Long-term customer loyalty turns on relationships, and now more than ever, businesses must focus on differentiating themselves by the level of service they provide. As Mary Coffin, head of customer excellence for wells fargo home lending, has shared with us, this is “the age of the customer, because in their hands lies the source of all power.” And with all the mobile capabilities that bring the world into the palm of our hands, customers are more knowledgeable than ever. So “the art of the future is how you communicate.”

Understanding what drives customer behavior is critical to effective communication, and extremely conducive to delivering exceptional service. Our needs, personality and values are greatly influenced by our experiences, and viewing these influences in terms of generation can be helpful. Here are some considerations for the generational groups representing the future of customer behavior:

Millennials (1982–1995)

This generation loves technology. They are highly optimistic, and often believe they can do anything. Spending their parents’ money is acceptable, and they often influence their parents’ buying trends. Millennials typically work to live — they don’t live to work. They are into experiences and authenticity. They know real when they see it. It is important to talk with millennials, not to them.

In working with millennials, show knowledge and empowerment to provide what is needed, as millennials are reassured by the presence of an authority figure. Be prepared for high expectations when working through issues — partnering with them may be best. They want authenticity in people and products and feel comfortable challenging others.

“Recognizing what customers truly want, and more importantly, need, is the cornerstone of successful business.”

Generation Z (1996–Present)

This generation has been shaped by a post-9/11 world and our war on terror. They tend to be conservative with their money. The oldest Z’s are working and saving what they earn. They do not like debt. When faced with a problem, they take action. These individuals are the “now” generation and expect information immediately through their handheld devices. Slow and cumbersome processes can be irritants. For the customer service professional, this means using the media and speed they use and trust.

In working with Generation Z, be prepared for many questions and challenges in working through issues. Recognize that Generation Z’ers may not be equipped with complete or accurate information — as my doctor says, he has a hard time competing with “Dr. Google.” Remember, the customer is not always right, but do discover ways to make your interactions and processes as smooth and timely as possible.

Constructive communication

Attentive to the changing trends of preferred communication, Wells Fargo, for instance, recognizes the importance of infographics, bullet points, emboldened words, and headlines for a generation that tends to scan more than read. “Simplicity is a must,” in the words of Coffin.

While customer behavior continues to evolve, methods for measuring and analyzing customer satisfaction must keep up as well. Besides the financial resources to thrive, customers provide organizations with valuable input. Seek and use that feedback constructively to drive improvement and innovation and to influence your organization’s strategic direction. Recognizing what customers truly want, and more importantly, need, is the cornerstone of successful business.

For any feedback instrument in any medium, management must be willing to analyze, summarize and use the data in a capacity that does two things:

  1. It makes appropriate improvements in processes, products or services from those opportunities identified by customers.
  2. It assures the customers that they have been heard and that their inputs are being used constructively.

When things go wrong, as they inevitably will in any business, customers are far more likely to share complaints with friends than with the business itself. Today, this happens immediately and reaches a much broader audience than ever before. But, as always, when you’ve shown your customer you’re listening, want their feedback and value their opinion, whether that’s in person or on Twitter, they will be back, and the reviews will be positive.