Thoughts on supporting the new online generation: “they’re just different”

Kids are up for some reason and so I wait for the next request for a glass of water…

In the mean time, something has been nagging at me.

Customers are changing, and I’ve seen a real change in how the younger generation is forcing companies to change their thinking on how they listen and respond to their needs. See this interesting article in BusinessWeek on the future of tech and global youth.

“… consider Brazilian Fabricio Zuardi, 27. He grew up 180 miles from São Paulo and found a job via the Web with Silicon Valley tech startup Ning Inc. Zuardi now lives in Palo Alto, Calif., in an apartment he located on He has no traditional phone, preferring Skype Internet-based service. He doesn’t own a TV. In his spare time he posts items on his blog or writes software that he contributes to open-source development projects. His taste in music is eclectic: Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, The Pogues. His friends are from all over, including Australia, Britain, Germany, and Slovenia. He has never met some of them face to face. “This is a generational shift,” says Ning co-founder and Web browser pioneer Marc Andreessen. “A whole new generation grows up used to new technologies, and they’re just different.”

Let me repeat that: “…they’re just different.”

What’s interesting here is that the net has (duh) changed the way a new generation socializes, plans, stays in touch, shops… and get support. There is a generational shift in expectations of how products are supported and the number of options to get support: it’s more immediate, accurate and when and how you choose.

So, if you’re going to be successful in providing ‘wow!’ level customer service, you have to be where your customers expect you and responding in the ways that are most comfortable to them.

I thought about this after the last couple of interactions I had with customer support at different companies. With Dell, HP, Microsoft and my local phone company, all of my first interactions recently were on the web, and in the case of Dell and HP, real-time chat support. I had the option to call a toll-free number, but I hung up on one vendor after the wait time exceeded 10 minutes. (I have no patience when the family is scrambling to make the morning school bus, and I have zero time to do this at the office.) So off late in the evening after the kids go to bed, click on the real-time chat option, and within less tine that I sat on hold, I had my answer.

Another instance this week, whilst looking for support from an online Internet service company, I found there was only an email support option available… and it turned out that the service was better than I’d expected. In just two brief exchanges via mail, I had answers in clear, easy-to-understand email assistance with lots of helpful links.

I’ve heard several times from people in the industry and at MS that they had made great connections with customers via email, relationships that started with a comment on their public blogs. “These connections help us understand what customers want, what they don’t like and what we need to change in current and next versions of our products.”

And last, a friend of mine in DevDiv, said (following a quick status review) that she was heading off to give a project presentation in Second Life, as that was where her customers would be. (That would certainly be more interesting than some of the LiveMeetings I’ve hosted…) As I heard Carol say as she headed off to log in and present, “my avatar looks like me from the neck up… I’m not so sure about the rest.”

OK, there’s the 2AM call for ‘room service’… gotta go.

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