Attention brands: the 'helicopter children' are your new consumers

by Guest Contributor Dr Susanne O'Gorman | March 18, 2020

Author: Dr Susanne O'Gorman

Dr Susanne O'Gorman
Insights Division, Kantar
Global Head of Customer Experience

As parents we all vowed not to turn into one of those over-controlling creatures, the helicopter parent. And yet, to a greater or lesser degree, we secretly praise modern technologies that allow us to reach our children 24/7 and drop them an SMS to find out what they are doing and when they are coming home.

Coined to describe parents who ‘hover’ over their child’s life and oversee every aspect of their behaviour, the term “helicopter parents” gained strong popularity about 20 years ago. The jury is still out on the potential long-term consequences for the individual child who endured such an upbringing. But what are the implications for brands when the helicopter children enter the workforce and also place new demands on them as consumers?

As employers, some big brands have reacted already and provide employees with a working environment that mirrors parental support: free catered meals starting from breakfast, on-site medicals, dry cleaning and laundry services. What better way to ease the transition from a home where everything was cared for into the realities of grown-up life? But how well are brands set up to deal with the needs of helicopter children in their role as customers?


Looking at my two teenage sons, I place high hopes in the Internet-of-things. Alerts when there is no food in the fridge, potentially coupled with an automated order to re-stock and delivered within the same day, could help them survive the years when they have left the parental nest. Artificial intelligence will play a big part, especially when it is consequently designed to meet the demands of a generation that is used to everything made easy for them: reminders of the weather and suggestions on which clothes to wear, checking the diary, arranging trips, recommending an insurance for the upcoming skiing holiday, booking the car for service and ordering tickets for the cinema. But while AI will hopefully be able to predict and organise many of our daily tasks going forward, it won’t be enough.

Used to being at the centre of attention, this segment of the population will expect customer-centricity more than any other generation before them – and will likely be disappointed. Most customers currently do not rate their brands as truly customer-centric, as our recent insights on CX in retail banking in Germany showed and this holds true for other industries and countries as well. While many companies have made it easier for customer to interact with them, they often struggle to provide a customer experience that engages customers emotionally and provides personalised experiences.

Our insights on Financial Services showed that brands are best advised to provide a service experience that mirrors their customers’ lifestyles: recognizing which needs they have, flexibility in giving people the choice which channel to use when they need an issue solved and providing personalised experiences. Through placing people first (employees as well as customer), brands can ensure that customer-centricity is a daily practice rather than a phrase in a vision statement.

Having grown up in environment with a lot of tender loving care, meeting functional needs only won’t do it. The helicopter children will work for and buy from brands that win their hearts. All categories will have to adapt their CX and EX strategies. The race is on. Who will succeed? Please share your thoughts.


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