Article | 10 min read

Millennials vs. Gen Z: What are the key differences?

They’re just one generation apart, but they think differently. Here’s how to tailor your customer service to both Millennials and Gen Z.

By Max Gorynski, Contributing Writer

Last updated July 15, 2022

There’s been a lot of talk about the differences between Millennials and Generation Z. It’s even been suggested that the two generations are at war.

But while they might not be quite that different in real life, the two cohorts have varying customer service expectations and preferences. And, if not addressed properly, those differences can spell trouble for your retention rates and bottom line.

At Zendesk, we carried out a survey to discover exactly how Millennials and Gen Z differ when it comes to customer service. This is what we found out.

Millennial characteristics vs. Gen Z

Age does separate Gen Z and Millennials, but both generations have lived through major global events that shaped their buying habits and attitudes.

Millennial age range

Millennial age range

Members of the Millennial generation were born between 1981 and 1996. As of 2022, their ages fall between 26 and 41.

They were the first generation to grow up in the Internet Age, but they also remember what life was like before social media took over. They have lived through not one but two generation-defining recessions and have been noted for their frugality.

Gen Z age range

Members of Generation Z, otherwise known as “Zoomers,” were born between 1997 and 2012. So, their ages as of 2022 range anywhere from 10 to 25.

They are commonly referred to as the first fully “digitally native” generation. They grew up with social media all around them and are used to living in a digital-first world. Research shows they are highly value-driven as well as more risk-averse than prior generations.

Gen Z age range

Millennials vs. Gen Z: How are these generations different?

While Millennials and Gen Z share some similarities, they do have different preferences around customer service—from the channels they use to their expectations of quality support.

Millennials are more sensitive to negative experiences than Zoomers

Bad customer service can be devastating for businesses, often causing churn. Negative reviews also spread much faster than positive ones, meaning that merely a few horror stories can scare off many potential customers.

According to our survey, different age groups show different tolerance levels for poor support experiences.

In our survey, 73 percent of Millennials said they’d likely switch to a company’s competitor after just one bad experience. Only 56 percent of Zoomers reported they’d do the same. Gen Z is also more receptive to good customer service: 68 percent said they’d be happy to continue using a company’s product or service after receiving excellent service.

Millennials are growing more demanding over time, too. Our survey showed that 75 percent of Millennials now have higher customer service standards after the crises of the past few years. Meanwhile, 55 percent of Gen Z respondents said the same.

So, do Gen Z customers just have thicker skin when it comes to dealing with subpar customer service reps? Not necessarily. Nearly half of all Zoomers identified “unfriendly support agent” as one of the most frustrating aspects of a poor experience—more than any other age group. Gen Z still wants to talk to helpful, empathetic agents; they’re just less likely to leave a brand if their expectations aren’t met.

73% of Millennials said they’d likely switch to a company’s competitor after just one bad experience. Only 56% of Zoomers reported they’d do the same.

Zoomers’ higher tolerance for negative experiences might be explained by their comparative lack of wealth. Gen Z includes teenagers and young adults, many of whom are likely making purchasing decisions based on cost rather than CX. As they grow older and more economically secure, Zoomers may eventually find they can afford to be as picky as Millennials.

Gen Z prefers self-service options

Younger consumers are used to doing their research. Perhaps because they grew up during the Great Recession, the digital natives of Generation Z are especially careful to learn about products before they commit to a purchase. Roughly three out of four Zoomers say they take their time comparing prices, reading reviews, and checking out different brands before they buy.

As a result, it’s no surprise that Gen Z customers also value the ability to solve issues on their own. In our survey, 30 percent of Zoomers identified “not being able to find the information I need online” as one of the most frustrating aspects of bad customer service.

Roughly 3 out of 4 Zoomers say they take their time comparing prices.

During the pandemic, Zoomers embraced self-service options more enthusiastically than any other age cohort. Nearly 30 percent of Gen Z customers say they’ve increased their usage of help centers, knowledge bases, and FAQ pages as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Compare that to 26 percent of Millennials, 20 percent of Gen Xers, and merely 12 percent of Boomers.

Zoomers have high expectations for self-service support, so companies catering to this group should create robust knowledge bases that empower customers to help themselves.

Millennials expect faster customer service than Gen Z

If Millennials are your target audience, then your customer service operation needs to be nimble—80 percent of Millennials say they expect an immediate response when contacting a company.

It would appear that Gen Zers are better at accepting delayed gratification than their Millennial counterparts. This might explain why only 64 percent of Zoomers demand an instant response when reaching out to customer support.

Millennials crave personalized service more than Zoomers

Our survey found that almost 80 percent of Millennials expect fully personalized customer service. That’s compared to just over half of all Gen Z respondents. What’s more, 70 percent of Millennials reported they’d likely spend more with a company that offers their preferred customer service channel, while 55 percent of Zoomers said the same.

Build a self-service experience for all generations

This free guide is designed to help you create the right practices internally and build the best self-service experience you can for your customers.

Generation Z vs. Millennials: The customer service practices they agree on

Customer service practices they agree on, handshake

Though Millennials and Gen Z differ in a few ways, they do share some customer service preferences. Take advantage of these similarities by tailoring your support to please both audiences.

  • Millennials and Zoomers are comfortable with AI and chatbots

    A chatbot is essentially an interactive FAQ page that can directly respond to questions by suggesting relevant content. For that reason, a bot is a great customer service solution for younger generations who are more comfortable using self-service tools.

    Younger consumers have stepped up their AI usage in recent years. 20 percent of Zoomers and 18 percent of Millennials say the COVID-19 crisis has led them to use bots more often. Interestingly, our study showed that Millennials are 39 percent more likely to be comfortable with chatbots than Zoomers. Millennials are so comfortable with bots that 62 percent of them agreed they would rather interact with a bot than a human, compared to 43 percent of Gen Z respondents.

    The majority of both generations agreed on the benefit of chatbots for solving everyday problems. 60 percent of Zoomers and Millennials agreed that “automation/bots are helpful for simple issues,” while only 15 percent disagreed.

    But the two cohorts are a little more divided on the value of chatbots when it comes to resolving an urgent issue. About 40 percent of Gen Z and Millennial customers agreed with the statement, “When in a hurry, I would prefer to interact with a chatbot rather than a human agent.” Meanwhile, 30 percent disagreed.

  • Millennials and Zoomers make purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service they receive

    Our survey showed that 80 percent of Millennials make purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service. Gen Z wasn’t far behind—67 percent of Zoomers said the quality of customer service influenced their buying decisions. It’s proof that great customer service increases not only retention but also sales.

  • Millennials and Zoomers use digital channels to contact customer service

    Help centers and chatbots aren’t the only digital support options that younger customers are embracing.

    28 percent of Gen Z and 29 percent of Millennial shoppers increased their use of in-app messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Over a third of all Zoomers and Millennials started using web chat more, compared to 15 percent of Boomers.

    19 percent of Zoomers and 20 percent of Millennials started using community forums more during the pandemic, compared to 5 percent of consumers ages 55 or older.

    About a quarter of Gen Z and Millennial consumers said they started contacting customer service via SMS and text messaging during the pandemic, compared to only 14 percent of shoppers ages 55 and up.

    36 percent of Zoomers and Millennials increased their use of social messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, compared to 19 percent of older customers.

    Contacting customer service via video chat has also become increasingly popular among younger generations: 24 percent of Zoomers and 28 percent of Millennials used video-based customer service channels during the pandemic.

    Though younger generations are adopting newer channels, they haven’t fully outgrown the phone: 42 percent of Zoomers said they called customer service more often as a result of the pandemic—the largest portion of any age group.

What Baby Boomers expect from customer service

Of course, Gen Z and Millennials aren’t the only demographics you’ll be catering to. Baby Boomers are still very much in the mix, and they have their own unique traits and idiosyncrasies.

  • They prefer human interaction

    When it comes to solving problems for older users, a human touch goes a long way. Over 40 percent of Boomers told us they preferred face-to-face customer service—higher than the other cohorts.

    Interestingly, video chat doesn’t seem to satisfy Boomers’ preference for human interaction. Only 12 percent of Boomers said they used video chat solutions during the pandemic.

  • They’re ambivalent about using social media for customer service

    There’s a big divide between older and younger generations when it comes to using social media channels for customer service. 31 percent of Zoomers and 29 percent of Millennials are happy to contact businesses on platforms like Facebook and Twitter when they need support. However, just 10 percent of consumers ages 55 and over will use social media to reach out to companies.

  • They aren’t all fans of AI and bots

    Many Boomers aren’t keen on chatbots. Only 50 percent of Boomers agreed with the statement “automation/bots are helpful for simple issues,” while 18 percent disagreed.

    Even when Boomers are short on time, chatbots can take a back seat. A mere 20 percent of Boomers said they’d rather talk to a bot than a human when in a hurry. Meanwhile, 50 percent of them strongly disagreed.

    Few people from this generation are familiar with bots, which may explain their resistance to the technology. Just over 5 percent of older consumers have used a chatbot for customer service since the pandemic.

    At the same time, many Boomers struggle to realize when they’re interacting with a bot. We asked customers, “As far as you know, have you interacted with an automated support bot in the past year?” Over half of Zoomers and Millennials answered yes. But less than 30 percent of consumers ages 55 and up said they had. Tellingly, 15 percent answered “I don’t know,” a higher percentage than in other age groups.

    Avoid frustrating customers by being upfront about your use of AI. A good chatbot will identify itself as a bot and give people the ability to opt-out and speak to a human agent instead.

    Keep the number of questions your chatbot asks to a minimum, too. Our survey showed over 50 percent of consumers believe it’s “annoying” to get 20 questions from chatbots. And it would be best if you always had human agents on hand to intervene where required.

Keep every generation happy by going omnichannel

Your customer service agents are one of your primary drivers of sustainable business growth. 90 percent of consumers spend more with companies that offer their preferred means of reaching customer service.

Encourage more sales by making Millennials, Zoomers, and Baby Boomers all feel at home when it comes to customer service. To do that, omnichannel support capabilities are essential. Omnichannel customer service enables your buyers to interact with your brand in the way they prefer. Whether they’re more partial to phone calls, chatbots, or tweets, you’ll have them covered.

Build a self-service experience for all generations

This free guide is designed to help you create the right practices internally and build the best self-service experience you can for your customers.

Build a self-service experience for all generations

This free guide is designed to help you create the right practices internally and build the best self-service experience you can for your customers.

Get the guide