These days Millennials are the drivers of new technology, and for good reason. The soon-to-be largest segment of the population is continuously gaining market influence as they move into their prime earning years. However, focusing on Millennials should not be to the expense of another equally-large segment of the population: Baby Boomers.
While it is true that Boomers are a slowly declining population, it is also true that their adoption of new technologies is increasing at a substantial rate. Over the period of only one year (2013-2014) Facebook usage among senior citizens jumped from 45% to 56%. More surprising is the high rate of SMS usage in middle-aged and older adults. 75% of cellphone owners between the ages of 50-64 use text messaging services—a number that approximates the rate of the total US population, in which 81% of cellphone users text.
Moreover, while Millennials are becoming financially influential as their earning power increases, the Boomers still maintain the highest net worth of the total population. This high net worth combined with an increasing adoption of digital communication channels makes the Boomers an ideal target market for companies wishing to attract and retain customers through innovation in customer sales and service.
Of course, older adults approach technology differently from Millennials. While Millennials use texting as a means of conversing, older adults have adopted texting for its convenience. They approach this channel with a determined objective: to quickly receive answers to questions or to transmit information, primarily to younger family members. This utilitarian approach to text messaging allows older adults to easily transition to SMS for customer service, where interactions between consumers and customer service representatives are also carried out quickly and with purposeful and determined objectives. Older adults also differ from Millennials in their social media usage. While Millennials are abandoning Facebook for other social media platforms, older users are adopting this channel in droves.
Despite this widespread adoption of digital communication channels among older adults, very few people in this population segment (only 24%) use messaging apps. However, this low usage rate will change as Facebook users adopt Facebook Messenger as a messaging app. By removing the former private messaging functionality from the Facebook mobile app and replacing it with Messenger, Facebook has effectively forced its users to adopt their messaging app. While older adults could be resistant to change, they will need to use Messenger if they wish to continue receiving and sending private messages from their smartphone. However, they should find the transition to Messenger relatively smooth, as it approximates the look and feel of text messaging—a channel with which they are already familiar. This ease-of-use combined with other factors (increasing Facebook participation among older adults and forced conversion to Messenger for private messaging) will ensure a high Messenger usage rate among this segment of the population.
What does this mean for companies intent on developing innovative customer experience strategies to target older adults?
In terms of opening digital customer service channels, SMS text messaging and Facebook Messenger would enjoy the greatest success among older adult users. Given that a large portion of the older adult population already uses text messaging and Facebook—and given that Messenger has become essential for Facebook users on smartphones—the transition from personal use to consumer use on these two channels should come naturally. Opening up an SMS channel and a Messenger channel for sales and service presents a viable option for enhancing the customer experience for this sizeable and wealthy demographic.
Of course, transitioning older adults from telephony to digital also offers added benefits to companies due to the high efficiency rates of text-based channels. These measurable financial benefits provide yet another reason to offer innovative customer experiences for the older adult market—a target market that has been largely ignored in terms of technological usership, but which boasts enough population, wealth, and tech-savviness to merit its own specialized attention.
Source: Laura-Lee Duval, “Engaging with Innovative Practice,” in Exploring Education Studies, ed. Vivienne Walkup. (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013), 352