Here’s how to reach across the years to fit eyewear on five distinct age groups.

Eyewear buyers come in all shapes and sizes—as well as all generations. Everyone knows the best way to meet patients’ needs is by listening to what they are looking for and offering them solutions that match. But are you able to truly understand what customers of different generations want? Most of us communicate the way we like to be communicated with—and much of that preference has to do with our generational affiliation. Here are five tips on how to sell more effectively to someone who is not your age:

1. Recognize that different generations exist. According to sociologists, you are currently serving approximately five generations. Today’s kids through those in their early 20s are Generation Z. Early 20s through mid-30s are Millennials. Generation X are your middle-aged customers. Baby Boomers—who are actually the only generation officially recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau—are those born between 1946 and 1964. Those born in 1945 or earlier are your oldest patients, the Traditionalists (also known as Veterans, the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation).

2. Expect generational commonalities but don’t stereotype. Overall, Traditionalists have a tendency to defer to experts, particularly in healthcare. They also tend to be loyal to long-time providers. Further, when serving new Traditionalist customers it will probably be important to invest some time building rapport with them. But not all Traditionalists will be loyal, defer to you or care about you getting to know them personally. Some will do their homework ahead of time and come to you with specific ideas of what type of eyewear they are seeking.

Baby Boomers and Generation X are much more likely to consider healthcare providers, including eyecare professionals, to be their partners. Most of the time, they are quite comfortable perusing your boards and showing you their selections. Of course, not every patient of these generations prefers a hands-off approach, but this is common.

Millennials and Generation Z tend to shop around ahead of time and want online information about your products and services. Be sure your digital footprint is up-to-date and you are actively seeking positive reviews that will impress them. Generation Z customers also often have much shorter attention spans than the other generations. That said, some of your younger patients may not research ahead, will rely more on your recommendations and expertise, and have plenty of patience for considering several product options.

3. Make scheduling with you easy for each generation. Generally speaking, the younger customers are the more likely they will want to schedule online through e-mail, text, an app or a website. But most Traditionalists and many Baby Boomers still want to talk to a human being when making an appointment. Do everything you can to ensure you are accommodating the scheduling preferences of as many generations as possible by offering automated electronic options while still maintaining an office staff who personally answer the phone.

4. Be aware of generational references that may not make sense to a patient of a different age. Your patient says he wants glasses exactly like Superman. What do you show him first? Are we talking about Henry Cavill, Christopher Reeve or Dean Cain . . . or possibly even George Reeves?

Know that you can make mistakes with understanding references and providing appropriate examples whether you are older—or younger—than your customer. For example, if you are older than most of your colleagues, vendors or customers, be cautious about references that may seem “dated.” At the same time, be aware that responses such as, “That must have been before my time” to an older customer may be insulting. It’s more sensitive to mention that you simply don’t understand a comment.

5 Read body language and facial expressions. If you aren’t sure if a question or remark made sense to a customer of a different generation, just take a look at your patient. Sometimes people don’t overtly tell you that they don’t understand a remark for fear of seeming ignorant, but you can usually observe confusion expressed in body language and/or facial expressions.

The more we understand what makes our customers different, the better we can meet their needs. Just as we want to be sensitive to patients of different socioeconomic groups, culture, religions and sexual orientations, we also want to build awareness of how generational affiliation impacts communication preferences and needs.

Jennifer L. FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) is the author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One and a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University. She has been featured on ABC, CBS, Sirius XM and in Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, The Huffington Post and Reader’s Digest. The founder of Jenerations Health, she and her team help healthcare organizations grow. JenerationsHealth.com


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