Customer Service Impacts Brand Loyalty and ‘Word-Of-Mouse’

Aug 19, 2011

It’s understood that good customer service practices impact brand loyalty, word of mouth, and — with tech-savvy Millennial customers — coveted “word of mouse” online ratings shared through social media.

But how do you decide which aspects of customer service to emphasize to satisfy Millennials?

Barkley, in partnership with SMG and The Boston Consulting Group, recently completed a study of more than 5,000 U.S. consumers with an eye toward the habits of the Millennial generation. When studying retail shopping, it was clear that there are certain aspects of customer service that are important to all shoppers, no matter their demographic. These included speed, efficiency and accuracy at checkout, and friendliness, “knowledge-ability” expertise and helpfulness of staff members.

Things get interesting when the customer service desires of Millennials and older generations diverge. The younger generation has an expectation that sales associates will act as trusted advisors, wear a store’s products and offer opinions on purchasing options. This may mean that some retailers have to adjust their training and sales practices to accommodate the wants of younger customers.

It’s interesting to note that Millennial men are actually more interested in their sales associates’ fashionableness and advice than their female counterparts. Both have significantly more interest in these attributes than non-Millennials.

Another important Millennial trait is that they are constantly seeking information — 66 percent of them report a desire for more information on product origin to help them make purchase decisions.

Millennials do not limit themselves to in-person interactions in their desire for brand information. A majority like exploring brands on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and 33 percent report liking a brand more because it has a social media presence. Any retailer who isn’t monitoring their brand terms online and actively responding to both complaints and praise from customers via social media is missing a vital opportunity provide comprehensive customer service.

For in-depth information on the Millennials study, we invite you to attend the Share.Like.Buy. conference September 22-23, 2011 in San Francisco. Get a 15% discount when you use the code RETAILWIRE. Click here to for information and registration…

Discussion Questions: Do your own observations support the report’s findings that Millennials have higher expectations of sales associates? Which retailers have you seen that do a particularly good job with customer service for Millennials?

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7 Comments on "Customer Service Impacts Brand Loyalty and ‘Word-Of-Mouse’"

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David Biernbaum
9 years 8 months ago

I have always resisted the temptation to stereotype groups of consumers this way. However, it goes without saying that “word of mouse” greatly impacts how people of many ages get their information and referrals, and that customer service can provide, or override even word of mouse.

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
9 years 8 months ago
I think to some extent it depends on the item and the brand. A 20 year old, for example, will have far lower service expectations from an H&M than from a Lululemon. Generally speaking, however, I think Millennials have a far greater sense of confidence when shopping than boomers did at the same age. They are assured of their access to information about products and alternatives to those products, if they’re not happy with the style, quality or service they’re getting from a particular retailer. It’s just a lot easier to find what’s out there than it was 30 years ago. Secondly, this is a generation that grew up in a world where any moment can turn into a photo op and wind up on someone’s Facebook wall, so they tend to be hyper-style conscious. For that reason, I think they expect that retail sales associates also reflect a sense of style and deliver knowledge about the products they sell. So, do they have higher expectations for service than boomers? I’m not sure. But I… Read more »
Marge Laney
9 years 8 months ago

Why not just start with actually executing those aspects the author points out, “that are important to all shoppers, no matter their demographic.”

“Speed, efficiency and accuracy at checkout, and friendliness, knowledge-ability, expertise and helpfulness of staff members” seem to elude all but a few retailers.

Get those things right and you’ll be 90% there, no matter who your customer is. The rest of it is just rearranging the deck chairs to eke out that last 10%.

Bob Phibbs
9 years 8 months ago

The findings above could be said of pretty much any generation, the key difference is that Millennials grew up where brands were not good better best – they were just brands. Amazon, Target, Macy’s, and Walmart are just places to buy things.

Clothing lines don’t mean better or worse, just a brand. There’s a bigger problem with the generation gap in retail which I unveiled last week in a special report.

Dan Frechtling
9 years 8 months ago

I hesitate to draw firm conclusions from a single study. For example, research summarized by Prof. Prashant Mehta–drawing from the AMA, Deloitte, and other sources–showed quite different findings. Rather than decreasing expectations, older generations held increasing expectations of sales associates:

*Millennials care less about salespeople and more about virtual interactions

*GenXers care more about salespeople and like personalized attention

*Boomers+ demand the highest service, salesperson recommendations and expert opinions

I hope the Share.Like.Buy presentation doesn’t solely dwell on the Barkley study but rather contrasts the findings with previous research. Better to look to meta-studies to the extent they exist.

Furthermore, we should question whether certain attitudes (social proof, image consciousness) remain with generations as they mature, particularly as Millennials age and find sales associates to be less and less like them.

Dan Berthiaume
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 8 months ago

Millennials are the most heavily parented and sheltered generation in history, so it makes sense that they would expect expert guidance anywhere they go. Combined with the instant gratification provided by the technology Millennials grew up with, this makes them have very high expectations to receive the information they want on demand. Tech-focused retailers like the Apple Store, where legitimate experts are readily available, do a great job of serving the wants and needs of this demographic.

Ed Rosenbaum
9 years 8 months ago

I don’t see why expecting good customer service has been made a generational issue. It isn’t. Good customer service should be expected and delivered to all no matter where the person fits in the generational curve.


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