By Peter Armaly
“Millennials have replaced baby boomers as the major consumer segment, so we are seeing a change in what is being demanded. Millennials want more than price and availability; they want speed, convenience and they want to be involved in the co-creation of the product.” Steve Melnyk, Michigan State University
I’m on the tail end of the baby boom generation, and yet reading this quote didn’t freak me out or make my eyes roll. It didn’t make me feel that my sun has set or that a group of individuals long considered entitled is usurping my space and those things I feel I’ve earned. It actually makes perfect sense to me, and my advice to business leaders is this: Figure out even more ways to accommodate, leverage to your advantage, and even be led by, this generational cohort.
In some ways millennials are similar to all preceding generations. Those generations also embraced the technological advancements of their day (e.g. telegraph, telephone, television, and radio) and vigorously resisted social conventions of gender, race, religion, and class status. They pushed for change with the hope that it would provide them with more information, safety, comfort, opportunities, and convenience.
This push for change was usually an unconscious effort and mostly executed without a clear, coordinated strategy. Even this haphazard effort lead to societal evolution.
Despite those broad similarities between generations, there is ample research that shows millennials behave differently. The differences may be due to the widespread adoption of mobile personal computing devices or perhaps to the fact that young adults today attain university level accreditation at much higher rates than previous generations. Whatever the reasons, the differences are measurable and are manifesting in behaviors that are visible even in the business world and its relationships with customers.
In the interviews we conduct in our Voice of the Customer (VOC) program, we hear a lot of interesting things, but five big themes emerge that jibe with the quote above.
Millennials Insist on Flexibility
Deloitte found that 64% of millennials report being able to work from locations other than their employer’s primary site. That number is startling when compared to the way previous generations thought of the workplace. What has triggered the change?
The combination of mobile technology and the withering of the traditional employer-for-life social contract has driven corporations to respond appropriately to retain employees who feel no permanent allegiance to a company or brand. Flexible work arrangements and environments are a big draw for job candidates, and it’s about so much more than being plied with snacks and beer (although those things are not necessarily rejected). It’s about a coveted sense of control over time and space, seemingly rare commodities in today’s business world.
Citing similar pressures, the VOC members we speak with share how their businesses keep changing and that employees have to respond more rapidly to ever more time-compressed priorities. Some of these members suggested that, in order to adapt to that speed of business, it would be helpful if their vendors would provide them with the flexibility to pick and choose when they engage with or subscribe to specific services.
For example, education purchases that don’t expire would, arguably, promote faster product adoption and value realization than education that has to be budgeted for and doled out to team members on a time-limited and management-controlled basis.
Similarly, technical assistance for initiatives such as solution architecting or implementation of advanced integrations would be even more valuable if it were made available on shorter-term basis. And that would be especially so if the procurement process was as simple as “…going on to Amazon, selecting what I need, and checking out.”
We hear, “It would be nice if we could just pay for what we need when we need it.” Especially in the SaaS world, where choice and lower commitment thresholds are built into the model, services elasticity makes sense.
Millennials Have Grown Up With Ease-of-Use
Who doesn’t love simplicity? Given the choice, most people will opt for a simpler way of doing something. It’s human nature, and we hear comments from our VOC members supporting that assertion:
My workload involves being responsible for solutions from multiple vendors. If I just consider your company alone, it would be great if I could just go to one site for all the information and assistance I need.
The truth is that each generation wants life to be easier. So let’s cut millennials some slack and accept that simplifying the complex is actually the definition of business optimization. Let’s embrace it and learn how we can put that drive to even greater use.
Let’s look for ways that the mundane can be automated and the tedious can be eliminated because the truth is, activities with those labels are soul crushing, and soul crushing is not a good recruitment tool. Check this Wall Street Journal article that posits ease of use and being mobile-ready as features of a workplace that appeal to millennials.
Millennials Want Speed And Accuracy
Millennials want convenience, but don’t we all? Here’s an example of a cry for help that we heard during the VOC interviews:
Our company is profitable, but like many companies, it expects more productivity from everyone. So, I can’t afford to spend time chasing down open service requests, let alone researching whether I should even open them in the first place. The best scenario would be for vendors to build failsafe products. More realistically, it would help if they could just get all the critical information I need on one website so I could figure things out for myself.
What is called out here is convenience and, in this case, isn’t speed its synonym? With loyalty a difficult thing to come by, and to sustain, for businesses, it’s critical that services organizations focus on delivering accurate information in a way that saves the customer time.
This Coresight Research study contains a cautionary statement for companies when considering millennials and their penchant for convenience, “… established brands and retailers are likely to face competition from newer companies, which may target millennials’ demands more sharply.”
The VOC interviews helped convince us that this advice rings true for customers of every generation.
Millennials Require Communication And Feedback
Millennials want to voice their opinions and be heard. Through their behavior and the attitudes they express they demonstrate a desire to influence the evolution of product more directly. They want more of a say and that presents a conundrum for the vendor. Which is, how to create a channel for feedback. Surveys have been the traditional way that we gather customer feedback, but consumers arebusy and increasingly reluctant to fill out surveys. So, vendors are rethinking its role as the main tool for gauging customer opinions and experience.
We’re seeing increased awareness for making surveys more relevant and for being considered a good use of the respondent’s precious time. This is good. The world can always do with higher quality everything, including communications. Oracle’s Chief Customer Office manages the survey strategy and execution, and in my discussions with him, I’ve heard an acute respect for our customers’ time. Surveys are here to stay, partly because our society is against more intrusive methods for taking the pulse of customers.
But surveys, of course, even high-quality ones, are not enough. We need to create opportunities to sit down with our customers and have a conversation. Smart companies listen to their customers and that’s the primary reason we created the VOC program.
Millennials Want Transparency
ORC International reports, “Today’s younger professionals have firmly rooted opinions on what they should know about their workplaces and will ask questions to discover the answers. If they feel manipulated by their managers, underestimated by senior workers, or unfulfilled with their daily tasks, they’ll simply leave in search of another job.”
We also see this behavior in our customer community (not that we treat them dismissively) and we actually are keenly receptive to this trend toward self-fulfillment. Challenging norms and being challenged are the give and take of evolution. Smart companies embrace discussion and debate. It’s a healthy part of internal strategizing, and it makes sense that the same transparent approach should be taken with customers. After all, when it comes to product and service improvement, what is there to hide?
According to Pew Research, millennials are the largest cohort in the US workforce. Many of its members have entered senior management ranks and are involved directly in how our economies are shaped. Flexibility, simplification, speed, involvement, transparency – powerful and positive words if you consider them from a certain perspective. They shouldn’t be feared. They should be embraced as key enablers for success.
We paid attention to the research and listened to you. The outcome is Oracle’s new Free Platinum-Level Support Services for Fusion Cloud Applications. The speed and flexibility you want – at a price that can’t be beat.