Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Accordingly, a 'genius' is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.
- Thomas Edison
Five Generations of Americans: Providing Excellent Utility Customer Service to Each

April 12, 2012
Several years ago I was working on a large investor-owned utility smart grid pilot project. The project included advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), smart meters, smart thermostats, and dynamically priced electric rates. During the recruiting stage, the call center encountered several utility customers that were older and wanted to talk about anything but the pilot project. The customer service representative (CSR) obliged and proceeded to run the handle time easily over 45 minutes. Eventually the talk ended in an enrollment in the pilot program. One week later, the call center received an irate call from one of the enrolled customers sons, wanting the utility to dis-enroll his mother from the program because she obviously did not know what she was doing and he was going to protect her from the big bad marketing of the local utility.
This experience came back and hit me square in the face this week as I attended the annual AGA-EEI Customer Service Conference in Ft. Worth, TX. The Wednesday keynote was given by Chuck Underwood, President of The Generational Imperative. Underwood’s presentation focused on five living generations of Americans, each with unique – and powerful – core values that have been molded by the unique times and teachings of their formative years. The premise is that these generational core values guide their decision-making for life: in the marketplace and workplace, and in their living rooms at home. The five living generations that Underwood examined are listed here with several observations about each.
The GI generation, born between 1901 and 1926 makes them 86+ years old. This is the generation that fought World War II and is referred to by Tom Brokaw as the greatest generation. I am assuming that due to time constraints for his keynote, Underwood did not spend much time on them except to note that in August 1945 when WWII ended, the GIs returning home started what is known as the Baby Boomer generation. But I am jumping ahead of the next generation, the Silents.
Born between 1927 and 1945, the Silents numbered approximately 46.5 million. Today they are 67 to 85 years old. They were too young to fight in WWII. Called the Silent generation because they were silent, taught to conform. In their formative years companies were local, their word was their bond, humans answered the phone, and it was rather easy to get answers and accountability. That was from their birth dates to about 20 years of age. Today, they despise the interactive voice response (IVR) units, can be home alone and lonely. Remember the older pilot project prospect? This is her generation, longing to speak with a real human about her cat, dog, kids, and anything but signing up for a time-of-use utility product. Her son, the Baby Boomer, is about to come into play.
Baby Boomers are born between 1946 and 1964 and were the product of post WWII. There were approximately 80 million of them born. The mothers of this generation were told by Dr. Spock that we need idealistic children. And that is what they got. Today the Baby Boomers are 48-66 years old, they started the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the ecology movement, the war protest movement, the sexual revolution, and the drug revolution. Idealistic maybe? They remember human touch, they challenge authority, are ethics driven, will never retire, will not grow old, and can be protective of their parents. Remember the son who called in to have his mother taken out of the smart grid pilot? This is his generation.
Born between 1965 and 1981, Gen-X arrives. With approximately 58.5 million of them, they are known as the survival generation. With divorce rates increasing causing many single parent families, they have had to find ways to survive. They are unimpressed with authority and cynical towards older generations. They are the first generation to grow up with computers, although not connected to the Internet yet. They are raised on M-TV which flashes 4 images per second. Hence, they are easily bored. They are less concerned with courtesy and you must earn their trust. They give birth to our fifth living generation, the Millennials.
Millennials were born in 1982 and later. Underwood explained that we do not know where the next generation begins yet so there is no end date at this time. They are the most supervised kids in history. They are focused on education, their lives are dominated by technology, mom and dad are their best friends, they are team oriented, charitable, and live at home longer. Since they do everything online, they are not comfortable face-to-face and are not as fluent in reading body language. They prefer texting over e-mail and prefer e-mail over the phone. Consumer engagement will have to change to interact with them.
It was easy to apply these different generations into retail product development and marketing since marketing and selling to each generation has its own unique identifiers. The challenge is how to work it into the utility setting. Underwood challenged the utility audience to conduct generationally designed customer research and suggested that utility call centers have advisory groups from each living generation to deal with customers appropriately. One thing I am almost sure of is that my millennial son will not call the call center J
Jon Brock is President of utility and energy advisor Desert Sky Group, LLC. He can be reached at

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