There isn’t a single time I speak when someone doesn’t come up to me and say, “We really try to give great customer service, but these kids today just don’t care.” Those pesky Millennials!
Then, I ask them “Tell me about some companies that give a great customer experience.” Three examples that come up again and again are Chick-fil-a, Disney, and Zappos.
The majority of their employees? Um…..Millennials.
Which tells me there may not be a problem with Millennials. Instead, the problem is with a management model that doesn’t want to change with the times.
Let me start by saying that I tend to shy away from putting people into categories – Millennials do this, Baby Boomers do that – because I think people are individuals and bring their own unique experiences and sets of beliefs to the table.
However, there are some commonalities in generations in terms of what they experienced growing up. Millennials, those born in the 80’s and 90’s, grew up in the age of computers, social media, participation trophies, and instant and constant information. They are going to respond differently than a generation who grew up learning that when your boss tells you to do something, you just do it.
You can try to manage them the same way you managed people in the past, but in the words of Dr. Phil, “how’s that working for you?”
I recently had this conversation with my sales coach, Tom. He has taken on a project coaching salespeople who fall into that Millennial category. Tom told me, “they’re teaching me as much as I am teaching them!” So, I asked him to elaborate and here’s what he shared:
- Millennials want to know the WHY. It’s no longer sufficient to ask – or rather, tell – your young employee to do something and expect them to do it. This group is motivated intrinsically and it helps them to know WHY something is important. I remember a conversation I had with a young dining room supervisor in an assisted living community. She privately complained to me that their manager had come in, told all the servers, “we’re going to do it this now,” and left it at that. The young servers were now balking, complaining and talking about looking for other jobs, she told me. “If she had only come in and asked, instead of told, and explained the reason behind the change, we would have responded better. In fact, we’re smart people. We may have had some good suggestions.” Which brings me to my next tip.
- They want to be involved in the process. One of the reasons why our training programs are so successful is that it’s extremely interactive. Rather than tell people what good customer service is, we ask our participants to tell us. We give them a few ideas, they give us many, many more! The COO of one of our larger clients just remarked recently, “it’s amazing when you ask people what they think – they will often tell you, and their ideas are good!” I remember sitting with a group of really angry employees once. All I did was listen to their concerns, without making any promises. At the end of the session, one of the participants told me, “Donna, even if nothing gets done as a result of today, you have made a difference – because until now, no one ever asked us what we thought.” In that particular company, the leadership team instituted regular “listening strategies” and I’m happy to report morale is much, much better than it had been.
- They want daily feedback. Yep. This is the group that received trophies just for showing up. The days of “if it’s not working, I’ll tell you and if it’s working, you’re fine” are over. You don’t have to pat people on the back all the time, for no reason. It’s about providing genuine feedback. Give people praise and also give them coaching that helps them grow. Provide education that helps their personal and professional development. Truth be told, when you do this for staff members at any age, you actually build a more productive and passionate workforce. Isn’t that what we all want?
Here are a few other strategies that might help you engage your Millennial team members, in your efforts to improve the customer experience or other areas of focus.
- Utilize Competition: Set strong and clear goals, providing the WHY, and then setting them off to compete with each other or themselves to reach those goals can be a motivated. Remember to build in daily updates in terms of progress, and be ready to celebrate successes along the way.
- Provide Education: Challenging tasks and learning opportunities that are going to help with your team member’s professional development are very motivating. For instance, Freshbooks, a financial software company, offers regular Lunch & Learns for their employees. Ask your team members what they’d like to learn and figure out a way to provide that education for them. (By the way, Disney, Chick-fil-a, Zappos all put staff education at the top of their priority list.)
- Connect Them: Millennials are the most connected people on the planet, having grown up with social media. Make sure they are connected to people in the workplace as well. Freshbooks also sets employees up on “Blind dates,” meaning they schedule coffee dates between staff members in different departments to help them get to know each other. What a great idea!
- Be Transparent: The more information they have about your company and your goals (and the WHY), the more passionate your team will feel about reaching them. Communicate regularly and give them as much information as possible. You may have read about Celebration Cinema! in my book, 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers. Every quarter all employees hear about the financial status of the company. Emily Loeks, the Director of Community Affairs for the Michigan-based cinema chain, says as the staff begins to really understand what it takes to run the theatres and make a profit, they become more passionately engaged in doing their part to ensure they succeed. By the way, Celebration Cinema is known for their great customer service and their employees? Millennials!
So, the idea that “Millennials just won’t do the work,” really doesn’t fly. When you change your approach, you may find you have the best multi-taskers on the planet, working really hard to achieve goals that tap into everyone’s passion and purpose.
Donna Cutting is the author of two books on customer service and the Founder and CEO of Red-Carpet Learning Systems, Inc. She and her team help leaders engage their people to improve the customer experience.