An integral part of good customer service is understanding your customer. This can be simple to do with certain customers and much more challenging with others, especially those who are elderly. With the current trend toward online shopping, there has been a significant decline in the number of customers who elect to do their business face-to-face. Proportionately, the largest number of customers who prefer or even require some sort of face-to-face interaction are people over the age of 55. So, what can you do to tailor your customer service approach to better serve these older adults?
Try these tips to improve your interactions with people in their 50s, 60s, and beyond.
Factor in extra time and attention.
The aging process affects people in different ways. However, most adults begin to show signs of forgetfulness, hearing loss, visional impairment, issues with dexterity and coordination, and the inability to quickly grasp new concepts by their 60s. Whenever you help an older customer, anticipate spending a bit more time and care to effectively deal with their unique challenges.
Gauge the dynamics. The customer is always your priority. As a first step, assess your customer’s ability to comprehend the conversation and make reasonable decisions. Adjust your approach to best serve as your customer’s advocate. In times when your customer is accompanied with another person, consider the second person’s motive for being involved and the interaction between your customer and the second person. The second person may assume the dominate role and become the primary decision-maker. When this happens, continue to check back with your customer for understanding and approval of any decisions being made. If you suspect some form of misrepresentation or abuse on the part of the second person, report it to your supervisor before it’s too late.
Guide the conversation. Most customers over the age of 55 prefer calling or talking face-to-face with a live person. Whenever you speak to them, be friendly and supportive. Listen carefully to what they have to say to understand their intent. Direct your responses to what might be a viable course of action given their state of mind and individual needs.
Be respectful and approachable. Many older adults are retired and tend to have time on their hands. As your more persistent customers, they may attempt to engage in small talk to take the edge off their sense of feeling lonely or depressed. Take time to welcome your older customers with open arms. Even when they might communicate slower or fail to readily comprehend what you are saying, don’t patronize or belittle them simply because you think they are stupid or crazy. Talk to them with the kind of respect that individuals with years of experience and accumulated wisdom deserve. Show them that you care by going the extra mile with a friendly and inviting approach.
Practice patience and diplomacy. Your older customers may require greater time on task to understand and make decisions. Take the time to listen and observe. The more you learn about them, the easier it will be to anticipate their needs. Additionally, older adults are more likely to become confused and emotional about their needs. Stay calm and in control of the situation. Make them feel important and be willing to apologize for a problem that appears to be causing them distress. Whenever you speak down to them, act dismissive, or fail to address their concerns, you run the risk of alienating them or losing their business.
Present realistic solutions. Tailor your service approach to the needs of your individual customer. For older adults who lack the mental or physical abilities to use technology, find a way to address their needs with these limitations in mind. Learn to alter your communication style. You may have to slow down your speech, speak louder, or repeat yourself more often. Many older adults will comprehend better if you keep your messages clear and to the point without overwhelming them with unnecessary details. Write things down when your older adult is experiencing some hearing or memory loss. With a few well calculated tweaks, you will significantly increase your chances of a mutually beneficial outcome.
Address obstacles with caution. Despite your best intentions, there may be a point that you are unable to fulfill your customers’ requests. In such cases, strive to leave them with a sense of dignity and a feeling that you cared. Work with them on an alternative remedy as a sign of good faith. If your interaction becomes contentious, don’t let it escalate. Politely limit the conversation and usher them out of the area as quickly as possible.
Wrap-up the session on a high note. There is no substitute for good customer service to make a sale or keep your customers coming back for more. In all, being friendly, patience, approachable, caring, and respectful are key techniques for interacting with all types of people in need of services. Whenever you can focus on a positive attitude and customized approach, you will leave your customers on a high note no matter how old or young they are.
Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and on the Board for LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.