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Is the Older Customer King?

There is a baby boomer and older customer crisis in America, and many companies don’t know it. The spoils will go to those companies who perceive the crises and out-connect and out-service their competitors.

The boomer markets (those between 48 and 66 years of age) and older customer markets are comprised of approximately 114 million (older customers). A Burst Media survey discovered that only 17% of all those surveyed in the 45 and over age groups believe that online advertising is intended for them.

70% of all baby boomers surf online. SeniorNet states that those 50 and up spend $7 billion every year in online purchases. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project (PIALP) survey by 2010 affluent baby boomers will outspend every other affluent category by $1 trillion per year and you can expect baby boomer spending to exceed $4.6 trillion per year by the year 2015. Clearly, the aging boomer and older customer is today’s target population, and, even more so, tomorrow’s.

But is the older customer king?  We think not.  Why is there such a gap between customer expectation and performance?  There are several factors that cause the gap:

  • Management may be aware of the surface problems but don’t understand the seriousness of the deep and abiding reasons that drive older customers away
  • The information that companies look at is misleading or incomplete; they don’t think the service problem is as serious as it is
  • Research findings tell us that, in general, employees have negative attitudes toward older customers or “myth-interpret” their motivations, actions, values, needs or behavior

Through a process to change employee and your frame of reference toward the older customer, you can make significant progress and improve the position of your company, now and in the future.  To begin the process, we suggest you:

  • Better understand the physiological, behavioral and emotional changes related to the aging process.  Understanding lifestage behavior is one of the most significant keys to success in this market.
  • Be willing to change your frame of reference (paradigm shift).  Don’t let “Older Customer Myopia” interfere with an intelligent approach to improving older customer satisfaction.
  • Collaborate to shape a culture (actions, beliefs and behavior) that makes superior service to older customers as natural as thinking.  In larger organizations, surface a “Champion”, and empower and enable him/her to take the action necessary to assure the vision, goals and strategies of older customer service improvement are actualized.  In smaller companies the entrepreneur is the “Champion”.
  • Develop a culture through managing the changes necessary, to support the belief that the service delivery staffs are the most important people in the organization -since it is they who serve the customer.  The environment you create for the staff is the world they will create for the customer.
  • Avoid using the age of target markets as the determining factor for service development or modification.  Use your knowledge of lifestage changes to determine your approach to service and communications improvement.  Include older customers in your service design, delivery and communications development process.
  • Consider the age of those in your company responsible for customer satisfaction and communications to older customers.  Generally, younger people/staff cannot empathize with older customers.
  • Educate and train your marketing and service staff to sensitize them to the physiological, psychological and emotional changes brought about by aging.  You should design training to translate such knowledge into communications and service improvement and increased sales improvement techniques.
  • Consider physical facility improvement programs.  Tactical actions are relatively simple to implement to create a friendly and appealing environment.

Multi-dimensional and complex, the solution to “Older Customer Myopia” must begin with education, understanding and commitment.  Action on the first six points is a prerequisite to undertaking the last two.  Your success or failure is tied directly to your frame of reference and the strategic approach you take.

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