Stalking the wild millennial

Stalking the wild millennial

If you’re dismissing your millennial customers, you’ll be leaving a lot of dollars on the table. • See more Consumer Trends

Why give a hoot about pleasing and retaining millennials as guests? Aren’t millennials the world’s top ramen-loving, underemployed masses? Well, not entirely, and certainly not for long.

What you need to know about millennials comes down to this. The millennial (born after 1980) generation is larger than the baby boom. And the boomers are going to slowly-fade in purchasing activity.

This means in only a few years the wallet power of millennials will equal, and then quickly exceed, that of the boomers. This is a very big deal for every brand in the marketplace.  

Hospitality, as practiced today, has in many ways become anachronistic, a relic of a boomer-centric approach that made sense for decades, but doesn’t any longer. “It’s time to recognize that this is a new world. The basic attitudes about customer service—from how our guests want to be treated to how we train our staff—haven’t changed since most of us first started in business, and they need to,” says Jay Coldren, v.p. of lifestyle brands for Marriott. [“Lifestyle brands” are hospitality giant Marriott’s most cutting-edge and experiential hotels around the world.]

Very few brands sense the urgency of the needed change. But it’s real. Here’s where to start in adapting your customer service and customer experience to the realities of the incoming millennial onslaught.

Scripted service is out, authenticity is in. To the extent that face to face (or phone to phone, or terminal to terminal) human interaction is still central to hospitality, the way this human service is delivered needs to become less formal, more varied and, above all, authentic if you want to open the hearts (and wallets) of millennials.  

Which isn’t to say you should be winging your service responses. Standards are extremely important in customer service delivery. Every service scenario will benefit from being reviewed and rehearsed in advance. But to provide the kind of authentic service that a millennial lights up to, your employees need to know the reason for the rehearsed response, how to deliver it in their own voices, and when and why to deviate from it.  

Part of this is the lack of a gee-whiz factor in how millennial customers view technologically assisted human intuition. While a boomer or even Gen-X customer may be somewhat impressed when the cashier at the grocery store thanks him by name, this is old hat and even rings false for the younger customers coming into the marketplace (the cashier doesn’t know you, after all; she’s reading your name off the loyalty program-enabled register screen).     

The experience is the thing. Millennials have grown up in a world of almost unimaginable commercial plenty. So the distinctions they’re looking for are often in the experience to be expected with a particular product or service, rather than with any hard difference.  This is true in automobile purchases, hotel stays, electronics purchases, branch banking (believe it or not) and, of course, dining.

Speed it up, buddy. A perfect product, delivered late, is a defect. Ditto with perfect service delivered in a less than timely manner.

How millennials have shaped customer service

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The team at Caesars, Harrah’s and other cutting-edge casino operations know this well. Specifically, they’ve calculated exactly how long the savvy gamblers will wait for a complimentary drink on the casino floor. They know that a casino guest needs to be greeted within 2-3 minutes of their arrival and then ‘touched’ with a service interaction or complimentary drink every 20 minutes. As a result, they have extremely sophisticated staffing and operating models to ensure that they have enough staff on hand to service their guests.

In some casino operations’ front of house, there are actually RFID tags built into the cocktail server uniforms that are scanned as they go in and out of the service bar. This helps the managers keep track of the exact amount of time a server takes to make a single sweep of their section and return to the service bar for the drinks. This information gives them the data they need to service their guests and better staff the casino floor.

Don’t ignore the urgency of upgrading your timeliness metrics. Millennial expectations of timeliness, in all sectors, move at the speed of digital. If it takes you 24 hours to answer a customer query that comes in by email, on an online comment form, on your voicemail or on Twitter, you may as well answer it next year—or never.

But leave your millennial guests time and space for breathing.

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.  

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, drinks or a savored meal.

The role of humans in customer service has changed—forever.

The millennial generation has never known a world without a web browser, wifi, or smartphones. This generation of digital natives knows only a world where this kind of transactional speed, informational access and instant gratification are the norm. The result is that the meaning of the human touch in customer service is different for the digital generation. You better be ready to adapt to this new level of service.

Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant, speaker and the author of High- Tech, High-Touch Customer Service.