Posted March 9, 2017
With the number of seniors expected to reach 20.9 percent of the population by 2020, contact centers are being increasingly confronted with the challenges of serving an aging population.
The majority of call center agents fall into the Millennial age range, and bridging the gap between the generations — and their differing expectations — is critical to providing great customer service.
Service leaders are beginning to recognize and adopt tools, strategies and programs to help younger agents better assist seniors. One of the leaders in this area is the AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons), an organization that offers customer service to its 38 million senior members on topics ranging from choosing a physician to personal technology training.
Here’s what organizations with a significant number of older customers are doing to hire and train the right Millennial agents, as well as to help seniors help themselves.
Educating to empower senior customers
When it comes to technology support, seniors don’t always have in-depth knowledge of devices they’re seeking assistance for, but they’re often eager to learn. “We find most of our [senior] members who do call for technical assistance don’t want us to just fix the issue for them. They actually want to learn how to do it themselves,” says Brian Clancy, who manages contact center learning and performance for AARP. “For example, they might contact customer service due to trouble changing a password but they don’t want the agent just to perform the task. They prefer that we walk them through how to do it themselves, and help them to become empowered to handle it on their own going forward.”
Clancey Dollard, director of service delivery at Bask Technologies, has found that one of the best ways to educate and empower seniors is to simplify complex topics in ways people can easily relate. “Replace the jargon with words that everybody, including older adults, would understand and can consume. For example, we periodically clean infections from people’s computers,” Dollard explains. “While there’s many ways to describe that task, we’ve chosen the phrase ‘tune-up,’ because seniors can relate that to a car tune-up. They’re not concerned with the dirty details, but they understand that we’re doing things like diagnostics to keep things running smoothly.”
Hiring and training Millennial agents
The age of most call center agents is trending towards the Gen Y demographic (also known as Millennials), so it’s important to know what traits to look for when hiring that will help agents succeed with senior customers.
Fortunately, Millennials already have some natural attributes that work well in the service sector. “You look at Millennials, and they’re hungry to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves,” observes Clancy. “They know they’re tech savvy, and the idea that they could really empower seniors tends to really excite and engage them.”
In the hiring process, “we look for listening skills and patience, and for that drive to do something bigger,” says Clancy. “We tap into that and say, ‘This is your great opportunity if you’re willing to be patient, listen and walk people through.’ Millennials take a lot of joy not just in fixing issues, but in reducing the feeling of isolation that many seniors experience.”
During interviews, AARP tries to find agents that not only understand customer service, but see each engagement with members as an inherently social interaction. A secondary goal is to break down stereotypes of what “seniors” are in the minds of Millennials. “We do an exercise in our training where we ask them to imagine a group of people skiing,” says Clancy. “We then flash them a picture of older people skiing, and they’re quite shocked because most of the time they picture groups of young people laughing on the slopes. It’s about trying to break those initial predispositions that Millennials have about aging.”
Best practices for closing the gap
AARP has found that one of the best ways to draw their senior members and Gen Y agents closer is to focus locally. This includes in-person technology workshops and educational sessions within the local community. “Getting in there and making things local is one of the best things that AARP does,” says Clancy. “It makes the relationship more personal, and we reassure them face-to-face that if they need any kind of support, don’t hesitate to call us.”
For Dollard, it’s all about explaining complex things in simple, understandable ways, along with having a consistent strategy for self-enablement and service. “At the tail end of a call, we try to include a coaching piece that the customer can use for future reference,” he says. “So, it’s really coaching them on how to self-service, as well as the resources available that they might not know about. Things like webinars, blogs or YouTube tutorials. Millennials use these platforms on a regular basis, and are happy to show seniors how to access them.”
At global contact center provider TELUS International, most team members fit squarely into the Gen Y demographic, so maintaining a coaching mentality when helping senior customers is critical. But sometimes, taking over their machine can actually flip the script from a challenging interaction to a delightful customer experience.
“If the client displays an additional requirement, or an obvious lack of technical fluency or experience, our team members can make the decision to screen share to improve the customer experience, taking over tasks for the client remotely,” says Aparna Veera, a senior director of operations for a pioneering internet service provider with a large number of senior clients. “We have the ability to relieve an otherwise stressful situation, which really helps,” Veera says.
Clancy from AARP thinks that savvy service organizations like TELUS International will further explore and utilize screen-sharing as a more effective means of providing service to seniors. It might appear highly innovative to seniors who aren’t that tech-savvy, and most Millennials have experience using it via Skype and other services.“Being able to demonstrate to somebody on their screen, and then asking them if they have any questions or want us to walk through it again, I think that’s the next phase of offering even more personalized service to seniors,” predicts Clancy.
By and large, Millennials have great technology skills and a hunger to succeed. Seniors often defy stereotypes with a desire to learn, connect and be self-sufficient. By empowering seniors, and tapping into Gen Y’s cause-oriented mentality, contact centers can cultivate rewarding long-term relationships between their agents and customers.
For more insights into managing the Millennial call center, download our free study: The Millennial call center: Tapping into the customer service strengths of Gen Y.