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Today I’m going to walk you through the concept of digital parity, which is a key to a millennial-friendly customer experience. But first, who are these millennials, and why are we talking about them?
The biggest generation of customers in history
A millennial customer is a young customer, born 1980-2000 or thereabouts. There are a lot of these young people; there are more members of the millennial generation (also called Gen-Y), in fact, than there are baby boomers. Furthermore, due to immigration, the U.S. millennial population is still growing while the boomer cohort is, inevitably, shrinking.
The millennial generation is the largest generation in history, in the U.S. and worldwide. And within just a few years Millennials will be dominant in what those of us in business care most about — wallet power— as well. Millennials already, for example, represent a significant portion of heavy business travelers–an important proxy for many segments of the economy, and within five years or less they will be dominant in many purchasing segments.
Unprecedented network lifetime value
Millennials are important in another way as well: They are unprecedented in what I call “Lifetime Network Value.” Why? Because this generation very social and sharing-inclined, and because it has an unprecedented set of tools to do that sharing broadly and in real time.
The key to their parents’ wallets as well
Millennials get along uniquely well with their parents — who are boomers, by and large — and they influences their parents’ choice of products, services, television viewing, and so much more. So the changes you make in your business now to serve millennials will ultimately benefit how you are perceived by older customers as well.
Creating a millennial-friendly customer experience isn’t easy. There’s a lot involved creating a customer experience that will be embraced by millennials and those who share a millennial mindset. It’s not easy, but it’s important.
Here’s where to start.
Principle #1 for achieving a millennial-friendly customer experience: Strive for “digital parity”
Millennials are the generation that has never known a telephone that can’t send a text message, that can’t snap a photo to share with their friends, that can’t connect them to Google. They’ve never known a world without personal computers, and internet connections.
All of which means, if your business operates in the physical world, or straddles the physical and online worlds, don’t expect much millennial patience for the limitations of what you may refer to as “reality.” They want your brick and mortar business to be as convenient, streamlined, and well thought out as the best of what they’ve encountered online.
In a sentence:
Your customers expect you to be as good as the best of what they’ve encountered online and in self-service solutions.
This is what I call achieving digital parity. It’s one of the central principles of serving millennials successfully.
Your customer or prospective customer, whether offline or on, now feels that:
- Interactions should be intuitive, efficient, and fast, and shouldn’t require extraneous human intervention by either the customer herself or by your employees
- Your processes should allow your customer to have control over her own account and modification of her preferences for service
- She should be able to access, review, and purchase from your entire catalog (just as, for example, they can on iTunes)
- The limitations of a particular location should be of no concern to them (just like, for example, on amazon.com, where you can listen or read immediately via ebook or MP3, or have delivery of a universal selection of items directly to your choice of home, work, or conveniently located “amazon locker” for pickup.
- You, the service provider, should have (discreet) access to her entire guest or customer history, without her having to restate anything and should be able to access, and intelligently help them make use of, that information with zero notice and no lag time. [FuturesCompany/Kantar Retail report, “The Future Shopper”]
This is a long list, and not every bullet applies to every business situation. These expectations, however, without question inhabit the recesses (or the foreground, really) of your customers’ mind.
The digital world has redefined customer expectations for just about everything. The ease, convenient selection, and immediacy with which customers are able to transact business from our homes and our smartphones has already caused industry-leading businesses to fall by the wayside as a result of their inability to compete or adapt to the changing expectations defined by advances in the digital world.
The online experience of shopping, buying, trading, selling and accessing information is changing, almost daily, the standards customers hold for service interactions with our businesses.
A company that achieves digital parity has a chance at succeeding in this new economy, assuming the other parts of its offering are sound. Those that can’t will fall by the wayside, even if they get most everything else right: Borders. Tower Records, Blockbuster, Kodak. Your friendly local video rental store. Many retailers and B2B operations in many different niches.
You need to ensure that you’re not added to this discard pile.
Keeping a goal of digital parity front and center in your organization is an important place to start.
This is not an insurmountable task. Airlines, about as nuts and boltsy as a business comes, have actually have been leaders in achieving digital parity: letting customers print out boarding passes themselves, change seat assignments, etc., before settling in for a good night’s sleep. If the airline industry — not widely known for service or innovation — can pull this off, I’ll bet you can too.
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