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5 Things Communications Service Providers Need To Attract and Retain Gen Z

What do communication preferences look like by a generation? If CSPs want to count Gen Z as their customer, this is how to reach out and keep them happy.

Older man and younger man using a cell phone together
Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers all have their own generational preferences for communications. [JOVANA MILANKO/Stocksy]

Ask a Baby Boomer and a Gen Z’er how they prefer to communicate with friends and you might get two very different answers. That’s because the way we communicate varies a lot across generations. Attitudes about communications service providers (CSPs) vary by age, too. To better understand evolving consumer habits and preferences, Salesforce conducts a quarterly survey of 5,000 consumers in 10 countries on their attitudes regarding communications services. It turns out the generation you were born into says a lot about what you want from CSPs. Read on to discover what CSPs need to know about Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and evolving generational preferences.

1. Gen Z’ers are most likely to switch service providers

In 2020 alone the U.S. Postal Service reported 30 million change-of-address requests. And change begets change. Moving homes can mean more than changing addresses; it can mean changing internet service providers (ISPs) and other communications services, too. With so many people relocating during the pandemic, there is a huge opportunity for CSPs to pick up new customers or upsell new services. Our survey of thousands of global consumers found that 21% had changed ISPs in the last 12 months. Those who had made the switch skewed younger: nearly 3X as many Gen Z’ers switched providers than Baby Boomers.

With so many Gen Z’ers making a change, let’s take a look at how their preferences differ – and how to better serve them.

Of consumer who changed ISPs in the last year, 32% were Gen Z, 26% were Millennials, 17% were Gen X, and 12% were Silent or Baby Boomers
Percentage of consumers who changed internet service providers (ISP) in the last year

2. CSPs face fierce competition from outside their industry 

Telcos and ISPs beware: 64% of Millennials said they would switch over to a tech company (e.g., Amazon, Facebook) should they offer a communications service.

Amazon gives us recommendations. Netflix shows us what’s trending. Google serves up relevant content. Those are the services all generations have come to take for granted – and they each disrupted various industries completely.

Telcos and ISPs beware: 64% of Millennials said they would switch over to a tech company (e.g., Amazon, Facebook) should they offer a communications service.

Disruptors like WhatsApp are already closing in on the traditional players offering superior customer service or more attractive offers for more tech-savvy generations. When WhatsApp first launched in 2009, it quickly gained 250,000 active users. Within two years, one billion messages were being sent per day. Acquired by Facebook in 2014, WhatsApp added voice calling, video calling, group calls, and WhatsApp Business. Combined these services have an estimated 2.5 billion active users and generate an estimated $5.5 billion in revenue. 

Consider also Google Voice and the enhanced privacy controls it offers. A teenager’s parents want them to be able to communicate with their friends, but not break the bank. Google Voice offers flexibility and control to let teens enjoy new channels, feel connected, and avoid FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Many CSPs already partner with – or acquired – (Over-The-Top) OTT media services to increase stickiness. 

The bar for digital-first customer experiences has been set by tech companies and digital services providers. They will relegate carriers to the role of commodity players, even if this new breed of competitor rides on their networks.

Percent of consumers likely to switch to a technology company should they offer communication services

3. Woo younger generations with streaming services 

With so many CSP customers relocating or considering entirely new sources for their communications services, consider what keeps customers satisfied with their providers in the first place. In many cases that means better adapting to consumer lifestyles – like offering streaming services. Time spent on streaming services skyrocketed during the pandemic as homebound consumers sought to entertain themselves. When asked how CSPs could improve customer satisfaction, younger generations demanded more services. For Gen X’ers, Millennials, and Gen Z’ers, streaming service discounts are the number one way to improve provider satisfaction.

The top 5 ways to improve CSP satisfaction (other than reducing monthly bill)

4. Gen Z’ers have a need for speed…and service

Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, and Millennials say pricing is far and away the number one motivator to switch providers. Here, Gen Z’ers stand apart. Fifty-four percent of Gen Z said faster connections would make them reconsider their current ISP, making it their number one motivator to try a new provider. 

This tracks with Gen Z habits. Gen Z’ers are the most digitally-engaged generation, regularly spending the most time on bandwidth-draining activities like streaming services and gaming.

Our survey of thousands of global consumers found that 21% had changed ISPs in the last 12 months. Those who had made the switch skewed younger: nearly 3X as many Gen Z’ers switched providers than Baby Boomers.

However, Gen Z also cares about pricing and service quite a bit, too. The gap between the importance of price and service is much narrower for Gen Z’ers than it is for older generations. For instance, there is a 46% gap between Millennials who view price as a factor that would make them switch ISPs compared to Millennials who see service as a factor. Gen Z’ers only show a 24% difference between those two factors, signifying that they are closer in relative importance. In short, speed, service, and price are especially important to this generation. Choice and multi-channel service are also increasingly important for younger generations – as is a seamless service experience as they change channels (as seen in the chart above).

What made or would make you consider changing your home internet service?

5. To attract and retain Gen Z’ers, use more channels

Churn and acquisition are top of mind for all operators. CSPs must retain customers by increasing competitive attractiveness and differentiation while decreasing acquisition cost. Now that we know who is most likely to churn and why, CSPs can target their customer satisfaction and, ultimately, retention. At the same time, our study uncovers key ways to attract new customers – whether it’s faster speed, better service, or more competitive price. One way to both attract and retain customers is by making yourself available in their preferred channels.

Consumers of all ages turn to CSP websites as their number one research and purchasing channel. However, when we double-click into generational preferences, we see that the younger the generation, the more channels they rely on for research.

Chart showing that the younger the generation, the more channels they consult before research and making a purchase.
The younger the generation, the more channels they consult for product research and for making a purchase

Probably to no one’s surprise, customer expectations continue to rise. What is surprising is the volatility of customer loyalty and the attractiveness of non-traditional competitors, particularly for younger generations. They expect – demand even – seamless experiences across the many channels they use for research and purchases. CSPs need to offer broader services to keep their customer base and attract new customers. And they need to provide a single source of truth to their customer-facing personnel in order to create those seamless experiences across channels.

This article is part one of our Quarterly Consumer Sentiment Series: Communications Edition. For this first wave, we surveyed over 5,000 consumers across 10 countries to understand how habits and opinions around communications services evolve. Stay tuned for more Quarterly Consumer Sentiment research.

Jonathan Phillips is the director of Communications Industry Marketing at Salesforce. He brings over 25 years of experience in business and technical architecture, solution consulting, and enterprise applications of CRM, contact centers, and telecommunications networks. As a well-respected industry leader, he regularly engages with customers and speaks at conferences and training sessions around the world.

More by Jonathan

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