Millennials vs. Gen Z: Differences in customer service expectations
They’re just one generation apart, but they think differently about customer service. Here’s how to tailor your customer service to millennials and Gen Z.
Last updated September 1, 2023
When it comes to customer service, one size does not fit all. There’s been a lot of talk about the differences between millennials and Generation Z, and while they might not seem that different in real life, the two cohorts have varying customer service expectations and preferences.
Every generation has unique needs, traits, and preferences—especially regarding customer service. If you don’t address each expectation properly, you may miss opportunities to boost your retention rates and improve your bottom line.
In this guide, learn more about millennials and Gen Z and their similarities and differences concerning customer service.
- What is a millennial?
- What is Generation Z?
- Millennials vs. Gen Z: Differences between millennials and Gen Z
- Similarities between millennial customer service characteristics and Gen Z customer service characteristics
- Best practices to keep everyone happy
What is a millennial and the millennial age range?
Millennials, sometimes known as Generation Y, is a demographic cohort that follows Generation X and proceeds Generation Z. Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, according to the Pew Research Center. So as of 2023, the millennial age range is between 27 and 42.
They were the first generation to grow up in the Internet Age but also remember life before social media. They have lived through not one but two generation-defining recessions and have been noted for craving work-life balance.
What is Generation Z and the Gen Z age range?
Generation Z, sometimes known as “zoomers,” is the demographic cohort that comes after millennials and proceeds Generation Alpha. Members of the Gen Z years were born between 1997 and 2012. So as of 2023, the Gen Z age range is anywhere from 11 to 26.
They are commonly referred to as the first fully “digitally native” generation. They grew up with social media and smartphones—they’re used to living in a digital-first world. Research from the National Library of Medicine shows that this diverse generation is highly motivated and more risk-averse than previous generations.
Customer service expectations: Differences between millennials and Gen Z
Millennials and Gen Z have different preferences around customer service, particularly when it comes to customer experience (CX) personalization, support quality, privacy, and self-service options. Explore the differences between millennials and Gen Z below:
Millennials prioritize the value of good support
Bad customer service can be devastating for businesses, often causing customer churn. Negative reviews also spread much faster than positive ones, meaning that merely a few horror stories can scare off many potential customers. When it comes to millennials vs. Gen Z, they both prioritize the value of good support—but to varying degrees.
According to Simeon Spearman, Senior Manager of Customer Insights and Research at Zendesk, 62 percent of millennials say they would switch to a competitor after one bad customer service experience. Alternatively, only 45 percent of Gen Z say the same.
Millennial customer service expectations are growing more demanding over time, too. 53 percent of millennials agree that customer service feels like an afterthought for most brands they interact with, but only 42 percent of Gen Z believe the same.
Takeaway: Millennial customer service expectations are higher, so follow up with your millennial customers with feedback surveys to gather more information about their experience and how you can improve it.
Millennials expect faster customer service
If millennials are your target audience, then your customer service operation needs to be nimble—80 percent of millennials expect an immediate response when contacting a company.
In terms of Gen Z customer service expectations, it would appear that they’re better at accepting delayed gratification than millennials. This might explain why only 64 percent of zoomers demand an instant response when reaching out to customer support.
Millennials crave personalized service
Personalized experiences are another key expectation when looking at millennials vs. Gen Z customer service. According to Zendesk research, 63 percent of millennials are willing to spend more with brands that personalize their online experiences.
On the other hand, Gen Zers believe personalized experiences are not exclusive to luxury brands—27 percent disagree that a personalized customer experience is only for premium brands.
Takeaway: Make the customer experience as personalized as possible when interacting with the millennial generation—this ensures that support is tailored to their individual needs and preferences, making them feel more valued.
Gen Z prefers self-service options
Young adult 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 purchase something.
Our research also found that 40 percent of millennials experience an increase in exhaustion levels after customer service interactions. Self-service options may help millennial customers find answers more quickly.
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.
Takeaway: If customer self-service options fail to help, be sure there’s an easy way for customers to contact a human agent who can resolve the issue. Millennial customer service expectations are more strict, so this generation is less tolerant of poor customer service.
Millennials highly value privacy
Another difference between millennials and Gen Z is their views on data privacy. For example, 48 percent of Gen Z agree that businesses are doing enough to protect their identities and information—this is 60 percent for millennials.
Additionally, half of Gen Z say there’s nothing they can do about businesses collecting their info (59 percent for millennials).
Takeaway: Businesses should follow good data privacy practices and increase customer transparency to gain trust among all buyers.
Customer service expectation similarities between millennials and Gen Z
Though Gen Z and millennial customer service expectations vary, there are some similarities as well: The two generations are comfortable with chatbots, they make purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service they receive, and they prefer using digital channels to contact customer support.
You can take advantage of these similarities by tailoring your marketing strategies and support to please both audiences.
Younger consumers have stepped up their AI chatbot 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.
In our research, the majority of both generations agreed on the benefit of chatbots for solving everyday problems: 60 percent of zoomers and millennials said that “automation/bots are helpful for simple issues.”
However, Gen Z tends to be a bit more comfortable with chatbot use than millennials. Only 71 percent of Gen Z say they have to connect to a human after interacting with chatbots (81 percent for millennials).
Takeaway: Chatbots are great customer service solutions for younger generations who are more comfortable using self-service tools.
Quality of customer service affects purchase decisions
The quality of customer service affects purchasing decisions for both Gen Z and millennials. For example, more than half of respondents from each generation say that a bad interaction with a company can ruin their day. (51 percent for Gen Z and 58 percent for millennials).
This is why strong customer service is important—both cohorts report that a positive customer experience makes them more likely to repeat a purchase (72 percent for Gen Z and 77 percent for millennials).
To improve your customer service, consider:
- Serving your customers on the channels of their choice
- Being more empathetic and flexible with customers
- Adopting a more customer-centric attitude
- Providing proactive support
- Delivering personalized service
- Increasing your first response time
- Providing more self-help features such as a help center or knowledge base
Takeaway: There’s proof that high-quality customer service increases retention and sales.
Digital channels are the preferred method of contact
Help centers and chatbots aren’t the only digital support options that younger customers embrace. For example:
- Over one-third of all zoomers and millennials started using web chat more during COVID-19, compared to 15 percent of baby boomers (ages 59 to 77).
- 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.
Takeaway: Offering a range of support options via various digital channels allows you to meet customers where they are and provide better experiences.
Millennials vs. Gen Z: Best practices to keep everyone happy
Your customer service agents are one of your primary drivers of sustainable business growth. According to our research, 90 percent of consumers spend more with companies that offer their preferred means of reaching customer service. Here are some millennials vs. Gen Z best practices to keep everyone happy.
Provide omnichannel customer service
Both generations are digital natives, so it’s important to provide a range of digital channels that make it easy for them to reach out for support. This is where omnichannel customer service comes in—it allows businesses to create consistent customer interactions. All conversation history and context travel with the customer, so conversations can continue seamlessly from one channel to the next. This capability can boost the overall customer experience.
Omnichannel support capabilities can cover:
- Phone support
- Email support
- Social media support
- Chatbot support
A customer service solution from Zendesk lets your buyers interact with your brand how they prefer and provides agents with a unified view to serve customers quickly and across channels.
Invest in comprehensive self-service options
Both millennials and Gen Z report feeling frustrated for not being able to find answers to their issues online. To satisfy both generations, offer comprehensive self-service options so customers can resolve their problems without help from a support agent.
Some examples of customer self-service options include:
Self-service resources not only empower customers to find answers independently but can also reduce customers’ exhaustion levels after support interactions.
Adopt ethical and environmentally friendly practices
Though more tangential to client-facing operations, this best practice shouldn’t go unnoticed. Gen Z and millennials care about the social responsibility of the companies they do business with. Many buyers in the younger generations prefer products and businesses that are sustainable and conscious of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices, according to The State of Consumer Spending report from First Insight.
To satisfy both Gen Z customer service and millennial customer service expectations in this category, incorporate ethical and environmentally friendly practices into your operations, such as:
- Giving back to social causes: Donate a percentage of sales to a charity or nonprofit.
- Showing you’re sustainable: Customers want to see your efforts to fight climate change, so prove that you’re putting in the work with a behind-the-scenes look into your operations.
- Reducing waste: Lower the number of paper products your company uses and reduce single-use plastics.
- Spreading the message: Spreading the word about your efforts through social media and email blasts can help show customers that you care about environmental and social causes.
Build great experiences for every generation
Although there are some differences between millennial and Gen Z customer service expectations, there are also many similarities that can provide opportunities for your business to grow. With these tips, you can build a great experience for every generation of customers. To further improve the customer experience, ensure you integrate sophisticated customer service software for streamlined support.