Gen Y are better at service than Gen X

I usually avoid controversy in my weekly posts – my aim is to get people thinking and provoke ideas, but this week, I’ve decided to throw out a bold supposition:  Generation Y are better at delivering service than Generation X (the generation following the post-World War 2 “baby boomers) and the generation to which I belong).  So where did this come from? And how do I back up my claim?

It was on a recent trip to Bucharest, Romania that I really started to reflect on this.  Initially, I was considering how different countries have different types and level of service, in particular in hotels.  On many of my trips, I consciously choose small, boutique hotels, where the ambience is calmer, the decor cooler and the service way more personal than you might find in the behemoth international hotel chains.  I love the personalised greeting, the engaging conversations with the hotel staff, the lack of stuffy formality and uniform and the rapid reaction to address complaints and issues.  I asked myself, is this really about the culture of particular countries, or is it more about the type of people who work in these hotels.

The personalised conversations I’ve had in many, many hotels suggested that the hotel employees are often young graduates who have recently studied or are continuing their studies.  Far from choosing a traditionally trained hotel manager with years of experience in the industry, these boutique hotels across Europe are consciously recruiting intelligent (both intellectually and emotionally) young 20-somethings who align well with their brand.  But more than this, they are naturals at engaging with people of any age, demographic or nationality to build rapport and leave a good impression in the time it takes to check in or eat breakfast.  There’s no formulaic script, keyboard clacking and zero eye contact from a stiffly uniformed receptionist (I’m looking at you, America for the most consistently sterile experience!)  But a conversation, plenty of eye contact and a listening ear – someone who makes you feel like they really want you to have a great stay.

Some might argue that small hotels employ grads because it’s cheaper than paying for experienced and “qualified” staff, but I’d question that.  Take a look at top rated hotels across major cities – in particular in Europe, you’ll see an ever growing amount of the small boutique hotels sitting at the top of the list.  Cost alone cannot be the driver for the recruitment choices.

So that covers hotels in Europe, but let me substantiate my supposition further.  My day job has for a couple of decades involved recruiting, engaging and retaining customer facing people.  My observation on how candidates are recruited, and indeed once employed, how candidates learn the job have evolved.  It’s rare to find classroom based training, training manuals in bound folders and quality assurance managers with clipboards and score charts.  Modern business accept the complexity of roles and realise that rather than trying to teach everyone everything, you need to provide tools and then coach the people to make the right decisions.

So how does all this make Gen Y better at delivering service than my own generation, Gen X?  Firstly, responsiveness and impatience.  Gen Y won’t wait around, and thus they deliver service in the same way.  Gen X management structure was usually linear: problems sent up the management chain, decisions sent back down.  Gen Y are empowered and motivated to make decisions, react quicker and drive solutions.

Secondly, Gen Y embrace change – and thus relish dynamic situations.  Customer service used to be a series of fixed processes, and if it fell outside the box, “sorry, I can’t help”.  Gen Y are helping to drive greater flexibility – because they expect it themselves.  Social media is part of their life – they grew up with it.  That means speed, reputation and image count.  They bring this same approach to work.

Finally, Gen Y are less intimidated by authority and rail against hierarchy.  Modern businesses have flat structure (if they want to prosper and survive) and that allows ideas, issues, innovation and solutions to flow much more freely around a business.  In my early career, I did not even know the name of the CEO of my first corporate employer.  Contrast this with Mark Zuckerberg or Tony Hsieh.

I love being part of Gen X, don’t get me wrong, and it’s not my intention to suggest that Gen Y are the panacea to all things service, but for those of us in Gen X, reflect a moment, is there anything we could learn from them?  For managers and leaders, what elements can you combine from both Gen X & Y to create an even better service experience?


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