brands that reward them for loyalty.

They value speed, convenience and efficiency, and expect highly personalized communications. But beware, Gallup data indicate that if they believe they’ve been mistreated, they will not only shop somewhere else, they will also tell their friends about it and post negative reviews.

  • Generation Z, roughly age 4 through 24, likely have never seen a television antenna or a typewriter except in vintage photos online somewhere. If they’re old enough to press the buttons on their smartphones, they can connect instantly to their friends and family. And they have never experienced anything less. This group is highly self-sufficient and will seek and find information of all kinds via the internet with little to no human interaction—though they are generally unwilling to navigate through clumsy and frustrating web pages. They prefer shopping online to the brick-and-mortar experience, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that an enterprise with a physical location lends the business a bit more credibility for them.

Gen Z, along with millennials, are the predominant users of mobile apps for payments and other financial transactions. Their expectations include a highly personalized on-demand customer experience that includes a self-service option rather than dealing face-to-face with sales or service reps. In terms of building loyalty with this group, individualization that goes beyond personalized messaging—such as offering product recommendations based on current buying behavior—is key, preferably though electronic communications channels. Another important consideration: this group has a strong influence on its parents’ financial decisions.

As the diversity of these groups indicates, marketers are increasingly required to address both prospects and existing customers in a variety of ways. Developing an effective and comprehensive communications strategy means remaining flexible enough to provide a desired face-to-face interaction, while also making communications content meaningful and relevant to a diverse spectrum of customers. Additionally, reaching customers through their preferred communication channels is necessary to be truly effective in providing a positive customer experience.

In terms of customer expectations, the primary takeaway to bank marketers is this: If you can meet these diverse expectations, you should. Soon—to succeed—you will have to.

Andrew Stevens is global banking specialist for Quadient, a leader in helping businesses create meaningful customer connections through digital and physical channels. With nearly two decades of experience at one of the world’s largest banks, Andrew covers all aspects of banking operations and technology with respect to customer communications management and customer experience. Email: a.stevens@quadient.com.

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