The young adults and teenagers born between 1980 and 2000 are poised to determine the future success or failure of your business.
The millennial generation, also known as Gen Y, is the largest generation in world history, eclipsing even the Baby Boomers (who in many cases are in fact the millennials’ parents). And millennials are about to become the most important consumers – customers – in history. Their purchasing power is rapidly expanding and will soon equal and then eclipse that of the Baby Boomers. To compound the effect, it’s not just consumer (B2C) dollars they’ll have under their control. These young customers are also becoming decision makers at major corporations, thus controlling purse strings that affect the success and failure of those of you with B2B companies as well.
Millennial customers have had an upbringing that's different in commercially significant ways from that of previous generations. As far back as many of these young people can remember, broadband internet has been the norm. "Telephone" for them has by and large meant a smartphone. The economy has been global, and a wealth of brand choices have always been only a click away. As children, millennials were invited to participate, to speak up, to collaborate by their parents, coaches, and teachers, and they now want to have a similar give-and-take relationship with the brands and companies from which they buy.
With this as background, let’s look specifically at how millennials want your business to serve them: the customer service and customer experience that they’re looking for. Here are five changes in approach that will be of use to you in serving and pleasing these valuable customers.
1. Make sure the people who deliver your customer experience are adding value
Millennials have grown up in a connected, app-ified, Amazon-defined world and have different ideas of where people should fit into customer service delivery. The last thing millennials want is for human beings to gum up the works if they don’t add value. So,where it’s appropriate, be sure to offer self-service and automated service solutions in addition to deploying the brightest, most empathetic employees you can find.
To put it another way: Be careful not to do a "half Zappos": If you decide to emulate Zappos, home of the warm and fuzzy 10-hour customer service call, be sure you also emulate Zappos’ highly efficient, automated, algorithmically enhanced ordering process. Because the combination is required to win the millennial heart; the warm and fuzzies alone aren’t enough to do it if they’re combined with the slow and sloppy rather than the up-to-date and efficient.
2. Add adventure to the customer experience
Millennial customers are particularly likely to view a commercial interaction as an opportunity rather than as a burden, as long as there are experiences, even adventures, to be had along the way. New service models need to focus on helping customers discover and enjoy experiences, not just on getting your customers, figuratively or literally, from point A to point B. Take, as an example, business travel. According to Jay Coldren, who helms EDITION hotels, a cutting-edge hospitality collaboration between Marriott and Ian Schrager, “Millennials view business travel not as a necessary evil but as a perk and an opportunity to view the world.” Embrace and support this worldview and you’ll win their business.
3. Put your customer in the driver’s seat
Allowing customers to control their own destiny needs to be a component of your new, millennial-friendly service model. Give up old notions of control and replace them with a transparent model that allows, wherever possible, your customer to be in the driver’s seat. Embrace crowdsourcing: You can’t control product ratings, product discussions, or much else, except by providing the most extraordinary customer experience possible and letting your customers, and your critics, hash out their discussions of it in public.
The crux of the matter is this: Millennials don’t necessarily see a clear boundary between the customer and the brand, the customer and marketer, and the customer and service provider. Alex Castellarnau at Dropbox, the popular file transfer service, put it to me this way: With millennials, “a new brand, service or product is only started by the company; it’s finished by the customers. Millennials are a generation that wants to co-create the product, the brand, with you. Companies that understand this and figure out ways to engage in this co-creation relationship with millennials will have an edge.”
4. Speed is the order of the day
Millennials’ internal time clocks and customer expectations are shaped by the instant gratification they’ve grown accustomed to from the online/smartphone experience. They’re by and large superb multi-taskers who put a premium value on convenience. Speed and efficiency are of the utmost importance: in how quickly you respond to a customer, ship to a customer, and offer up choices of product or service to a customer.
However, the millennial generation is also a very social generation, yearning for face-to-face interaction and collaboration – from their peers and, often, from your more empathetic employees. So the combination of speed and leisure can be powerful, as Starbucks continues to show. While millennials want their custom-brewed coffee in their hand in no more than a few minutes, they also want the world to linger with them over coffee.
5. Authenticity and eye-level communication are key
Authentic, caring communication is in; scripted service is out. Employee dress codes, prohibitions on visible tattoos, stiflingly choreographed customer service? That’s not what millennials are looking for from service providers. The new generation is exceedingly informal and has different words and methods of communicating. Jay Coldren from Marriott again: “The millennials want to converse in their own language, according to their own rules. They speak in tweets, texts and Facebook posts. If you want to reach them, you have to speak in their native tongue. And you have to be completely authentic.” Candor and transparency are very important to millennials and are used by them as a proxy for deciding overall how much to trust and ultimately engage with your brand.
Condescension is in particular a no-go with this generation. The Baby Boomer parents of millennials famously avoided talking down to their children, as did the educators and even the characters on the television programs that millennials watched as youngsters—Blue’s Clues, Barney, and Bob The Builder. All of which has taught them a style of peer-to-peer, eye-level communication that puts them on level with the society rather than being subordinate to or in conflict with it. For this and other reasons, the best style to engage a millennial is a peer-to-peer, eye-level style of service, rather than standing up on a haughty brand pedestal and looking down your company’s nose at them.
When I say "be genuine," I mean it, and I'm not just talking about funky-looking fontography and the like. I'm also talking about behaving in a way that proves that your values match your stated claims. Values matter a lot to millennials, and because of increased competition and increased transparency, millennials have more opportunities to engage in values-based buying than did previous generations, and they exhibit a strong inclination to do so. When millennials do business with a company, they’re more likely than previous generations to care about the social values of that company: its social responsibility, green profile, and how ethically it does (or doesn’t) treat its own employees and those of its suppliers. They will reward your company if its behavior mirrors their own ethics, and punish your company if it doesn’t.
Images courtesy of photostock and adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net