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Different generations often have differing world views, work habits, customer service expert tells APPA audience

From the November 6, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published November 6, 2013

By David Blaylock
Manager, Integrated Media

All customers expect top customer service, but the way they define great service can be very different between generations, said Tennessee Valley Public Power Association Member Services Manager Danette Scudder in a presentation on "Bridging the Customer Service Generation Gap" at the APPA Customer Connections Conference in Portland, Ore., Nov. 4.
What you learn about dealing with customers of different generations can also be valuable in understanding utility employees from different generations, she said.
"We prepared for the baby boomer retirements but because of the economy, they’re still there," Scudder said. "But that’s not going to last much longer. More than 50 percent of the workforce is expected to walk out the door in the near future," and understanding the newer generations that will fill those positions will be important to continuing your utility’s success, she said.
Scudder explained that there are four major generation groups currently or recently in the workforce: the Traditional Generation (born between 1928 and 1945), the Baby Boomer Generation (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) and Millennials (born between 1981 and 1999). Each group comes with different characteristics to understand and different values to engage with, she said.
For example, a member of the baby boomer generation is more likely to be optimistic, team-oriented, and interested in personal growth and his or her own individuality. The next generation puts a greater focus on diversity, technology and self-reliance.
"If you look at the way the groups have been over time, it’s like comparing apples to oranges," she said, pointing out the degree to which technology has changed and progressed from each generation to the next.
One workplace example she used was of two utility administrative assistants who worked side by side, one a baby boomer, the other a millennial. For the boomer, work was her central focus and she came in on time and stayed late; for the millennial, work was a means to her other focuses and she would come in late, leave as soon as her day was over and spend parts of her day texting and browsing the Internet, though still getting the same amount of work done. Before long, resentment developed between the two.
"They thought they had fixed it when they literally put a wall between them," Scudder said. "But that doesn’t get to why the two were not working well together." Ultimately, the situation wasn’t resolved until their different generational world views were properly explained to each other.
"For the millennial, it was really as simple as just explaining how different people have different expectations," Scudder said. The millennial knew that she was efficient, perhaps more efficient since she had the time to text, but not that her other actions might make her seem inefficient to someone else.
Scudder said there are shared values that all customers and employees want: being treated with respect, being acknowledged and appreciated, being treated as an individual, and being able to make informed decisions. But connecting with each of these is different based on a customer or employee’s generational world view.


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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

Editorial Director
Robert Varela

Editor, Public Power Daily
Jeannine Anderson

Communications Assistant
Fallon W. Forbush

Manager, Integrated Media 
David L. Blaylock

Integrated Media Editor 
Laura D’Alessandro