Underdeveloped interpersonal skills create service gap

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The difference between providing good or bad customer service in a dealership may be more generational than we recognize. As reported recently in the Philadelphia Inquirer, it has a name – the Service Gap.

No, the Service Gap isn’t a trendy store for military personnel. It is a description of the difference in the way baby boomers (40 to 60 year olds) and members of the “millennial generation” (twenty somethings) identify customer service. According to professors William Withers and Patrick Langan at Wartburg College in Iowa, boomers and millennials have far different social experiences and expectations. Demographics today often place the millennials behind the counter serving the boomer customers. Professor Withers points out that in just 2 shorts years (2010) boomers will make up nearly half the population and control 65 percent of the disposable income. As shoppers, they were shaped in a past era where stores were staffed with well-trained sales people. So, today, they’re standing in front of the counter with expectations that those behind the counter will demonstrate those past era characteristics.

On the other hand, the millennials we frequently place behind our counters haven’t had that same experience. Their shopping background is quite impersonal. They frequently shop on the Internet or by phone. Their social life is also deep into technologies, like text messaging, instant messages or MySpace. No interpersonal relationships. So, if the millennial employee keeps the boomer-customer waiting for service and makes that customer feel like he’s interrupting, the employee will see no problem and label the customer cranky.

“They’re clueless,” says Franni Segal, a boomer and travel agent with a degree in retailing. They’re more interested in talking to their friends,” she says, referring to the millennials behind the counter. “Today when you go into a store they’re not interested in you’re your needs. With that kind of service you get now you might as well be on the Internet,” she adds.

Professor Withers contends that generally, younger people “who are coming up in the service sector are just another breed of cat. They have interpersonal skills that we’re finding are underdeveloped,” he says. But he also blames this kind of Service Gap, at least in part, on employers. Many lack the time or money to properly train the millennials, he contends. 

The message is clear. We must make time to train and communicate our dealership’s culture of customer service to all employees, particularly those who fall into the millennial group.

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