Eighty million Millennial customers (Gen Y) are now hitting service providers with a wallet force that will soon be even bigger than that of the baby boom. To build and maintain Millennial customer engagement and loyalty businesses need to know how to provide the kind of customer service that Millennials are looking for.
Here’s why. Millennial customers (born 1980-2000) are bringing an entirely new set of expectations to the market. They think differently about customer service and about how they want to be treated in business interactions. This is a generation of consumers defined by the digital world that they’ve known since infancy. They have limited understanding or patience for the more earthbound and analog systems and experiences that dominated the consumer landscape only a few years ago.
In business, we tend to think of customer service and hospitality as following age-old principles, but the particulars of how customer service has been delivered for the last several decades are extremely Boomer-centric. It’s time for businesses to change, and change fast.
Here’s how to make Millennials love your customer service — and your business — in seven steps.
1. Offload the transactional.
Don’t fritter away employee hours on activities that customers can do better themselves. You’re not going to catch a millennial in the AAA office asking for directions in Trip Tik format. She’ll much more likely be conferring with the Google Maps app on her tablet.
Millennials have different ideas of where humans should fit into customer service delivery. If an app or algorithm can deliver what they need, so much the better. Which is one reason most millennials consult their smartphones first–even when they’re in your store and a human – a human paid to assist them – is standing at the ready.
Don’t wear them down by requiring them to contact you for the transactional details I generically refer to as Stupid Stuff™. A millennial customer isn’t willing to call you to find out whether and when her order has shipped; she wants to proactively receive an automated, instant confirmation in her in box or on her phone.
This isn’t to say there’s no role for a human-to-human service interaction or contact (far from it). But the interaction should be at the choice of the customer, not because you’re unable to deliver a quality experience across channels.
2. Focus on the experiential.
New service models need to deliver more for Millennials. They want help discovering and enjoying experiences, not just getting from point A to point B.
Take, as an example, business travel. According to Jay Coldren, Marriott VP of Lifestyle Brands, Marriott’s cutting-edge and experiential hotel brand: “Generation Y views 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 win their business.
3. Customer self-determination is key.
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.
Millennials enjoy the possibility of collaborating with businesses and brands, as long as they believe their say matters to the company in question. They 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. Become a speed freak…
Millennials are superb multi-taskers who put a premium value on convenience. Millennials’ internal time clocks and customer expectations are shaped by the instant gratification they’ve grown accustomed to. 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.
Emulate Amazon.com here: You’d better have a real-time indication of what is and isn’t in stock; ship immediately, and, perhaps most of all, have a no-hassle return policy.
5. … but leave your customers time and space for breathing.
Nobody gets this one more right than Starbucks. The Millennial generation wants their custom-brewed coffee fast (in less than 7 minutes according to Starbucks’ “Cliff of Dissatisfaction” metric) but they also want the world to linger with them over coffee. In spite of their penchant for mobile and online socializing, the millennial generation also yearns for face-to-face interaction and collaboration – from their peers and, often, from your more empathetic employees.
6 Up with Values.
Millennials engage in what can be termed “values-based buying”. 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.
Notably more millennials than non-millennials integrate their beliefs and causes into their choice of companies to support, their purchases and their day-to-day interactions. More than 50% of millennials make an effort to buy products from companies that support the causes they care about, according to research from Barkley, an independent advertising agency. And they’re twice as likely to care about whether or not their food is organic than are their nonmillennial counterparts, according to Boston Consulting Group. When you consider how money-strapped many millennials remain, their willingness to put a premium on such issues is striking.
And what millennials are concerned with, values-wise, includes more than solely political and ethical issues. They also care about what’s genuine and authentic. This interest falls somewhere between a purely aesthetic preference and a search for honesty, for truth. And it’s a powerful force for motivating millennial customers.
7. Speak their language.
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.” When in doubt, follow this millennial rule: Authentic, caring communication is in; scripted service is out.
It’s the new, Millennial world. They can bring their wallet power to you, or to someone else, depending on how you serve them. The choice is yours.
Micah Solomon is a bestselling author, Forbes.com contributor, expert, consultant, and speaker on customer service, the customer experience, customer loyalty, and corporate culture. Follow him on Twitter at @micahsolomon.
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