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What makes customer service a great job for Gen Z?

In 2017, Forbes ran an article entitled "10 Gen Z Experts You Should Be Following." Most of these experts were, themselves, members of Generation Z. They were teenagers and young adults working as consultants for companies that treated them as oracles on how to effectively recruit from, and sell to, this generation. This isn't entirely unprecedented. Brands have always wooed younger consumers by asking, "What are you crazy kids about?" But understanding the emerging generation has become something of a pseudoscience.

For example, lots of studies say that Gen Z prefers face-to-face communication at work, while other sources say they’re more focused on their online relationships than their real ones. Many studies say Generation Z is more practical and less idealistic than the Millennials, but some of the people who are making the biggest social impact—like the Parkland shooting survivors and Greta Thunberg—are from Generation Z. Maybe, like every other generation, Millennials and Generation Z aren’t so easily pigeonholed. Maybe every generation has its version of beatniks, squares, plutocrats, hippies, radicals, jocks, nerds, hipsters, geeks, and so on. That idea, though, doesn’t help anyone create a marketing plan.

What Gen Z wants in a workplace

Generation Z is larger than any previous generation; so it’s critical that brands win them over. That includes employers. Several studies show that young Millennials and Generation Z members are drawn to tech careers—like software engineering, iOS development, and machine learning. A study, “The Next Generation of Talent: Where Gen Z Wants to Work,” published by Glassdoor in February 2019, lists Apple, Microsoft, Google or Facebook among the most desired employers.

But what about the non-tech-minded? Glassdoor found a handful wanted to be business or financial analysts, or receptionists. A study by Indeed also found that among the most popular jobs for Gen Z respondents were daycare worker, beauty consultant, bridal consultant, veterinary assistant, associate dentist, bookseller and game master, which is someone who manages and assists escape room participants. Of course, they’re young and career fluidity is greater than it has ever been. But notably, customer service didn’t come up in either study.

That’s a problem because this generation definitely wants to be on the receiving end of seamless, personalized, instantaneous, omnichannel customer service. Most companies now recognize that customer experience is a cornerstone of customer loyalty. But the job of customer service has never had very good PR. And it has some strikes against it from the beginning: among Gen Z’s 10 most common turn-offs when it comes to jobs are low pay and long hours as well as rude customers, minimum wage, and even, hard work. Fast-paced also made the list.

Most companies now recognize that customer experience is a cornerstone of customer loyalty. But the job of customer service has never had very good PR.

These attributes often describe every challenging day in the world of customer service. So maybe what needs to happen is a reframing of the customer service role to better appeal to this generation.

[Read also: Changing the narrative on careers in customer service]

Customer service is a tech job

While most people don’t think of customer service as a tech job, it actually involves a lot of tech-savvy. In fact, Gartner reports that most agents have to deal with 8.6 tech tools per customer interaction. And while other studies of popular jobs for Gen Z and Millennials didn’t mention customer service, a study by Comparably, a company whose mission is to make cultures and compensation transparent, found that customer service was listed as one of 15 most popular tech jobs for these generations.

Every move toward more seamless, personalized, omnichannel experiences spawns technological innovations, including stuff that many companies still consider far out, like AR and VR. We’re talking about data visualization, smart tech that routes calls according to expertise, software that detects emotions by monitoring voices and picking cues out of language, and software and hardware that facilitates over-the-top customer experiences. For example, Smooch uses a single API to reach customers on whatever messaging channel they choose so that neither agent nor customer is required to switch channels.

[Read also: Survey reveals that the agent experience should drive tool adoption]

Intuitive software for customer interactions is just the kind of technology that Millennial and Gen Z employees are looking for, according to one survey. They also like working for companies that are pushing the edge on tech, offering the opportunity to grow in their roles by collaborating with AI and chatbots.

But the survey also said that agents want to work on a gig basis and be able to interact with their bosses and manage their schedules through self-service apps or software rather than personal interaction. This sounds like a Millennial thing, since Gen Z reportedly wants reliable jobs with big companies and face-to-face interactions with managers.

[Read also: What to expect from Millennials as managers]

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z seems worried about a perceived inability to communicate professionally with other humans, and they want to get better at it. That creates another opportunity for customer service providers who can offer a great training ground for human interaction.

Customer service as a bootcamp for human interaction

A report by Deloitte stated: “In a study of 4,000 Gen Z participants, 92 percent are concerned about the generational gap that technology is causing in their professional and personal lives. Another 37 percent expressed concern that technology is weakening their ability to maintain strong interpersonal relationships and develop people skills."

And also: “Most of Gen Z…acknowledges the importance of in-person communication and its own deficiencies in this area. And in an environment where ‘92 percent of HR leaders believe that emotional and social skills are increasingly important,’ organizations are likely to keenly feel the effects of any shortfall.”

Today many Gen Z and young Millennials already work in some sort of service arena. Their experiences there might have revealed a need for further communication training—but that’s just speculation.

Today many Gen Z and young Millennials already work in some sort of service arena. Their experiences there might have revealed a need for further communication training—but that’s just speculation.

In 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a large cohort of people in the 16-34 age—about 20 million—were working in sales, whether in a retail or office capacity. About 12 million worked in service occupations; about half of those in food service. Another 6 million worked in production, transportation, and material movement (which includes everything from airline pilot to delivery and Uber drivers). But only about 1.3 million identified in the BLS report as working in customer service. Nonetheless, a huge percentage of this generation has already experienced a customer service role. Yet not every company has strong training programs to teach the soft skills of customer service—and those skills are considered increasingly important.

[Read also: Worked in food service? Put that on your resume]

In a good customer service environment, soft skills are the stock in trade. Good managers expect to mentor and teach employees how to communicate effectively and empathetically, and also to recover and care for themselves in the face of difficult encounters. Those skills are never one and done. They deepen and improve as people gain experience dealing with others. Since ongoing learning and personal development are important to Millennials and Gen Z, this could be a big selling point for customer service as a career choice.

Conversely, a Gen Z with strong social skills could be a rock star at certain types of support roles that include live chat and social media, which require excellent written communication.

Everyone wants to grow

If you synthesize all the studies, it turns out Millennials and Generation Z want a job where they can grow, make a difference, continually learn, be treated with respect, be surrounded by supportive people, make a decent wage, and advance. But then, who doesn’t want all those things?

Many of them also want opportunities for remote work so they can travel. Many customer service roles can offer that, and with ongoing innovation and a deepening understanding of how to win over customers, the customer service experience prepares employees for many other roles and for advancement in the industry.

It’s not just the workplace perks that can win employees over—free snacks or casual dress—but instead, it’s the bones, the fundamentals of how an organization treats people, and what it has to offer towards their growth.