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Underdeveloped interpersonal skills create service gap

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.


7 comments on “Underdeveloped interpersonal skills create service gap

  1. Doug Reimel

    This is actually a very interesting subject. This explains the dumb look you get when asking a teenager a question. So is it because of technology that the teenager and twenty somethings are unable to communicate unless they are texting. This makes it a very different approach in the sales process and the reason why personal service means nothing to the younger generation. Responses to this subject will be interesting

  2. Mike Caudle

    Never has an article been truer. I have had the same discussion with my own children regarding the lack of communication skills in our newer ganerations. They are too busy “cacooning” in their protected environment listening to heeadphones, talking to only friends, watcing television, movies, computer, and anything else to keep them from negotiating any communicatin outside of their own protected world. I am a firm believer that we as a society will pay this piper in the short years to come in every industry.

  3. Ted Chamberlin

    A very good point indeed, during the last 10 years as a marine instructor here at New England Tech I can state the incoming student population has been rather diverse, yet the majority of our young students now seem to fall into Mike’s description above. I believe one of the main causes for this is the fact is for the last two+ decades in most working families both spouses are working, and working more hours in the attempt to reach the “American Dream”. This forces many teenagers to entertain themselves and thus they are allowed to drown themselves in the electronic/video game/internet world – which we all know does not teach social skills or any of the social concepts required to survive in the real world. Hense yes, as Norman states industry members must take the steps in ourder to teach what “customer service” really is and how to strengthen it
    I also feel the concept of “no student left behind” should be revisited on a national scale. Some of the money spent on getting students prepared to pass a “test” might be better spent training our childern the old school values of ethics, social skills, and self esteem we aquired in some of the “shop” classes we took during our years in middle/high school. These courses teach self worth, pride, and strengthen the inner abilities many this new Millenia generation seem to lack today.

  4. Walt Strzalkowski

    Yes this is an interesting subject. It is interesting too, that the reverse applies: the younger generation of buyers is not interested in developing a ‘relationship’ with those of us in sales and service. They only want some simple facts, and then they are gone. At the end of the conversation, there is no sense of having made a personal connection.

  5. Wilson

    Gee…I thought communication was the by word of the next generation….Watch them in the coffee shop or just on the sidewalk, generally on a cell phone and sometime pecking on the laptop at the same time and when not doing that constantly text messaging….They must be “talking” to somebody.

    Seems like Garrison Kielor said something similiar recently when he hadn’t strayed off into politics.

    The long and the short is that the customer, no matter what age, wants attention…and service.

    I always thought that when it came to boting we paid more attention to the men than the women and it is the girls who, like it or not, control much of th money and houshold well being. When my wife says “Yes dear, I consider tht more of a dare than an affirmation of my desires.

  6. Blaze Miskulin

    “The children now love luxury; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise. […] They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, […] and tyrannize over their teachers.”

    It’s a quote from Socrates–from about 2,300 years ago. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

    Every generation, as they get older, has said the same thing about the generations that came after them. If you could go back and ask the grandparents of the baby boomers about the behavior of the boomers, I’m sure they’d say exactly the same thing as the study you mention. It has very little to do with generations, and almost everything to do with them being young. It’s also a perceptual thing: when an older person has a bad experience with a young sales person, it blossoms into “all those kids are bad”.

    I’ve spent more years than I care to think about working in one aspect of the service industry or another. Service has not gotten worse over the last 25 years. In many cases, it’s gotten better–because (I believe) of the internet. If you want to make your commission, you need to get that customer to buy in the store rather than going home and ordering off of amazon. That sort of competition just didn’t exist 50 years ago–or even 25 years ago.

    One thing that *has* changed is that sales persons don’t “hover” as much. They let you look around rather than walking up to you and trying to push you into a sale. I find that to be refreshing. I rarely, however, find sales persons (no matter what age) that ignore me when I ask a question.

  7. Brad

    It’s not the kids having no knowledge, it’s trying to get them to work. We’ve had more issues with kids 15-23 not showing up on time if at all. When they do show up all they do is complain how tired they are. They complain that they don’t get paid enough yet they never want to work. It’s gotten to the point where we try and hire retirees for the Summer jobs. Not all kids are like this, we’ve had some hard workers but the majority seems to be getting lazy. Their parents give them cars and spending money so they don’t worry about working like our gerneration had to(40+). I’ve talked with other stores outside the marine industry and you hear the same story. The workforce in 20 years should interesting.

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