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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

Is de-greying your workforce hurting customer experience?

Companies are adaptable, creative and profitable despite the age of their workforce. At least this is what a growing body of research is showing. So why do we have HR policies and practices that, however unintentionally, work to de-grey our workplaces? What are the impacts of our unconscious biases and ill-conceived stereotypes of older people on innovation and service delivery? Ultimately, what is the impact on the customer experience?

An Enormous Missed Opportunity

As author and activist, Ashton Applewhite, affirms,

“we live in a culture that tells us that getting older means shuffling off stage”.

Nowhere is this culture more pronounced, and damaging, than in the workplace. We’ve all heard stories of older customers (and workers) being treated less than favourably on the basis of their age or perceived age.

Baby boomers represent a vast, unprecedented, untapped market. In fact, they represent a quarter of the Australian population. And according to the Property Council of Australia (2015), almost 80% of baby boomers own their home, representing an enormous financial resource. Yet, this generation is often either ignored or neglected when it comes to customer experience. Engaging all staff to improve the customer experience of older customers is crucial to realising the potential of this market. To do this, organisations must create:

  1. An organisational culture and workforce of engaged employees committed to stopping ageism in its tracks.
  2. An environment that seeks opportunity amongst older customers by encouraging the development of new products and services and/or modifying existing offerings.

Why De-grey the workforce?

Already, McKinsey has revealed the bottom line benefits to companies offering an exceptional customer experience. The gross margins of these companies can exceed those of their competitors by more than 26 per cent. However, the recent Deloitte report Missing Out reveals the missed opportunity of capitalising on a diverse workforce – including older workers – to improve the experience diverse customers have with an organisation. For example, the report found that less than half (41%) of customers surveyed believe that organisations treat customers respectfully, regardless of their personal characteristics.

What’s Your Organisation’s Pulse?

Given the current and future size of the ageing population and workforce, it’s essential companies examine the attitudes and beliefs of their employees towards older people. Through an Ageing Attitudes Pulse Check, companies not only get a snapshot of the current mood of the workplace when it comes to older people, they potentially  have access to deep insights into how this could be affecting the quality of service delivery and levels of innovation among workers – both young and old.

The pulse check can provide companies with the opportunity to:

  1. Enhance the awareness of unconscious biases and stereotypes held about  older customers and workers.
  2. Educate their workforce on the value, diversity and capabilities of older customers and older workers.
  3. Explore options, through market research, to re-design or co-create products, services and business processes that are age friendly.
  4. Examine the role of older workers for enhancing the experience of older customers.

For a Hollywood example of how older workers can improve the customer experience of older customers. Take a look at this short scene from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel of Judi Dench training younger call centre staff.

If you’d like to know more about how an Ageing Attitudes Pulse Check will benefit your company, contact us.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash