Why Don’t They Understand Me?
Let’s face it, the world is not getting simpler. Technology is more robust and complex. Each generation has its own intimate relationship with technology, and rarely keep up with the changes easily embraced by the next generation. I am a baby-boomer and frustrated by those of the post-WW II generation that typically refuse to learn or even use what I am comfortable with; email and PCs. And, there is no way I am as comfortable using the latest technology that is second-nature to my Gen-Y children. I have a different opinion than some as I believe younger people are simply more tolerant. This is in contrast to the thinking that the younger mindset is; if I can’t figure out how to use something, there are so many other options and I’ll just go and get one of those. There is some truth to that argument, however the way in which generations approach the problem is very different. If I can’t figure out how to use something, I’ll pick up the phone and actually speak with a human. My introduction to technology was the Commadore-64. Subsequent technology was progressively easier to use and of higher quality. Software development was expensive (and it costed big $) and therefore rigorous processes were developed focused on design and exhaustive testing. Six sigma methods were applied to reduce errors, and by and large, the software was of progressively higher quality. This has all changed very dramatically in the past 10 years. Software (apps) are now developed by freelance programmers, following no standards in terms of design and quality, and many are either free or available at a very low price. For those that have grown up in this wild-west of apps, they are used to apps not quite working as designed and having no support available if they find errors. Apps are a commodity; if the one I just purchased for $0.99 isn’t working they way I want it to work, there are so many $0.99 alternatives. Therein lies my contention that post baby-boomers are more tolerant of the current technology.
So, for us baby-boomers, and there are a good many of us, we have a higher expectation of quality in technology products and less curiosity to figure out how it works. In short, we simply have a different mindset regarding technology than younger generations. I have placed a good number of calls into support organizations in the past couple of years because (1) either I don’t understand technology, or (2) technology doesn’t understand me. I recall a time when my wife and I were driving from Raleigh, North Carolina to Baltimore, Maryland. We each had a cell phone and each had the same Driving Directions app on our phone. You would imagine that the same Driving App from the same cellular carrier would guide us on the exactly the same route to our destination. Well, in short, no. As we neared our destination, the app on one phone was guiding us on a completely different route than the app on the other phone. I wasn’t quite sure if the case was (1) I didn’t understand the technology, (2) the technology didn’t understand me, or (3) perhaps the technology simply didn’t work.
I am specifically focusing on technology as I see that as the largest gap of cross-generational contextualizing. My daughter can’t understand why I can’t understand. The median age of workers in a technical support call center are of my daughters age. Just like with her, they don’t understand why I don’t understand. No amount of training on how to troubleshoot the technology is going to fix that problem. Being able to take apart the widget and put it back together is not going to bridge the life-experience gap.
This is very much like the cultural gap experienced during the last decade when companies figured they could easily outsource calls to countries overseas. This was bumpy to say the least, and many companies lost brand affinity because of it. The match of skills was not the issue. The issue was culture and the lack of cultural understanding and context as calls moved to countries with cultures very different from the countries where the call originated. The second half of the last decade was devoted to overcoming the cultural divide. When I called, I was now speaking to “Bob”, clearly with an accent foreign to mine. The out-of-country call center had newspapers (remember those?) and TV piped in from the originating country. There was specific training focused on accent neutralization and cultural awareness. Was it successful? Surely more successful than if nothing had been done.
Should the generational divide be treated as a cultural divide? I think the answer is an emphatic “yes”. It is more than just teaching technology and teaching generic soft skills such as engagement and empathy, although I cannot understand how one can truly engage a caller without understanding the cultural context. Much more important in the engagement process is understanding the generational context of the caller. If the caller has self-identified in the IVR and our CRM app knows the age of the caller, perhaps we have at least a starting point for the context setting. But, how do we do this at the call center if we know nothing about the caller until the call is connected to the agent?