Marketing experts often speak of market segments. Market segments are portions of an overall market containing people or companies with similar needs. When you identify a market segment with an unmet need you can fill, you’ve found one path to business success. Segments are important as it allows you to focus on the segments where you have the most to offer.
For computer techs looking to expand their business, an often-overlooked market segment is that of residential digital immigrants, especially those over age 60.
What is a digital immigrant?
If you grew up in a country where English was not spoken, then moved to the US as an adult, it would take quite a while for you to learn English. You would have missed the golden years where you could easily make mistakes in language and adjust your knowledge on the fly. As an adult, it would be especially hard for you to learn to speak like a native, with no accent.
People born prior to the advent of things digital are in this predicament with technology. Computers, smart phones and Apple TVs burst on the scene well after their peak learning years. While you’ll see a Millennial’s thumbs flying over the keyboard when texting, a typical older adult will be using a single finger to hunt and peck.
Some have referred to these older people as digital immigrants.
How to approach and succeed with this market segment.
These people comprise a vastly under-served market segment. Typically, they have grandchildren or children who can help them, but the instruction is invariably too fast to follow, and often condescending. The generation in-between—their children of the digital immigrants—can display similar behavior.
Computers and other digital devices are increasingly prevalent in our lives. While equipment and software suppliers are converging on ease-of-use designs, confusion results from constant feature changes, as well as differences between platforms (Mac, Windows 7, Windows 10, iOS, Android, etc.). Digital immigrants are often in need of someone to guide them through the digital jungle.
Needs of the Digital Immigrants
What are the needs of Digital Immigrants? First, they grew up in a slower time than digital natives. Nothing computer-related around. They had to get up off the couch to change a television channel. More talking to people in person, with eye-contact. The milk was delivered to the door, and chances are they knew their mailman. Their doctors made house calls and explained things. Company executives had secretaries, invariably women, and never typed anything. These are all influences that shaped their worldview, and gives clues to how they like to be treated.
Secondly, as people age, senses are not as sharp. Hearing and vision starts to degrade, skin may be dry (affects touch), and folks might not be able to get under a desk. Following multi-step directions is increasingly difficult. Remembering passwords, even what those passwords are for, leaves them flummoxed.
Thirdly, most of these people, at least the wealthier ones you’ll most want as clients, may have accomplished a lot during their lifetimes. They may be utterly incompetent with computers, compared to you, but in their own fields they might have been rock stars.
In my clientele I have: a world-renowned cardiologist who remains, in retirement, in demand to lecture around the world; an orthopedic surgeon with over a hundred patents; the wife of a deceased Nobel laureate (she was also the daughter of another Nobelist); several founders of sizable companies, and even one guy who is the father of an honest-to-goodness rock star. So, in your world they may be digitally backwards…but these people have generally accomplished a lot.
Think how you’d feel if suddenly asked to perform heart surgery, find a cure for polio or perform in an arena. So…go easy on them for their lack of basic computer skills; respect them for their accomplishments. They’ll reward you for it.
Watch Your Words
A respectful relationship goes a long way. Visit them in their homes, talk to them, look them in the eye, explain what you’re doing, and do so clearly and slowly. Listen to what they’ve already tried. Repeat things without using jargon. Think twice about the words you use. Send thank you cards after your visit. You’ll really stand out from the crowd.
Regarding the words you use, I’ve had numerous clients have trouble understanding words like scroll, left-click, right-click, return/enter, WiFi, wireless, router, modem, power cord. All these might be a mystery to your older client.
Here’s a typically difficult task, however trivial it might seem. Your client is going to buy a new iPad and wants your advice. First up, cellular vs WiFi only (I’ve had more deer-in-the-headlights looks trying to explain the difference). Then, Apple ID vs Apple ID password: many people confuse the two, especially as the Apple ID is now always an email address. They seem to have a hard time understanding how an ID can be an email, and further difficulty if their Apple ID password is different from the email password that happens to be their Apple ID. You and I easily have this all straight in our minds, a typical older person doesn’t.
Competition in kind for these clients tends to be sparse. If the category is just “computer repair,” choices abound. However, while the digital immigrant segment needs computer repairs as well, most local repair shops offer little of the following: in-home diagnosis, pick-up/delivery, explanations, listening, training/coaching, and adult conversation with no eye-rolling.
In fact, yesterday I had a new 89 year old client tell me that the first thing she noticed was that I looked her in the eye. Too many techs focus on the computer and not the user. It’s the equipment that sits between the keyboard and the chair that needs the help.
Focus On the Client
That equipment, on the chair, is your client. S/he is the person that wants to understand what the issues are, wants to learn how to do something, wants to feel somewhat in control. If you can work on that, the client will also let you do all the other geeky things you see that need doing on the computer: replacing the antivirus with a real one, tweaking the system for performance, perhaps installing a backup system, running Windows updates, replacing the HDD with SSD. In short, all the things that are really break/fix but the client didn’t know to ask about.
By working gently and respectfully with the client, you get the chance to bill for all the other things as well. Don’t forget, although it takes your valuable time to be patient and respectful with a client, most of us are billing by the hour.
What have your experiences with digital nomads been? Are you having success with this market segment? Let me know in the comments below.