Multi-Generational Customer Service
Breaking the one-size-fits-all approach
Like many companies, dental laboratories work with customers who span multiple generations, all of which have vastly different communication practices and expectations. All of our dentist-clients want excellent customer service and business relationships, but each generation defines those relationships differently. The “one-size-fits-all” approach to service and communication just doesn’t cut it.
In the dental industry, our customers span four general generation groups:
• Traditionalists: born before 1946
• Baby Boomers: born between 1946 and 1964
• Generation X: born between 1965 and 1980
• Millennials/Generation Y: born between 1981 and 2000
According to the American Dental As-sociation’s 2015 data,1 approximately 16% of professionally active dentists as of that time were Millennials, 44% were from Generation X, 37% were Baby Boomers, and 2% were Traditionalists.
While it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when American consumers began to place a higher value on customer service and the customer experience, post-World War II America saw the quick rise in consumption and technology that is the basis of many of the customer service models in place today.
Many of those values—such as variety and efficient, courteous service—are still relevant, but the way they are approached and delivered changes with each generation.
It is important to note that a discussion of generations risks stereotyping and over-generalizing. Each customer is an individual. However, it is helpful to be aware of the social and cultural trends that shape our experiences.
Also called the Greatest Generation, this group was born during the Great Depression and World War II. These people generally trust hierarchy and authority. Titles are important, as is personal communication. A lack of in-person communication can lead Traditionalists to feel unappreciated, as they are less likely to connect through digital means and prefer face-to-face interactions. Their communication also tends to be more formal, without the use of slang.
This group tends to be very loyal and invested in relationships. When working with Traditionalists, make sure you speak to them directly and thank them for their loyalty. It may be beneficial to have them work with senior technicians.
Born up to about 20 years following WWII in a time of dramatic social change, Baby Boomers are the group that still leaves and listens to voicemail. Though not as reliant on modern technological advances as younger generations, they utilize them more than Traditionalists do and are spending an increasing amount of time on social media. Regardless of the communication channel, Baby Boomers have high service expectations. They were born in the era of “The Customer is Always Right.” Straightforward, solution-oriented communication is key to working with Baby Boomers.
Generation X, or Gen X, is the smallest generation in terms of total population but accounts for nearly half of all active dentists. Born when significantly more women began entering the workforce, these were the first latchkey kids. With both parents working, they became used to figuring things out on their own and value research. Having plenty of resources, product information, and technical tips on your website is a must for this generation.
In the prime of their careers, Gen Xers are balancing work while caring for their children and in some cases their parents as well. With their busy schedules, they value streamlined processes and systems and oftentimes prefer informal, high-tech communication. They expect the service to be fast and efficient and would rather receive information as they need it than wait for a technician to call them back. For this generation, implementing a one-call resolution system in your laboratory is important.
Millennials, or Generation Y, are beginning to enter the dental job market. Many were born during a rapid increase in personal internet usage and are digital natives. Because many of them have never known a world without the internet, they are very savvy consumers and don’t tend to buy into hype or traditional marketing messages. With this media-saturated generation, you have to be creative to grab their attention. Millennials value innovation and new ways to do things. The overall experience they have interacting with your laboratory will be the decision driver for Millennials.
This generation has the expectation of instant communication. If you are not using instant messaging and email to speak with your dentists, you are missing an opportunity to connect with this group. Millennials also have strong social ties and tend to seek the advice of peers before making decisions. To build trust with this group, customer testimonials are key.
As technology continues to develop at a rapid pace, the challenge of communicating across generations is only going to get more challenging. According to The Center for Generational Kinetics,2 technologies that weren’t commonplace 5 years ago are now normal (Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, etc.), meaning a growing number of dentist-clients find them indispensible.
The Center also notes that while customer patience with waiting in line and dealing with customer service keeps getting shorter, customer expectations—including everything from customer service and engagement to loyalty and communication—continue to rise.
Each generation has different expectations and needs. Each possesses general, not to mention individual, likes and dislikes regarding how you provide customer service. Understanding these differences and working with all generation types will help you break out of the “one-size-fits-all” approach and give you a critical advantage.
1. Munson B, Vujicic M. Number of Practicing Dentists per Capita in the United States Will Grow Steadily. Health Policy Institute Research Brief. American Dental Association. June 2016 (Revised). Available from: https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIBrief_0616_1.pdf
2. Gagnon J, Dorsey J. The Aspect Consumer Experience Index: Millenial Research on Customer Service Expectations. Austin, TX: Aspect Software and The Center for Generational Kinetics; 2015. Available at: https://genhq.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/The-Aspect-Consumer-Experience-Index-c-2015-The-Center-for-Generational-Kinetics.pdf
Deborah Curson-Vieira is the Director of Customer Care at Dental Prosthetic Services in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.