Generational Differences In Client Expectations

What do clients want? While answers to that question will vary, there are trends in what clients expect. In a recent post, we explored how to begin improving your client experience. In this post, we’ll explore how trends and expectations vary among the generations represented in today’s workforce, but focus on the newest generation of decisionmakers: Millennials.


Most accounting firms serve members of the generation born between 1946-1964. Most Boomer clients have gone through, are going through or are about to go through a business transition. Their experiences and evolution have defined, and continue to define client service. Boomers were the first to demand responsiveness, although it is much more lenient than what newer generations expect. Boomers value face-to-face relationships and are more likely to physically bring in their files and meet with you on their returns. The most comfortable forms of communication for Boomers are phone and email. While Boomers comprise a majority of your client base today, their standing is starting to experience turnover.

Generation X

This generation represents a large percentage of accounting firm clients. Born between 1965 and 1980, Generation X is much smaller than the Boomers population and won’t replace current clients at a one-to-one pace. While not true internet natives, many GenXers graduated into a web-based adulthood and were the first generation to expect the use of technology in their interactions. Relationships are important to this generation, but their expectations on how relationships are built still vary. Email is their preferred method of communication, but phone conversations and face-to-face interactions still hold value. GenX was the first generation to challenge responsiveness; the 24-hour response window was birthed because of their expectations on turnaround.


This newly identified microgeneration straddles the GenX-Millennial line. Born between 1977-1985, these individuals had an analog childhood and digital adulthood. The variations in expectations between GenX and Millennials can be linked back to these clients. While not an exact science, chances are these clients will value the same service model as Millennials with an appreciation for face to face communication.


While the generation is still the smallest subset of clients for many accounting firms, it won’t be for long. Demanding the largest shift in expectations, Millennials will turn client service and experience on its head.

The notion that Millennials don’t value relationship is one of the biggest myths around expectations in service. It’s just not true. Millennials deeply value relationship but want it on their terms. Here are a few trends that will impact your client service.

  • Self Service. Millennials want to be able to do things for themselves. These clients don’t need to go through an individual or admin to access things like their estimated payments or returns. Portals are critical to providing self-service access to Millennial buyers.
  • This is the first generation to grow up with a digital footprint. Millennials expect to work with firms that use technology to their advantage; they have little patience for firms that refuse to work faster and smarter. This is also the first generation to embrace text messaging and website chat features.
    • Millennials want a personalized experience. They want to know you understand their needs. Instead of receiving a standard organizer, Millennials prefer a link to an app with all the items needed for their situation. The best way to reach this generation is with a personalized approach and unique experience.
  • Millennials don’t confine their relationships to a 9-to-5 workday, they live and breathe life integration. Response expectations are in minutes, not hours. These demands are admittedly a hard thing to manage; very few firms live and breathe response times. Technology will become a firm’s best friend in their endeavor to meet demands.

With all these variations and changes in the client expectations, what’s a firm to do? Recognize that you must adapt your service model. Don’t wait until you are forced to change. Start making changes to meet the demands of digital natives, while still offering the comforts of an analog experience. Involve your firm’s younger generation in developing or updating your client service standards. After all, it takes one to know one. If you need help evolving your client service model, reach out to one of our experienced professionals today.

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