Style over substance is a logical fallacy with direct implications for customer service.
The substance of customer service is fairly constant. To distill it, customer service is demonstrating to people that you care about them. Or as author Guy Winch put it for Customers That Stick, “Customer Service is about creating a relationship of trust and loyalty with customers that transcends the interaction of the moment.”
Perhaps that’s why to 76% of Americans, the “true test” of how much they are worth to a company is customer service.
The style of customer service varies considerably. It is how you demonstrate that you care. It’s the words and images you use to create that relationship. It’s also the channels you use to communicate with customers. And as means of communication have proliferated, so too have customer service channels.
Too many companies focus on style at the expense of substance. You can be a multi-channel superstar but if you’re not making customers feel cared for on all those channels you’re not getting it right.
How Millennials differ
The Millennial generation, also known as Gen Y, refers to people born between 1980 and 2000. According to the Center for Generational Kinetics, there are currently 80 million Millennials, and by 2017 they will spend more than Boomers. According to Customer Service Consultant Micah Solomon next year Millennials will hit $200 billion in annual spending and will, over their lives, spend $10 trillion in the U.S.
Luckily for companies that have substance down, catering to Millennials is only a question of style. Everyone, regardless of age, wants to be cared about. But the way they want to be communicated with does vary according to age. The style that works best for Millennials isn’t the same as the style that works for older generations.
Here are the three main ways Millennial-friendly customer service is different.
1. You don’t have to call Millennials
Gene Hoffman is CEO of subscription billing company Vindicia. It’s a growing business with clients running extremely high transaction volumes. He’s noticed that the older clients require more hand-holding from client services. Millennial clients he describes as “lower touch.” They put a lower value on check ins and status updates, preferring to reach out when they need help. Save money by putting your proactive time and attention toward older customers.
Another way Millennials differ goes back to multi-channel. The vast majority of Millennials (77%) want to be able to reach customer service through myriad avenues. This choice is more important to Millennials than it is to other generations.
Our favorite channel? Not the phone. Well, kind of the phone. Not the talking part, the online part.
Millennials consider phone calls “unwanted” and “outdated.” I certainly do. People don’t like being put on the spot and forced to respond in real time. Because Millennials have grown up with asynchronous communication alternatives, they’re less tolerant of the interruption a phone call represents.
Sandy Hingston described working with younger colleagues. “I’ll be sitting in their offices. The phone will ring. They scan the caller ID, but they don’t pick up. ‘I’ll email her later,’ they’ll say, or, ‘I don’t feel like talking to him.’ My colleagues are good, conscientious employees. But they don’t seem to understand why they have phones on their desks.”
When 99% of the calls to my work phone are sales calls, it’s no surprise I don’t want to answer.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t conduct business on the phone. Nearly half of Millennials routinely pay for things with our phones. While I rarely use my phone in meatspace retail interactions, I’m constantly buying things on my phone from Amazon as I think of them.
I also use my phone in retail situations, such as using the GroceryIQ app to remember what to buy.
In fact 40% of Millennials want to conduct all of our customer service interactions online. That’s compared with 20% of Boomers who said the same.
Not having to call Millennials or check in proactively can be a timesaver. But our hatred of the phone can also be a headache.
“They can be resistant to getting on a call when that’s clearly the right answer – like real time debugging,” Hoffman said.
2. Millennials love to chat and text
SMS is vital for communicating with Millennials. We’ve already given you our money. We’re increasingly fine with giving you our cell phone numbers. Already 41% of Millennials report being “truly satisfied” when we can communicate via text with the brands we do business with. When we know you’ll protect our privacy, that percentage shoots up.
Live chat is essential for Millennial customers who don’t want to text. It’s helpful for everyone, really. Live chat taking off was one of my experts’ predictions for customer service in 2016. You should invest in live chat software, and make sure your live chat is mobile-optimized. A smartphone is more vital than a desktop computer to half of Millennials.
But live chat on your site can’t be the only way Millennials can converse with a customer service rep online. Most Millennials highly value being able to get in touch with a rep in a variety of ways. New channels for communication pop up almost daily. The channels you’re still waiting to get familiar with are aging rapidly. Twitter is a decade old. Snapchat and Facebook Messenger are five years old. Yik Yak is three years old. (Check out The Big Reason Brands Shouldn’t Use Facebook Messenger for Customer Service.)
The primary purpose of a quarter of Gizmodo’s Top 20 Apps Launched in 2015 is aiding in communication. Most of the rest improve photos, which are also used to communicate.
As the pace of new channel introduction accelerates it’s vital to be on top of which channels you need to be on.
3. Millennials want self-service
Soloman describes Millennials as demanding self-service, preferably augmented by algorithms and crowdsourcing.
“Millennials, and those who share a Millennial outlook, hold different ideas about where human-powered service fits into the customer experience,” Soloman writes. “Younger customers, through years of experience with online and self-service solutions, have grown used to the way technology can reduce the need for human gatekeepers to ensure accuracy and manage data. So the last thing they want is for your employees to gum up the works without adding value.”
The Center for Generational Kinetics found that people who have a good experience with self-service gain a more positive view of a company’s customer service as a whole. More than 65% of Americans report feeling “good about themselves and the company when they can solve a problem without talking to customer service.”
The Center also found that female Millennials were the most comfortable with self-service with more than 70% reporting being comfortable solving their issue themselves without talking to a human. Offering us a positive experience is especially important to repeat business because women end up making the majority of household buying decisions.
Doing self-service right isn’t easy. Check out 6 Steps to Building an Amazing Self-Service Support Site by Salesforce’s Katy Dormer for help. And to compare self-support technologies, check out this knowledge base software comparison.
The Center for Generational Kinetics reports that more than 69% of Americans claimed to be more loyal to companies that “make me feel like they know me when I contact their customer service people.” And lately Millennials have shown themselves to be more likely to move away from a company due to a customer service experience than any other generation.
Not only are Millennials spending lots of money now, but they’ll be spending for decades to come. So it’s vital to keep us as customers by providing us customer service in the style we prefer.
What other tips do you have for offering Millennial-friendly customer service? Let me know in the comments!