Adapting Service to Varied Generations


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I was just talking with a representative of a local insurance agency who mentioned that the older clients love her.  Why?  Because they love the fact that she listens to them and takes time with them and will explain slowly any technology that they may not understand.

This is very instructive.  I often say that in service, you must be almost like a chameleon, adapting and changing your interaction and communication style depending on the different needs of each individual customer.  Now let’s take a closer look at an encounter with one of these elderly customers.  The insurance rep patiently listens while the customer tells her all about what has happened in her life since last they met.  A great builder of relationships, the rep remembers that the last time the client was in, she mentioned her grandson was graduating from college.  “Ms. Oaks, I remember you mentioning your grandson’s graduation.  I hope that went well.  You said he would be looking for a job… has he been able to find one?”  

The personalized customer service and attention to detail has made Mrs. Oaks a client for life.   It is not about the sale, it is about the life of her client and being genuinely interested in that life.  It also recognizes that this particular client is a bit lonely since her husband passed away and enjoys having conversation with her insurance rep when she has the opportunity.

Now here is the challenge… what if Mr. Lansford, a busy young professional is sitting outside the office while the conversation about the other client’s grandson drags on and on.   Someone in the office needs to recognize that he may not be on the same relaxed time frame as the grandmother now illuminating the rep on the fantastic job her grandson has post graduation.  As a matter of fact, Mr. Lansford is getting really irritated by being kept waiting.  Unless someone steps in to offer more immediate service, he is not going to be a happy camper.

This scenario plays out thousands of times every day in every type of business imaginable in service encounters taking place in-person, via telephone and even via automated encounters.  A savvy service rep knows the fine art of balancing the spend time vs. move on and help the next person equation.  Likewise, a great customer service team knows when someone needs to be ‘bailed out’ of a too long conversation with a customer.

One of the best things any customer service rep can do to build customer service relationships is to address not only the needs of the current individual being served but also those who may be ‘next in line’.  An astute team member buzzes in and says, “So sorry to interrupt but your next appointment is here.”  The skilled service rep will be bold enough to use that message and combine it with the friendliness of the rambling customer to politely say, “Mrs. Oaks, it’s been great visiting with you.  They just buzzed in and my next client is waiting. I hope you will stop in again soon!”

Here is where the chameleon needs to quickly change color.  While greeting Mr. Lansford, the rep makes a few visual observations and determines that Mr. Lansford is in a bit of a hurry and maybe even a bit irritated for having to wait.  In a much more matter of fact tone than the previous conversation this greeting follows:  “Mr. Lansford, so nice to see you.  My apologies for the wait, it has been a hectic day today.”  Staying in full control of this close encounter, the rep gets right down to business… “Mr. Lansford, I have your home insurance quote ready for you.  Let’s review it together!”

In your next customer service training session or customer service meeting, take the time to list several categories of customers by age, product lines, personalities, etc. and identify common traits and special needs of which you are aware.  If multiple staff members do this together it is likely to be a more instructive exercise.  After all, as a team we can all learn from each other’s close encounters.  What one rep has a certain approach with a customer, that may be a successful approach to use with other similar customers.  This is also a great time to, OH NO, discuss when you have failed with a certain customer type.  Be brave enough to identify what went wrong, the why behind it and explore what different approaches could be tried with similar customers in similar close encounters.  The only bad mistake is one we don’t learn from! 

Is being a chameleon being phony?  Quite the contrary, quickly adapting to the varied needs of your customers signals that you are a true professional with extraordinary customer service chameleon like superpowers.  Use those changing colors to give exceptional service to each of your varied customers! 

A world recognized customer service expert, Teresa Allen is often asked to share strategies for customer service success in her highly rated customer service keynotes and customer service training programs.  To contact Teresa, contact her via email: [email protected].

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Teresa Allen
Teresa Allen is a nationally recognized customer service speaker and customer service author. Allen is owner of Common Sense Solutions, a national training and consulting firm focused on bringing common sense to business and life. Allen is author of Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines and is co-author of The Service Path: Your Roadmap for Building Strong Customer Loyalty.


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