Customer service and support channels other than email and telephone are continuing to gain popularity, especially among Millennials and Generation Z who have very distinct preferences and expectations compared to Generation X and Baby Boomers, according to research from Zendesk. This article is copyright 2019 The Best Customer Guide.

Based on surveys of more than 2,500 consumers in the US, UK, France and Germany, the company's research revealed generational differences in customer support channel preferences, with 67% of US respondents having used live chat, social media, or texting for customer service.

Among Gen Z and Millennials, 46% and 47% respectively have used social media to communicate with customer service in the past year - compared to only 7% of Baby Boomers and 26% of Gen X. More than a third (36%) of Gen Z consumers prefer social media for simple inquiries compared to only 5% of Baby Boomers.

With regard to the US, the report also provides insights into how consumer expectations have changed over the past five years. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of those surveyed say they expect customer service to be faster than it was five years ago and 89% say a quick response to an initial inquiry is important when deciding which company to buy from. More than half (51%) will wait less than an hour before trying a second contact method if they haven't heard back and 10% will try another contact method after less than five minutes.

"While customer service issues are common, it is how and when a company resolves problems that will profoundly impact future purchases," said Diane Hagglund, founder and principal, Dimensional Research, the market research company Zendesk commissioned for the study.

Additional findings from the study included:

  • The good, the bad, the ugly
    Nearly all consumers (97% in the U.S., 96% in France and Germany, and 94% in the UK) say bad customer service changes their buying habits. At the same time, people overwhelmingly said good customer service can positively impact their decision to do business with a company. This is true for 87% of survey respondents in the U.S., 89% in Germany, 79% in the UK, and 81% in France.
  • Customers prefer to help themselves
    Ninety-eight percent of those surveyed have used a self-service solution, including searching a company's FAQs, help center or other online resources. More than a third (37%) of consumers say they do it always. For Millennials, that number jumps to 48%.
  • Bad customer experiences last
    When asked to recall a customer experience from two or more years ago, 46% of respondents were able to recall a negative experience while only 21% could remember a positive one. And negative experiences are more likely to be shared on social media than positive ones (49% for bad, 38% for good), meaning these experiences can have a long-lasting effect on companies.

"The definition of good customer service has changed. People hold all companies to a higher standard and expect them to match the best experience they have ever had, every time," said Astha Malik, vice president, product and platform marketing, Zendesk. "With intense competition, changing customer preferences, and diminishing loyalty to brands, it's the companies that invest in understanding their customers and adapt to ever-evolving needs that will be able to stay ahead and win the customer's trust."