Different strokes for different generations

By Barry Himmel, Signature Worldwide

It’s safe to say that since the vast majority of customers hail from four different generations, each has different customer service expectations. If you’re a baby boomer like me, you probably don’t have any problem relating to and working with other baby boomers. Building relationships with customers and closing the sale with other generations can become increasingly difficult, however. Understanding how to best communicate with this multigenerational audience can make a difference to the bottom line of your rental business.

“The Greatest Generation”

The first generation of customers is the traditionalists. These folks were born between 1900 and 1945, and are also referred to as “The Greatest Generation,” based on a book by Tom Brokaw. Although many of the people at the tail end of this generation are approaching the traditional retirement age, many are also staying in the workforce longer — either full-time or part-time — due to economic pressures, social needs and health issues.

As customers, traditionalists can be very loyal. If you provide a quality product and do what you promise, this generation will be customers for life. Also, they like a well-structured chain of command and seek out security and stability. For example, a customer from this generation might prefer speaking directly with the manager/owner, or would ask for someone they have worked with in the past. In general, this generation prefers face-to-face interaction.

When greeting a traditionalist, use formal greetings and salutations such as Sir or Mr., or ask them how they prefer to be addressed. A firm handshake, upright posture and direct eye contact also work well. When selling or renting to a traditionalist, spend extra time listening to their needs. They want to be respected for their knowledge and experience. After all, they’ve been around awhile. Traditionalists are products of the Great Depression, which will likely make them more price sensitive than other generations.

The optimistic and idealistic generation

Following the traditionalist are the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964. This group still represents the bulk of the workforce with the very oldest of them approaching retirement. Estimates put the number of boomers near 78 million, with 73 percent of this group in the workforce.

Boomers are most likely the bulk of your customer base. They were born into the wealthiest generation and value status and materialism. When renting to a baby boomer, you should focus on building value. Be sure to share with them the quality of your equipment, as well as things like maintenance requirements and how the equipment in which they are interested compares to other models. Boomers will be less sensitive to price if they believe they are getting a superior product and good value.

Because there were so many baby boomers growing up together, they like to feel part of the group, but at the same time, are very competitive. Take the time to explain how doing business with your company can provide a competitive advantage.

The independent generation

The next generation following the baby boomers is Generation X. These individuals were born between 1965 and 1980 and have been in the workforce since the early ’80s.

Much of this generation saw their parents work diligently and sacrifice family time for the good of their employer, only to be laid off late in life, or lose benefits and/or retirement income. Gen Xers are therefore very suspicious of authority and skeptical of the “status quo,” which makes it difficult to close the sale.

You should approach a Gen X customer more as a consultant, instead of as a salesman. Aside from conveying the features of the equipment, it’s important to explain why those features are necessary. Gen Xers are independent thinkers, so customizing each explanation works best.

Because they like to be kept abreast of the bigger picture, you might want to share with a Gen X customer how convenient the rental process is at your store — from reserving the equipment, jobsite delivery, emergency maintenance and the return process. After you have explained the process once, these customers will typically determine the best course of action.

The up and coming generation

Finally, we have the Millennials. Born between 1981 and 2000, this group has been entering the workforce for the last decade. Although they are not likely to be a significant portion of your customer base, Millennials could be an easier customer to work with.

These individuals, the oldest of which are 27, haven’t known a world without technology and are amazing multitaskers. This type of customer will undoubtedly have educated themselves on your products and services via your website. Because they are an informed consumer, Millennials will expect competitive pricing and might want to negotiate based on your competitor’s advertised price.

Unlike Gen Xers, you only need to communicate small bits of information to Millennials. With cell phones, online social networks, and text messaging, this group is used to conversing in sound bites. In fact, this generation of customers might only contact you online through your website contact form, preferring to do business without face-to-face conversation.

Also differing from Generation X, Millennials aren’t as concerned with the “why.” They prefer to know about results. So when renting to a Millennial, focus on the results that each piece of equipment can provide. In addition, highlight the types of equipment that will save them time — they expect to get things done quickly.

As you have experienced many times, not every customer is alike, nor should they be treated in the same manner. When you factor in the different characteristics of the multiple generations, it will be easier for you to build relationships, gain trust and close business. Being sensitive to the different generational styles will help you become a more effective communicator and rental operator.

Barry Himmel is a senior vice president for Signature Worldwide, a Dublin, Ohio-based sales and marketing consulting company offering customer service training, marketing and mystery shopping services for the equipment rental industry. For more information, call (800) 398-0518 or visit www.signatureworldwide.com/pr.