The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Generation


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I don’t care what companies know about me, I’m really not that interesting.

This is what Nina, my 20-something running friend, mentioned the other day on one of our longer jaunts. She went on to say if someone really wanted to know what she read, listened to, or even her location, she really didn’t care, especially if she benefited from it somehow.

This kind of blew my mind, since while I am not particularly guarded about myself, many of my 40-something friends have quite the opposite attitude. They get angry about unsolicited emails, they refuse to post pictures of their kids on Facebook or Instagram, and some abstain completely from social media, summarily dismissing the whole business as a “waste of time.”

Before you write some of my Gen X brethren off as hopeless Luddites, consider my parents’ generation. Gen Xers’ attitudes about personal information sharing are a faint echo of the strident privacy paranoia of the “Silent Generation.” I remember as a child not getting discounted school lunch vouchers, not because our family didn’t qualify or we didn’t need them, but because then people would know about our economic situation by the color of my lunch ticket. Not good in a small town. My parents would fret about someone learning about out how much they paid for their house, their age or, god forbid, their annual income. That was and continues to be taboo topic for them.  I decided not to send them into a tailspin by showing them Zillow.

It turns out, there are major attitudinal differences among generations in regard to privacy and information sharing. Millennials and the newer cohort of “Plurals” (those age 18-22) are much more open to sharing their information. In a recent MaritzCX G-Tailing Poll among a national representative sample of 1,400 Americans, we found that nearly 40% of Plurals agreed with my friend Nina and didn’t care about who saw their information as long as they got something of benefit in return. Only 1 in 4 of the older Boomer cohort agreed with the same statement.

Millennials and Plurals have been conditioned to this informational quid pro quo through online interactions with all sorts of “free” services. In short, many are comfortable “being the product” as long as the aforementioned product gets something in return.

  • Free photo sharing, sure. What? Others look at them too?…Ok, no big deal.
  • Free online music?.. I have to listen to an ad from time to time? No problem.
  • Free email? What? You might you use my personal information for other purposes? Well ok.

The paradox of this apparent data nonchalance is that people are still freaked outabout the role of technology and their information. Almost half of the American population feels overwhelmed daily by information thrust at them.  Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans are concerned about the security of their personal information.  Big companies and governmental organization aren’t helping with recent data breaches, but the cloud continues to roll on. While younger generations are still clearly concerned about where their personal information goes, they are significantly less concerned compared Gen Xers, Boomers, and the Silent/GI Generation.

So why is that?

One reason may be that younger generations are quite adept at using technology to control technology. They figure out work-arounds and countermeasures. They use technology to work in the shadows if they want to. Snapchat allows temporary photo sharing. Whisper allows anonymous communication between individuals and groups. Yik Yak allows users to create anonymous messages (aka “Yaks”) to all users within a 10-mile radius. This technological anonymity even extends into the dating world, with Tinder  allowing users to express romantic interest to one another anonymously.

Likewise, members of the younger generations are finding hacks to fool systems. Well over 83 million Facebook accounts are fake. Forty-one (41%) of Millennials use fake email accounts to protect their privacy and also use services like 10 Minute Mail that provide a disposable email account that self destructs in 10 minutes.

In short, Millennials and Plurals are very competent Sorcerer’s Apprentices who seem to have, at least temporarily, gained control over the magical technological broom.

What does that mean for CX?

If Gen Xers were the first generation to “wise up” and resist attempts of marketing influence and control, then this newer generation has turned the table completely. They have shown that they are more than willing to put the hurt on a company if it isn’t paying attention.

In the fight for “control of the customer,” there is no winner. Don’t struggle. Don’t fight to control. Let go. Breathe. Use marketplace jujutsu to take advantage of the customer empowered zeitgeist. Give your customers anonymity if they want it. Give them the choice of what they get and don’t get.  Give them the power, or they will take it from you. Earn their trust.

More than ever, there is a truly balanced relationship between customer and company, especially among Millennials and Plurals. The relationship has to be equitable or it will fall apart as Heider said it would. At no time has social exchange theory been more relevant in the today’s CX environment. To get, you have to give.

By tearing down the us/them dichotomy between companies and customers, we can create a much more productive and profitable environment for both sides. To do so, companies must change, not the customers.  So be human, and provide choice to your customers. Give something back of contextual relevance to them. Earn a friend and use that information to be helpful, not creepy.

If you are interested in learning more about generational differences from our recent G-Tailing study, please join me here on June 18th.  It should be a fun and interesting discussion.  See you there!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Fish, Ph.D.

Dave is the founder of CuriosityCX, an insights and advisory consultancy for Customer Experience. Formerly he was CMO for MaritzCX, now an InMoment company. He has 25+ years of applied experience in understanding consumer behavior consulting with Global 50 companies. Dave has held several executive positions at the Mars Agency, Engine Group, J.D. Power and Associates, Toyota Motor North America, and American Savings Bank. He teaches at the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of "The Customer Experience Field Guide" available on Amazon and


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