Some people believe that if small-business owners lived by the customer service adage "the customer is always right," sales automatically followed. But times have changed.
“Customers have never been so empowered and that trend is set to continue. They expect anytime, anyplace and anywhere service 24/7, and the basics need to be done brilliantly, every time, without question,” says Terence Mauri, author of The Leader’s Mindset: How to Win in the Age of Disruption. “Millennials, in particular, have shifted from calling in for customer service to self-service apps or networks of support communities.”
Customer Service and the Millennial Mindset
The face of customer service is changing the most when it comes to the millennial generation.
"Millennials expect to be treated like royalty with effusive gratitude and appreciation for their business,” says Brett Glass, CEO of Gift Card Impressions and the Gift Tokens™ app. “This is especially true in cases of poor customer experiences that may require a formal apology or gift to keep the business. The last thing a business wants is a scathing Yelp review from a millennial tarnishing their reputation.”
—William Chase, owner, Webtacular
Millennials represent a huge shift in customer service and how business owners relate to their customers in general, believes William Chase, owner of Webtacular. “This generation really wants to be thought of as unique individuals and not numbers in your customer service queue.”
“Because millennials are digital natives, their expectations for all kinds of experiences are colored by how quickly and easily things happen via an app or just a few taps on their phone," according to Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell, co-authors of the upcoming book, Woo, Wow and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight. "They expect everything to be as easy and impersonal as ordering an Uber.”
Keeping Millennials Happy
The following tips may help you respond to millennial customers and the current shifts in customer service:
React quickly. “Small businesses may have an advantage in that their size allows them to be nimble, so they can adjust or adapt their processes more quickly and easily,” say Stewart and O’Connell.
Always aim for happy customers. “No matter what your industry, mission number one needs to be customer service, or someone else will end up eating your lunch,” says Chase. “It doesn’t matter if you deliver on-time and on-budget. If the person writing the check isn’t happy for some reason, that customer is probably not coming back.”
Apologize when necessary. “Even a small token of apology, like a $10 gift card, goes a long way in making things right," says Glass. “Our new Gift Tokens™ app, for instance, allows business owners to send quick item-based e-gift cards, like a movie ticket or a burrito, as an apology. They’re sent digitally, which millennials love, because they can redeem the gifts right from their mobile device. Such micro-gifting is easy and relatively inexpensive to do, yet these small, timely gestures can sometimes make the biggest impact on customer loyalty."
Make a connection. “Your customers aren’t robots lining up to hand you checks," says Chase. "You need to strive to create some kind of meaningful connection, or at least make them feel that your goal is to help them. Like the old saying goes, all things being equal, people want to do business with people they like, and all things not being equal, people still want to do business with people they like.”
Chase suggests using social media to engage customers—especially millennials. “Social media is such an important tool for engaging this group, and creating connections this way can really pay off in terms of customer loyalty.”
Differentiate yourself from competitors. “The experience companies give customers—at every touch point in the process—is something that has to be carefully and strategically designed so it can serve as a point of differentiation," Stewart and O’Connell advise.
Design with service in mind. Consider putting design before service, advise Stewart and O’Connell.
“Great service is not a consequence of good intentions, attentive management and a supportive culture. In fact, cause and effect are reversed," they say. "Service needs to be laid into the company’s keel... If service isn’t built in, no amount of goodwill can deliver it reliably and no effort can compensate for the lack of it. A company designed for service, however, will naturally display the behaviors—the intentions, attention and culture—good service requires.
“Figure out what experience you want customers to receive at every point of interaction," Stewart and O'Connell continue. "Then make sure that the company is configured to deliver that experience every time, without heroics."
Decide what customers you want and don’t want. “The fact is, you have the power to decide which customers you want and which you don’t,” believe Stewart and O’Connell. “Customers who routinely ask too much of you and your employees are customers you can’t reliably, repeatedly and profitably service. The bottom line is that the customer isn’t always right.”
For more tips on how to keep customers engaged, access 4 Growth Hacks for More Engaged Customers, with insights from CEO of Growth Hackers, Sean Ellis.
Read more articles on customer relations.