Not long ago, George, the 74-year-old CEO of a small business in the Midwest, decided to take his wife out for dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They chose a new mid-priced restaurant that was all the rage in their small town. The evening started off well—they found a parking place near the front door; they were greeted by the owner who showed them to a table by the window; a nice young man filled their water glasses.
When their server came to the table, she pulled out a chair and sat down with them to go over the menu. Their dinner was good, but George and the missus will never return. What the server thought was a friendly gesture was actually offensive to George—his generation prefers a respectful distance between server and customer.
Banking Preferences Vary By Generation, Too
With customers from four distinct generations, today’s financial professionals in the retail banking industry need to be knowledgeable about all four sets of service preferences—and masterful at adapting their style. Learning all we can about each of them will help us meet their specific needs and help ensure we don’t deliver our service in a way that sends customers away to other retail banks [like that restaurant did].
Members of George’s generation were born before about 1940. They are in their seventies and beyond. Although they may constitute only a small percentage of your customer base, they could be running businesses that have the lion’s share of assets. They’re more likely than younger customers to actually come into the bank; it’s just the way they’ve always done business. Members of the WWII Generation usually prefer service that seems respectful, where there are hierarchical roles between the server and the served. Specifically, when dealing with customers from this generation,
- Don’t rush things. Take time for a relaxed pace.
- Establish rapport by being respectful in the old-fashioned way: “Please,” “Thank you,” “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Sir,” and “Ma’am.”
- Avoid phone systems that are difficult to navigate and that don’t allow customers to speak with a live person.
- Watch your language—good grammar, clear enunciation, no profanity.
Baby Boomers were born between 1940 and 1960. (Although the post-WWII boom in births began in 1946 and ended in 1964, people who were born in the early 1940s told us in surveys they felt like Boomers; those born in the early 1960s reported that they identified more with Generation X.) Boomers are in their fifties and sixties today. Boomers might comprise a big chunk of your customer base. They are often postponing retirement and you should see them still leading in the organizations you serve. Boomers prefer a friendly, more casual relationship with their banker. Your on-line presence should be user-friendly. Specifically,
- Be personable. Boomers may not feel like taking time to chat, but will appreciate a warm greeting.
- If you know your customer’s name, use it. Most Boomers enjoy name recognition.
- In a meeting, take time to interact and establish rapport before getting down to business.
- Long-time bank customers of this generation appreciate status programs and services that recognize their loyal patronage.
Generation Xers, born 1960 to 1980, are in their thirties and forties. Xers represent the largest percentage of today’s workforce, so you undoubtedly have customers from this generation. This generation has always used ATMs and were the first to use the Internet for most of their financial transactions. They avoid the bank; it’s nothing personal, they just have other priorities about how they spend their time. So your on-line presence and having everything available digitally might be very important with this customer. They’re not as focused on the interpersonal part of the transaction. Instead, they want streamlined phone and on-line systems where they can quickly access all the information they might need as they represent their organization. On the rare occasions they actually visit the bank,
- Be efficient. Competence is more important to most Xers than schmoozing.
- Gen-Xers tend to ask lots of questions, so make yourself available to share information. Be prepared with facts and figures.
- Don’t hover. Back off and allow them to make decisions for themselves.
- Don’t think you’re not doing a good job just because they aren’t friendly. Some Xers prefer anonymity.
Your youngest account holders are members of the Millennial Generation. Born 1980 to 2000, they are in their teens and twenties. They were the first generation to grow up immersed in digital media. They are the fastest growing cohort in the workplace. Personally, most have never sat down with paper and pencil to balance a checkbook—and they can’t imagine why anyone would. Two-thirds used a computer before they were five. This generation spends countless time on computers and smart phones connecting 24/7 with colleagues, friends, parents, information, and entertainment. They’re financially savvy, and even though they’re just learning the ropes in their organizations, they want to be treated as important bank customers.
- Be respectful. No one likes to be talked down to just because they’re young.
- Be positive. Avoid sarcasm and irony.
- Pick up the pace. Millennials are bored by methodical people and long lines.
- Use a collaborative sales approach. Millennials want to be part of the process.
Make your bank, website and on-line experiences as user-friendly and visually appealing as possible to help meet all four of the generations’ needs. Train your bank staff to treat each customer, from the youngest Millennial to the most veteran Traditionalist, in a way that makes sense to them. This means you’ll need to stop sending messages in a way that makes perfect sense to you, and consider the needs, preferences, and generational-shaping of your customer when you communicate in person, in writing, and digitally.