Creating Awesome Customer Experiences for Millennials

Every major brand and company now are targeting the Millennial Generation because they are big consumers, and depending on how you calculate the span of years for this generation, perhaps the largest consumer segment — 80 million strong! They range in age from 10 to 28 years old generally, and they are willing to spend money for memorable experiences and innovative technology. When it comes to fashion, travel and technology, this generation makes these items a priority even when they are financially strapped. genycla Even luxury companies like Mercedes Benz just announced the release of a new more compact and less expensive car for Millennials looking to break into their first luxury brand vehicle on a limited income. These brands understand that they can’t afford to wait until these consumers turn 40 or 50 to capture their attention — this market is so large, so driven by design and aesthetics, and so loyal to those brands that they love, that savvy companies — even luxury ones — must get a foot in the Millennial door now. Based on what we know about Millennials – and the younger ones are still emerging into the consumer market — here are 5 tips for providing great sales and customer experiences that result in delighted Gen Y customers and that will keep them loyal for a life time: 1. Deal transparently. My father’s generation, the World War II generation, had a lot of respect for institutions and authority, but they also accepted that large institutions and business could be slick and sometimes take advantage of the consumer. Baby Boomers not only expected it but even kind of liked slick and large (think: Bill Clinton saying “he didn’t inhale” and still getting elected by Boomers), but Millennials have an aversion for anyone or any organization that they feel is lying to them, trying to take advantage of them, or being insincere. They like authentic, open and honest (think: Barack Obama admitting to smoking pot, and still getting elected in large part because of Millennial votes). They are the Google generation with access to a lot of information at their fingertips, and they can compare experiences, products and guarantees with others peer-to-peer, so it’s hard to fool them. Here are ways you can be moe authentic and transparent:

  • Make documents and terms easy on the eye and easy to understand.
  • Don’t just state the policy. Give the reason for the policy. They are Generation “Why?” They also are not selfish, and they respect fairness, so just explain why it matters to other customers, the company or to the customer that the policy is followed.
  • Don’t encourage loopholes or customer “gotchas” (“Well, you signed it.”)
  • Keep your promises to Millennial customers.
  • Don’t hide price terms or present them with a bill they didn’t expect.
  • Make sure your dealings with Millennials live up to your stated values.

If you lose the trust over hidden contract or price terms, or promises you can’t deliver, you won’t get back the business of Gen Y. If you are transparent, you will have their loyalty for a life time. 2. Smile authentically. Lior Arussi, my training partner and owner of Strativity Group, a customer experience consulting and training firm, says, “You can pay people to smile, but you can’t pay people to smile authentically.” You know the difference between a flight attendant who greets you at the plane door with a fake plastered smile he has been paid to give you, and the flight attendant who smiles warmly because she so loves her company and her customers. You know the difference between a friendly worker at Trader Joe’s who enjoys people and healthy food, and the plastered on smile of a front desk agent at an hotel who has been told, “Smile or else!” All of us notice this distinction, but Millennials pick up on it immediately. They react strongly to syrupy sweet sales people, employees who are excessively helpful, or employees that seem to be nice because they are being observed by management. You can’t train people to smile authentically. You can’t scare people into being fun, engaging and creative with customers. You simply have to recruit and hire the people who already are this way in their professional and personal lives, and who show uncommon enthusiasm for your brand and your company. genyipad 3. Engage technologically.  Gartner calls Gen Y “digital natives” because they cannot remember a time when there were no cell phones or Internet. They are the generation that fueled the explosive growth of the iPad, the iPhone, Android and the iPod. They are the generation that is creating the latest and greatest apps that all of us enjoy on our mobile devices. 77% of affluent Americans between the ages of 18 and 24, and 80% between the ages of 25 and 34 own smartphones (Business Insider). One-third of all tablet owners are between the ages of 18 and 34 (Nielsen). 45% of 18 to 29-year-olds who use the internet on their cell phones do most of their online browsing on them (Pew Research). This generation does not care so much what your corporate brand is. They care about what their peers are saying about your brand on Yelp, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, Trip Advisor, and other sites and apps. They are more influenced by the recommendation of friends, family, and their network than any prior generation — so think what happens if your company, firm or organization doesn’t even have an app for mobile phones, a website, or a Twitter profile? Here are some ways that you can connect to your Gen Y customers:

  • Provide multiple channel ways for customers to connect with you via mediums that the customer chooses. On average, 18 to 30-year-olds use 6.3 customer service channels. On a monthly basis, 18 to 30-year-olds use 3.6 channels (NICE Survey). If the customer wants to make a short statement or compliment the company, they may use Twitter. If they have a brief question, they may use online chat. If they need a more detailed response, they may choose to email you. If they want to engage with other customers about you, they may enjoy posting on your Facebook page or comment page that you host on your own site (and reply but don’t try to control the conversation — you’ll lose trust with these customers) and they love to buy online without the need for travel or sales interactions. Once you’ve established these channels, make sure that information can be shared across channels so that the customer experience remains consistent. 
  • Rather than getting frustrated by online sites that Millennials use to comment about your business, use them for your advantage. Interact with the complainer online. Provide your perspective on the issue. Apologize quickly. Make it right immediately. Other customers will notice. Every online complaint or comment is an opportunity to create more enthusiastic customers.
  • Respect the desire of Millennials (and Gen X) to exercise independence and learn on their own. Don’t nanny, supervise or micromanage the Millennial customer. Give them some space to inquire, research, talk to peers and learn. Create social environments where customers can connect with other customers.
  • Just as Chili’s and other stores and restaurants are doing, make your offerings “sharable” by paying attention to the presentation on camera. Encourage exploration and random discovery.

genyapple 4. Design aesthetically.  Why is Apple so prominent among Gen Y consumers? Put aside the argument of PC vs. Apple, Android vs. iPhone, Kindle Fire vs. iPad for a minute in terms of quality and durability. The reason Apple is loved by Gen Y is attention to design. Gen Y grew up on multiple forms of visual media, and they are first and foremost a visual generation. They love and appreciate companies that show attention to innovative, simple and and durable design. They love companies that pay attention to presentation because they love displaying innovative or Instagrammable moments on social media (43% of every Millennial food dollar is spent on restaurants and not on groceries partially for this reason).

Here are a few suggestions for the Millennial customer experience:

  • Design all corporate customer-facing documents, contracts, and advertisements with attention to authenticity, simplicity and visual appeal.
  • Create warm, safe and inviting spaces that invite interaction and facilitate online engagement rather than sterile counters with lines, conference rooms with audience style seating, and lobbies with furniture from Office Max. Provide free and fast wireless connections in all public spaces. Instead of asking a customer to stand in line at a counter, why not provide couches, wireless connections, and places for interaction while a customer waits for your services? Or use the wait time to educate the customer. Or give the customer a tour of the operation. Millennials love to learn, and why not use the wait time to facilitate that experience?
  • Ensure that signage is contemporary or authentic, well lit and correct.
  • Spend more money to make things look beautiful, and not just functional. It appeals to everyone, but it really matters to Gen Y.
  • Hire a fashion-conscious designer for corporate uniforms and ensure that all employees pay attention to their professional appearance. This does NOT mean that your employees should wear skirts and ties. In fact, for this generation, quite the opposite. Whether in jeans or suits, employees should be fashion-conscious, not too slick or “corporate.” Millennials love independent, globally conscious, ethical and “green” fashion (think: Tom’s Shoes).
  • Your attorney may not agree with me, and I may not qualify, but hiring people who are visually attractive, diverse and healthy in customer facing positions matters to Gen Y. This generation is visually oriented, they grew up on TV and the web, the gym is a regular activity, and they are the fittest generation in decades. I’m quite amazed at the companies that, with good intentions, overlook this human fact that does shape our experience of a place or company as a customer. Here are a few companies that do show attention to people aesthetics while also hiring for diversity: The Apple Store, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, W Hotels, Whole Foods, Best Buy, Emirates Airlines, UPS, and Virgin America Airlines.
  • Millennials find old school formal luxury ostentatious, fake and over the top. Instead, they prefer what is simple, artisan, localized and lasting. For more, see this article by Micah Solomon:

5. Recover immediately.  No other generation has been so exposed to companies that deliver excellent customer service than Gen Y, and that’s particularly true when it concerns customer recovery. This is the generation that grew up on Amazon, Zappos, Costco, Nordstrom and Apple, and Whole Foods. Their expectations are high, but particularly when it comes to broken trust. Because Millennials are technologically proficient, they have little tolerance for slow responses to Twitter, email and calls. They love multiple channels of communication that they choose. And they hate being ignored or dismissed when something has gone wrong (don’t we all?). Here are a few suggestions for recovery with Millennial customers:

  • Millennials like immediate answers and results. If an issue requires technical expertise or a supervisor, don’t make the customer go through multiple hoops before they are introduced to the person who can solve their problem. Get them to that right resource as quickly as possible.
  • Provide online options for communicating an issue, and online options for immediate solutions. When customers have a problem with a product, 71% of 16 to 24-year- olds and 65% of 25 to 34-year-olds search for a solution online first (2012 Sitel Study).
  • Ask the customer what they feel you could do to make things right? Most customers will be fairer and less expensive with their suggestions than you might assume.
  • Don’t just do enough to satisfy the customer with a coupon, refund or apology. Do enough to delight them. You know why? The Millennials will Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and tell all their friends. The money it cost you, and the energy you expended, to delight your customers will pay off ten fold with new customers who will flock to you.

As I’ve written in this Millennial series here and here, Millennials are not really asking for us to do something extraordinary. They are asking us to become the companies, organizations and leaders we should be in the first place.  I want to let you in on a special secret: If you delight Millennials, you will delight everyone. What they insist upon is what everyone else wants. So begin today by engaging America’s largest generation, and the rest of the generations belong to you.

For more examples of how large companies are appealing to Millennial consumers, see this HBR article.

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