Demographics and Customer Service

They say demographics is destiny, but retailers don’t tend to take age groupings into account when formulating a customer service strategy. For that matter, how many retailers even have a customer service strategy?

In smoke shops and tobacco outlets, as in other retail establishments, demographics matter, as Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Millennials (1982 to 2004) and Generation Z’ers (1996 or later) all like, want, expect and are coming to demand different things when shopping.

Knowing how to cater to each generation’s unique outlooks and desires – and following up with employee training -- is an often overlooked but nonetheless critical part of a retailer’s success. Here are some essentials for retailers to keep in mind:

Selling experiences: Among the qualities for which Gen Z’ers are known, notes Matthew Hudson at, are their short attention spans and ability to jump from one app to the next — from pics to posts, from conversation to shopping -- with ease.

“In fact, many of these shoppers gravitate towards retailers that provide a seamless shopping experience like their lives.”

They also value community, and while they know they are young, don't want retailers to treat them that way. “They believe that they are armed with more power (and intelligence) than their older siblings and parents before them,” notes Hudson. “In other words, they believe that they can achieve the same things at 19 that their parents didn't until they were 29.” Retailers dealing with Gen Z also need to shift from talking about themselves and start talking about their customers, he adds. “So much of today's marketing and advertising is focused on what the retailer thinks is important versus what the customer thinks. They need to stop selling products and start selling experiences. They need to inspire ideas and projects that connect to the lives of the customer in new ways.”

Self-reliant: Millennials are many things, including self-reliant. Because they grew up with the internet at their fingertips, they’re fairly accustomed to discovering the information that they need on their own, according to Entrepreneur.

“In fact, according to the eal Self-Service Economy report via Parature, “40 percent of approximately 3,000 consumers in a global survey said they prefer self-service to human contact for their future contact with companies; 70 percent expect a company website to include a self-service application.”

Millennials are also known for their impatience -- wanting what they want now. “Millennials not only grew up with a wealth of information at their fingertips, they also grew up with smartphones and access to responses in real-time.”

Studies have discovered that 71 percent of online shoppers claim that the most important thing a brand can do is to value the customer’s time. “Additionally, 25 percent of Millennials expect to get a response within 10 minutes of reaching out for customer service via social media, and more than 30 percent expect the same speed of response when posting a query via text messaging.”

Sellers also need to keep in mind that Millennials value relationships and recommendations. “Despite not wanting to speak with customer service reps on the phone, Millennials engage with brands far more extensively, personally, and emotionally — and in entirely different ways — than have other generations,” Entrepreneur found.

Generation gap: According to consultant Bob Phibbs, the self-proclaimed Retail Doctor, the retail customer-service equation gets even more complicated when generations clash. He recently reported on how different generations’ perceptions and expectation made the selling proposition more complex and difficult:

“That Generation Gap was on display recently when Graham, a friend of mine, walked into a local electronics store to buy a microphone. The young sales associate took him to the microphones and then stood there silently hovering over him. The associate wasn't helping with anything; Graham didn’t think he knew anything about microphones. Finally, he said, “I’m fine.” The clerk replied, "I only get a commission if I stay here." Most Baby Boomers would not consider that good customer service — in fact, they would consider it just the opposite. The Millennial employee, on the other hand, thought he was doing his job.”

Training tips: Obviously, training retail employees is a science in itself and a major undertaking. But a couple of simple tips can produce good results immediately and help staffers learn how to approach different types of customers.

Hire for attitude, train for skill: “The success of your training program doesn’t just rely on your teaching methods, it also hinges on the inherent attitudes and values of your staff. As Bruce Nordstrom puts it, “We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.” That’s why it pays to put attitude over aptitude when hiring new people.”

Role play with employees regularly – it’s fun and educational: “Role playing can be quite effective, especially when it comes to sales training. As the team at Graff Retail notes, role playing “can be your number-one key ingredient to help bring your sales training to life and it will be the very thing that makes your staff finally just ‘get it!’”