Age-neutral customer service: Lessons from Apple

Have you ever been frustrated with a customer service representative – whether on the phone, via email or face-to-face?

Why the frustration?

Maybe you felt misunderstood. Or, perhaps the person was constrained by a script, process, system, or structure of their training program. Maybe the person you were speaking with hasn’t been empowered to make good decisions for the customer that leads to better outcomes for everyone.

Too often we hear stories of poor customer service. This is particularly true amongst older people who may not be as technologically literate as their younger counterparts – like ‘Mary’ in this article. Regardless of age, we all want to feel understood. And most importantly, if we’re contacting customer service, we want our problem resolved effortlessly, without stress or anxiety.

Apple’s age-neutral customer service

If you’ve ever walked into an Apple Store, you’ll know the experience of feeling immediately welcomed. From the environment to the staff we feel good; even happy. How do I know this? Because I’ve experienced it myself. I also feel confident that any problem, however trivial or complex, will be understood and solved – effortlessly and easefully. I haven’t felt quite the same way in any other retail store or customer service environment.

So what is it that makes Apple different?

  • Staff reflect the diversity of Apple customers.

Take a look next time you’re in an Apple Store and you’ll find a team of all ages (and cultures and genders).

  • Apple “starts with why”

Apple’s customer service culture – a legacy of Steve Jobs – is one of supporting customers to both use and enjoy their Apple technology. The company starts with the customer experience and then works backwards to the functionality of their technology.

In Simon Sinek’s popular talk, he suggests that Apple “starts with the why” rather than with the ’what’ (i.e. its products). The focus is to solve problems and “enrich lives”. Consequently, Apple’s interactions with its customers transcend age biases and stereotypes. Furthermore, there’s very little room for ageism when you’re driven by good customer outcomes rather than sales commissions.

The customer service imperative

The 2016 KPMG Global CEO Survey, revealed that 88 per cent of CEOs are concerned about the loyalty of their customers. The reason is because 82 percent of people will turn away from a business due to a bad experience. And disenfranchised, unhappy customers or ex-customers are highly likely to spread the word to others about their bad experience. Unfortunately, it’s bad experiences that remain with us much longer than good ones – a widely known quirk of the human psyche.

Conversely, a recent report showed that 8 in 10 customers are willing to pay more for a product or service when they experience good customer service. Clearly, good customer experience (CX) can drive business success and growth.

The age-neutral customer service imperative

A recent UK cross-industry study showed that the older people get, the less satisfied they are with customer service. Given the vast spending power of the baby boomer generation, ageist attitudes amongst a customer service team is likely affecting your bottom line.

Baby Boomers will be the single largest consumer of products in the future. Consequently, companies can’t afford poor interactions with this ever-growing, cashed up, technology literate market segment. Fail to integrate baby boomers into your customer service strategy at your peril.

The future of age-inclusive customer service

Given the value of the ageing population; the impact of negative customer experiences; the average age of customer service teams; and the poor experience of many older people, it’s essential that Chief Customer Officers:

  1. Create age-diverse customer service teams.
  2. Challenge age stereotypes amongst their staff.
  3. Understand the diversity of customers over 50 – they are not a single homogenous group with identical attitudes, beliefs, or technology literacy*.
  4. Include flexibility in scripts that accommodates a diverse customer base.
  5. Empower customer service representatives to make decisions that delivers a great outcome for the customer and the organisation.
  6. Ensure their customer service teams understand the “why” of the business and they are purpose-led rather than sales-led in their interactions with customers.

 

Three Sisters Group delivers expertise and research-driven consultancy services on the longevity economy. We provide knowledge, understanding, and workshops for customer-driven, strategic change. Contact us today to create an age-inclusive customer experience.

*I’m amazed at how often people assume that when I mention Three Sisters Group specialises in the over 50’s market, that they think I’m talking about aged care. A baby boomer (between 54 – 74 years old) is not generally in the market for aged care. They are in the same market for the goods and services you’re buying today. And whilst Three Sisters Group doesn’t specialise in aged care we do work with organisations seeking to enter or gain growth in this market.

Image source: Shutterstock

Mind the gap

Mind the gap: Does your organisation have the capability to deliver against the customer pain points of the over 50’s?

Mind the gap.

If you’ve ever caught the London Underground, this cautionary warning would be familiar. ‘Mind the gap’ is also a valuable analogy for customer pain points in business.

A desire to understand and focus on the customer experience (CX) or user experience (UX) is the language of marketers – online or offline. Simultaneously, customer journey mapping has become increasingly common. Yet, how often do we also seek to understand and investigate the challenges of key stakeholders and staff to provide an excellent customer experience – particularly for those customers over 50 years of age? What’s the gap between customer reality and employee empathy?

Whilst a customer focus enables us to better understand the decision-making process of people using or buying our products, stakeholder and staff insights provide greater understanding of what is required internally for improved service delivery. Knowing both is essential if customer pain points are truly to be resolved.

The pain points

Pain points will appear in various parts of the business – either online, on the phone, or in person. An example illustrates some of the issues.

Recently a woman in her 70’s, call her ‘Mary’, told me the difficulties of cancelling her subscription to a television service. After a lengthy conversation with a customer service operator, she was only passed to a supervisor after revealing that she was about to cry.

The pain points:

  1. The call centre staff member was bound by a script that didn’t accommodate a customer with limited technological ability;
  2. The process for cancellations was inflexible. Apparently, the only way a customer can cancel the service is online. Consequently, the operator was trained to “talk through” this process with customers who had difficulty;
  3. A solution was only sought when tears of frustration were imminent.

The result

Mary,

  1. Won’t have another pay television subscription service;
  2. Will never return to the telco provider who consistently lacked awareness and empathy;
  3. Tells her friends and anyone else who will listen about her experiences.

Whilst Mary has a mobile phone, uses an iPad, does online banking, and happily searches Google, she lacks confidence to do new tasks in the online world. The call centre staff member failed to understand Mary’s situation and was therefore unable to accommodate her needs.

Due to years of frustration and poor customer experience caused by a lack of understanding, Mary has also changed her phone provider. In one instance she was sold a plan that provided her with substantial download capacity. However, she had advised staff that her mobile phone was only used for texts and calls. When in the telcos retail stores she consistently observed people her age upset and angry due to lack of empathy by store staff.

Whilst this anecdote is a single sample, it’s a common story.

Gaps and the over 50s

Leading magazines, blogs, and newspapers consistently report on the ignored market of our ageing population.

A report by the Australian Services Union reveals that the average age of call centre staff is between 33 (men) and 37 (women). A report by PwC in 2016 revealed that the average media person is a 27 year old white male who only speaks one language – English. It’s likely that employees under 40 will either ignore or exacerbate stereotypes of consumers over 50. Why? Because they don’t identify with this older age group.

Gaps, facts, and 50’s+

Yet, in Australia, there are almost 6.5 million people between 50 and 74 years of age. That’s 27% of the total population!

The value of this age group is substantial. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2017 Census, the average age of middle wealth households is 54, and for high wealth households it’s 58. And, whilst a proportion of this wealth is associated with increased expenditure for medical care and health expenses, the ABS also reports that,

“Recreation, household furnishings and equipment, clothing and footwear, and miscellaneous goods and services also rose as net worth rose.”

Consequently, when we evaluate market size against wealth, it seems naive not to have a strategy to reach and effectively service this audience.

Nonetheless, despite these facts, age stereotypes and ageism negatively impact attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions about people over 50.

Finding the gap

A customer journey map is simply a framework that captures the customer experience. A customer journey map overlaid with either staff interviews or staff journey mapping reveals the gap. One without the other is interesting and informative. However, to optimize the opportunity, organisations must ‘Mind the Gap’. The gap is where true opportunity exists.

Given that almost one-third of Australia’s population are baby boomers, it’s remarkable that organisations are not more mindful of this market. After all, chances are that a proportion of most companies’ customers will be in this age bracket. Does your staff understand them? Or, do age stereotypes abound?

Speaking with staff potentially reveals unknown or unspoken age stereotypes. Internal pain points will reveal restrictions that limit market growth with this rapidly expanding segment of the population. Knowing staff attitudes and beliefs about becoming older, coupled with insights on customer pain points has the power to reap rewards – to plug ‘The Gap’.

Closing the Gap

Closing the gap requires guts. Consequently, it means addressing both customer and organisational pain points. For example, staff may need training, processes may need adapting, or organisational structures may constrain service. Change starts with these 4 questions:

  1. What proportion of your customer base is over 50 years old?
  2. What’s the impact to your business if they disappeared?
  3. What proportion of your workforce is under 50 years of age?
  4. What are their attitudes and beliefs about people over 50? Ask. Answers are usually associated with age-based stereotypes.

If a gap exists then business growth is inhibited.

 

Three Sisters Group specialises in the longevity economy. We provide expertise and research-based consultancy services for customer driven strategic change. To tap into this under-serviced, largely ignored market, contact us.

Can financial planners change the conversation about ageing and retirement?

Yes! In fact at the recent Professional Planners Post Retirement Conference I suggested that financial planners (FP’s) had both an opportunity and responsibility to dig deeper with their clients on understanding ‘retirement’. Typically, clients are seeking clarity about their financial situation. However, in digging deeper, FP’s are likely to discover that their clients haven’t considered the details of life after full-time employment. And herein lies the opportunity.

In 2015 Deloitte released a report – The Advice Based World – and suggested that the financial advisory industry had a bright future. With the shift to a fee-for-service remuneration model, financial planners are at a point where they can position themselves as Advisors – not solely financial planners. What does this mean?

Financial Planner vs Advisor

What is a financial planner?

According to the Australian Security and Investment Commission’s (ASIC) ‘MoneySmart’ website, a financial planner is: 

“a person or authorised representative of an organisation, licensed by ASIC, to provide advice on some or all of these areas of your finances: investing, superannuation, retirement planning, estate planning, risk management, insurance and taxation.”

Note the emphasis on finances.

What is an Advisor?

According to the English Oxford Dictionary an advisor is:

“A person who gives advice in a particular field.”

What if financial planners broadened their service offering beyond guiding their clients on money management and creating the nest egg for retirement?

What if financial planners became advisors to their clients? Advisors on preparing for life beyond full-time work, or the job their client may currently be doing. What possibilities would arise both for the advisor and their clients?

Changing the ageing conversation

Most of us will live into our 80’s and beyond. If we ‘retire’ at 65, are we really going to thrive and enjoy 15+ years of leisure? And for those planning an early ‘retirement’ at 55 or 60, that’s potentially 25+ years of … leisure? Really?

As an advisor specialising in ‘retirement transitioning’ or ‘life transitioning’, there’s an opportunity to introduce a range of products and services to challenge the idea of retirement. To not see it as an endpoint but rather as a time to reinvent ourselves. In fact, a planner recently told me that he’d renamed it ‘retyre’: finishing full-time work is an opportunity to change the wheels to ensure many more miles of activity.

If it’s not all about the money, what is a rich life?

We all know that money isn’t everything. For most of us, it’s a means to an end. It provides us with greater choice in our life.

One of the challenges often faced in retirement is relevance deprivation. To age well, and I mean really well, money ain’t enough. Individually, we must all continue to have intangible assets in our lives such as purpose and meaning; social relationships; and, physical exercise.

Because we’re living longer than at any other time in history, there is no model for how we age. In fact it’s our opportunity to innovate ageing. To age differently to our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents.

What does this mean for financial planners seeking to add value to their clients?

  1. Establish what is important for your clients – dig deep on their fears, uncertainties, and doubts about retiring.  
  2. Explore their hopes and aspirations.
  3. Coach clients to envisage and then create the next phase of their life. A life that could potentially be greater than they had previously imagined.

From financial planner to advisor

Financial planners are already subjected to changing educational requirements and standards. Particularly since the Financial Adviser Standards and Ethics Authority (FASEA) was established in April, 2017. Introducing a broader range of products and services that extends beyond financial advice requires planners to either:

  1. Undertake training as a coach, or
  2. Collaborate with a coach or organisation specialising in life transitions.

Clearly, it’s a commitment and not necessarily suited to all planners.

Fortunately, the shift to fee-for-service, introduced a number of years ago, assists with the transition. Clients are already aware that the days of financial planners earning their money from commissions are gone. Clients know that they pay for each service provided and the financial planning industry has restructured their pricing models accordingly. Consequently, financial planners who broaden their skill set could either:

  1. Build this into more comprehensive retirement planning products for added value; or
  2. Create new products and services offered at an additional cost.

3 benefits of being an advisor vs a financial planner

For planners prepared to make the investment and venture down this path, they could potentially deliver:

  1. Increased client satisfaction;  
  2. Improved client experiences;

And isn’t that what all service-based businesses seek?

However, there’s a third benefit:

  1. A healthier, happier, ‘retirement’ or next stage for clients aged 55+ who are ready to move on from the job or work they’ve done for most of their lives. And this contributes to changing the conversation about ageing.

Ultimately, a ‘rich’ life, a ‘wealthy’ life, is far greater than accumulated assets or money.

What does this mean for my financial planning business?

Over the next 15 years all baby boomers in Australia will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 years. Consequently, the time is ripe to start having these deeper and challenging conversations with your clients. There are numerous ways in which a planners might start to investigate the possibilities with their clients. This could include one-on-one conversations, small groups, or seminars. However, what’s essential is to ask open-ended questions, be genuinely curious, and unattached to outcomes.

Three Sisters Group specialises in providing expertise and research-driven consulting on the over 50’s. We deliver knowledge and understanding to create customer-driven strategic change.  

If you’d like to discover how Three Sisters Group can help to broaden your service offering to meet your clients’ changing needs, please contact us.

 

Dr Rickwood challenged the concept of retirement in her keynote address at the Professional Planner Post Retirement Conference. We’ll be sharing a video shortly with some of the key insights from the presentation. Stay tuned!