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Sloan Center News

Age as Asset/Deficit

27 August 2009—

Customer Service And Valuing Differences

There has been a lot of recent press attention on findings released in the UK about customers’ satisfaction with older workers – particularly that McDonald's has discovered that employing staff aged 60+ has made its restaurants more profitable.

There are lots of different ways to look at this information.

Experience as an Asset

Older workers (by virtue of their life stage, experience, career stage, or perhaps generational perspectives) may be well-suited to customer service work. They tend to bring patience and social intelligence to the workplace.

Lack of Customer Savvy as Deficit

Younger workers (by virtue of their life stage, career stage, lack of experience, or perhaps generational perspectives) may bring a lot of competencies to the workplace, but they tend to lack customer savvy.

Valuing Differences

While respecting the fact that every individual is going to bring unique characteristics (some of which might be quite a surprise to the rest of us), it is also true that some characteristics are more common among employees of one age group than they are for another. For example, younger employees are more likely to have been in formal education more recently than older employees. But, it is less important to document these variations than it is to harness and share the “wealth” of the positive differences.

What does this mean for Customer Service?

Since customer satisfaction is directly related to the bottom line, there is a value proposition to recruiting, engaging and retaining older workers. And, since customer satisfaction is just one of the factors contributing to the bottom line (and since it’s best to try to align the work that needs to get done with competency sets), maybe we should leave customer service work to the more mature workers and ask younger workers to focus on other aspects of the business. Or should we?

While an employer might find that older workers (in general) receive positive customer satisfaction ratings, it might also be true that there are specific aspects of customer interactions that younger workers manage particularly well. The valuing differences perspective might suggest that there is a business case for strong, multi-generational work teams.

What do You Think?

Are there times when any one of these different perspectives seems to best reflect the social realities of the workplace? We would like to hear from you.

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