Everyone seems to be concerned with how to attract and retain millennials as employees, but what about as customers? You might presume that the characteristics and attributes are the same regardless of which side of the organization millennials are on, but if you presume this, you’d only be partially correct.
A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012 identified that the three major generations across the United States comprised almost equal percentages of the population, with baby boomers and Generation X being about 26% of the population, while millennials are 27%. If you consider that millennials are between the ages of 20 and 35, as the majority of the population they already have a significant impact on organizational customer buying habits and trends.
This said, it goes without saying that if your customer growth and retention strategy doesn’t already address the preferences and influences of millennials; you might be heading for a world of hurt. Fortunately there is still time to turn the ship, albeit time to think about the direction and approach is dwindling.
A good starting point is to examine a few of the most significant attributes of the millennial generation as it pertains to providing an appealing customer experience in order to ensure the sustained growth and profitability of your business.
Customers aren’t where you expect them. I find it interesting the number of manufacturers who sell through a distributor network that are in effect still considering a web presence, social media activity and participation in online forums as the “distributor’s job.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. A website or social media platform is the calling card for every business today, with Google being the tool of choice for most generations, including the millennials. Thinking of buying new bedroom furniture? It’s easier to Google products and manufacturers online than it is to visit the showroom of a local retailer.
As a manufacturer for example, if you don’t have an appealing website with relatively current content and information about your products, the perception you are casting is that you are old, out of date, or out of touch. Every manufacturer, whether selling B2B or B2C, should be active virtually, and should place considerable effort on engaging in the virtual marketplace. I’m not suggesting this as someone who “sells” social media services, but as someone who has studied millennials buying habits and trends. Get online or get inline for your next customer.
Trust is defined differently. For decades manufacturers and distributors alike have been heavily focused on quality, and initiatives such as quality circles, quality teams and total quality have all been played out. The reality is that we have come to expect high levels of quality in everything we buy. This said, building trust and credibility with younger generations comes not from focusing on having the best quality product, that’s a given. Instead trust is built through interactions with customers in the space they choose to spend their time in, which for millennials is online.
Let me give you an example. Before visiting a long-time client the other day, I “Googled” their name. On the first page of search results an employment website appeared that displayed various employees scores of the company as an employer. The results and comments were not good. When I asked the president how he felt their culture was, he replied that things were good, that is until I showed him the website. Why does this matter? Because your customers are hanging out online and anything and everything that is associated with your company influences their trust in you, your products and your company. Are you managing your online reputation?
Obtaining relevant customer feedback. I’ve long been a proponent of reaching out to customers directly to solicit feedback on your products and services. However, counter to what you might expect, I am not a fan of nor do I condone surveys, as there are only two types of people that answer surveys: those who love your product or service and those who hate it. This said, for millennials the telephone is not a preferred communication tool, though texting and chatting is. If your website doesn’t have a chat tool, or you fail to engage with your customers through chat forums and texting, then you are missing a significant opportunity to solicit their feedback that can ultimately provide you with the intelligence necessary to build a stronger, more profitable business.
I imagine you are beginning to wonder where to start with all of this? Fortunately, the key is not where to start as much as it is when to start, which would be now. If you have a website, great; make sure you have ways to update content frequently, including videos and photos of your products and services, and don’t worry about making it perfect – millennials are attracted to things that appear genuine. With this in mind, ensure your customer service staff has tools and means to connect with customers online and in virtual ways (i.e. chat sessions, customer forums, social media).
It’s time to shift our thinking from how we’ve always interacted with customers to how we should be interacting with customers. Then again you can always just wait and see.
Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Co. Inc., a management consultancy helping business executives and owners build a business their customers value. For more information you can visit his website at www.casemoreandco.com or follow him on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.