Bridging the Service Gap

How to bridge the “service gap” when customers and employees live on opposite sides.

Service Circa 1968 In my childhood memories, my mother pulls up to the gas station. A man dressed in a crisp uniform jogs to the driver’s window. “Fill ‘er up?” he asks politely. “Regular or Ethel?” That same uniformed service professional efficiently cleans our windows, checks the oil, and briskly walks our payment into the station. He returns with change and a heartfelt “Thank you, ma’am.”

[Old enough to share this memory, I bet you know the melody to this TV commercial jingle: “You can trust your car, to the man who wears the star— the big, bright Texaco star!”]

Service Circa 1988 My children’s childhood memories of going to the gas station feature mom hopping out of her into gale force winds, pumping her own gas, cleaning the windows (until the kids got tall enough!), then trudging into the station to pay or paying at the pump.

My children the millennial “self service” generation, grew up in the era of self-service gas stations, empty-your-own-cart and bag-your-own groceries, no-service retail stores, ATM banking, on-line shopping, ticketless travel, self automated phone service, and bus-your-own-table restaurants.

Service Gap 2013“Baby Boomers”—and the generation of my children, the “Millennials”—have very different definitions and expectations of “quality customer service.” Our vastly different life experiences have led to the “service gap.” Sometimes, when these two generations meet at the opposite side of the checkout counter, the gap can look more like a “chasm.”

“There’s a tremendous culture and value gap,” said William Withers. Communications professor at Wartburg College in Iowa and colleague Patrick Langan, study the generational dynamics of customer service. Boomers, make up a quarter of the population, and 40% of economy. That puts Boomers “in the checkout line and millennials behind the counter.”

Further, when new employees need it most—many businesses simply don’t invest the time or the resources for customer service training, mentoring and support.

Bridging the Gap How can companies bridge the gap and provide quality service? They must invest in training that opens the dialogue between these two generations. People in their teens and 20s are NOT lazy or indifferent. Boomers are NOT getting grumpier as they age. These two generations are just approaching life from two very different social experiences.

Instead of talking “about” the other generation, begin talking “with” them. The challenge is appreciate—even if we don’t agree— how the world looks from the other side of the “service gap”