Why Companies Should Start Celebrating Millennials
The New Reality for Customer Engagement
Date: 5/31/2018 @ 1 p.m. ET
Business needs to stop complaining about Millennials and start celebrating them. Here are two steps that can change your company’s perception of Millennials.
By Chris Davis
I attended a conference recently in which a main thread throughout was "the next-generation customer.” Two primary things disappointed me as the conference proceeded:
1. No presenter analyzing and postulating about the next generation of Millennial customers was, in fact, a Millennial.
2. The tone used to describe Millennial customers was always slightly negative and—perhaps unintentionally—condescending, with comments about why and how they are different, and with an overtone of criticism for their narcissism, laziness, impatience, disloyalty, demands for instant gratification and willingness to blast businesses on social media.
What seemed absent from the conversation was how awesome Millennials can be and the new opportunities that such fundamental differences in behavior present.
One of the presenters described a new aspect of a loyalty program designed with Millennials in mind. The presenter said, "Because Millennials do not have the patience to spend years accruing points and spend them all in one big bang purchase or experience, we want to reward them with instant gratification and a pat on the back. Everyone gets a trophy, no matter how small."
On one hand, this shrewd insight represents an adaptation to market forces, but on the other, its tone is unfortunately condescending, coming from a Gen Xer to other Gen Xers and Boomers, with only a smattering of Gen Yers in a room of about 300 people. What worries me most about approaching the next generation of customers through this guarded, cynical lens is that companies seeking to innovate will undermine their own success because of their lack of empathy.
As Clayton Christensen and his co-authors pointed out in “Finding the Right Job for Your Product,” to innovate we must uncover what job a customer is hiring us for. But without empathy and without taking Millennials seriously, how can companies do this?
As Gen Yers continue to make up an increasingly impactful proportion of both customer segments and corporate leadership, their behavior will become the predominant new normal. If they don’t adapt to these new behaviors with enthusiasm now, adapting later on will be much harder.
Hiring Millennial employees will be hard, but people will always need jobs. On the other hand, persuading Millennials to buy your products will be even harder because so many substitutes can replace your product.
Companies need to stop complaining about Millennials and start celebrating them. Here are the first two steps you should take toward changing your company’s cultural perception of Millennials:
1. Listen to them and rely on the Millennials in your company (even if they are two or three ranks below you) to help sift through noise and overarching generalities. As with any customer segment, a multitude of nuances will be overlooked if executives rely on stereotypes.
Also, let the Millennials talk about Millennials occasionally—it will simply be more genuine. While not being a Millennial allows an executive to observe differences in behavior that may not occur to a Millennial who is not self-aware, it is only when the two perspectives are combined that companies will gain meaningful insight.
One group observes the “what,” and the other can explain the “why.” In fact, former CEO Jack Welch (The Jack Welch Lexicon of Leadership by Jeffrey Krames) employed this very tactic at GE in the early 1990s and called it the “e-Mentor Program,” in which the 1,000 most senior executives were paired with younger employees to learn about the power of the Internet.
2. Take all of the Millennials’ differences and flip the script. Start to identify how the Millennials’ behavior can be an opportunity rather than a barrier. Start to appreciate and celebrate:
Lack of Empathy:
Millennials are …
Millennials are …
· Willing to tell us more about themselves
· Making our brand a focal point in telling their life story
· Expecting ease of use
· Willing to engage with us outside of the point of purchase through social media
· Trumpeting efficiency and less reliant on high-touch/high- cost service models
· Celebrating and rewarding us when we earn their respect
· The type of people that still put Apple stickers on the bumpers of their cars
Demanding of instant gratification
Willing to Provide a Low Barrier to Second Interaction
· Seeking unique experiences and ways to humble-brag to their friends
Willing to blast you on social media
Giving Us Free Consulting
· Providing ideas on how to innovate and improve
· Holding us accountable for quality with early warning signs
The “lack of empathy” characteristics certainly have some validity and are grounded in people’s perceptions and experience with the Millennials, but treating these stereotypes as blanket truths is dangerous.
The title of this piece is tongue in cheek, because—as a Millennial—I know that I am a different kind of customer, and I know that people roll their eyes at the thought of my expecting to be treated like a rock star without having done anything yet. However, there are so many reasons I can make or break your brand, so I’m calling for all companies to stop complaining about me and my contemporaries, and start celebrating us instead.
We aren't going away. So, even though it's inconvenient to have to reexamine outdated business models, processes, policies and perhaps capital investments—and just because your ROI would be higher if you could continue milking your current successful position—that doesn't mean you should enter the new era of business kicking and screaming. Jump in feet first—but drink a red bull before you do.
Chris Davis, a senior associate at Metis Strategy, a CIO advisory firm, wrote this article while still in his twenties. He handles corporate and business unit strategy, and IT strategy development and alignment, and other assignments.
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