You can query your favorite search engine and find a myriad of articles, books and opinions on the subject of “Millennials”.  When we talk about the Millennial generation, we are referring to people born after 1980 although some would say that a 1983 would be the start of this generation.  Regardless of how you define this group, much is written about them and the challenges and rewards of integrating them into today’s workforce…and for good reason.  For the first time in USA history we have 4 generations in the workforce.   For example:  at the end of my career at McKesson Corporation, the president of my division was from the Traditional generation, born before the end of WWII.  My boss, a VP, was from Generation X.  And then there was me, a Baby Boomer who managed other Boomers, Gen X-ers and Millennials.

The purpose of this post, however, is not to extol the greatness of the Millennials or to complain about them. Neither is it my goal to give you ideas on how to make all the generations work well together.  Too much has been written on these subjects already.  Instead, my goal is to provide some real-life examples showing how businesses can leverage Millennials to improve customer experience and customer loyalty by improving products, services and relationships.

My first “Ah-Ha” moment came several years ago.  The economic stimulus gave McKesson a distinct advantage and I needed to double the size of my support team to handle the resulting demand.  To accomplish this I took advantage of our college hire program which helped save on costs, but it also brought in new talent to develop as well as new perspectives and ideas.  When the new team members completed their training and on-boarding they began a slow ramp up to fully supporting the customer base.

During quality checks I started to notice the new team members were not using our product documentation as part of customer service delivery and as a key troubleshooting step.  I had also seen a similar trend from our customers in the previous year, but didn’t really pay it much attention. I thought it was just growing pains from our new customers.  This important part of the support process was never a problem for my Boomers and Gen-Y-ers in the past, but then we started to receive employee complaints saying it was too difficult and time consuming to find answers by looking through PDF documents (and we had at least a dozen to look through).  We tried to fix that problem by putting all the PDFs into one searchable master document.  This solution, though, was not what the customers and the employees wanted – it didn’t meet their needs.

Eventually, one of the college hires just came out and said it: “People don’t read manuals anymore.  They look for solutions using search engines and databases to find this kind of information.”   I have to admit I was stuck in my old way of thinking. My response was to push my team for compliance using our “tried and true” troubleshooting and service standard.  Basically, I ignored them and made them do it my way.  Yeah, I was that guy, I am embarrassed to say.  This is not my usual way of managing, but in this situation that is how I responded.

Finally, the Customer Advocates, the Certification Team and I started to hear the same complaints from our customers and then the “Ah-ha” moments began as follows:

Ah-ha #1 – If we are going to provide valuable service and support to our customers, we need to make sure the support team has tools and resources that are:

o   In their vernacular

o   Easy to use

o   Facilitate success

o   Create job satisfaction

Ah-ha #2 – My customers are also hiring people right out of college for the same reason I am.  They don’t use PDFs either.  If we provide the same tools and resources to them:

o   They would be happier with our product because their internal support back to their organization would improve.

o   They would have fewer complaints about the software, and more empowerment and job satisfaction in their organization.

Ah-ha #3 – If my team and my customers’ teams used the same tools and resources:

o   Their troubleshooting conversations would be smoother as they would be speaking the same language

o   Collaboration should increase and yield more effective, long-lasting results

o   Education in both directions should begin

o   New relationships will forge and old relationships will be strengthened.

To deliver a robust resource and a superior search tool we needed a wiki-like solution which would convert our user manuals, installation guides, and training materials and integrate them with our knowledgebase (KB) articles.  This would be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, but well worth it.

For the interim we found a way to integrate our KB system with the PDF documents so that a KB search also accessed the PDFs and provided a consolidated result list from both domains. This was a win-win for both customers and employees.  It bought us the time we needed to develop a more robust solution while giving the customer and employees a familiar search capability which also delivered pertinent documentation (think of searching online to find out how to make your iPad stream video through your big screen TV.  You get a link that actually opens up to the page in the Apple manual which provides step-by-step instructions).

The moral of my story here is to listen to your workforce. If you listen to your workforce, you will learn about your customers. Many times a complaint is an opportunity to improve products and service which ultimately impact customer experience and job satisfaction.  Pay attention to the comments from the people in your group whose demographics are different from yours.  Why?  Because their demographics are also the demographics of your customers. Your business must meet their needs better than your competitors and you must do it before they do it.

To prepare for the future, start listening to your Millennials and other diversity groups in your business now.  How would they change/improve your products, sales, services, and support?  What about processes, procedures, management and communication?  Create a focus group, innovation award/team, or a Voice of the Employee (VOE) program to collect, welcome and act upon their ideas and to show you value them.

Now, imagine that all their feedback, ideas and suggestions came from your customers.   Is there merit? Can you envision a competitive advantage as a result?  If you can, start working on it now.  If you can’t do it now, schedule it for the next quarter.  The future will be here in a few days and the Millennial customers will be king.

Don’t wait for the customers to complain.  If you have not designed a difference for your Millennial customers, they will move quickly to your competitor and they will do it in “social media droves” which will take existing and future customers away from you.  Your business will lose.  Leverage the voice your Millennial workforce to gain the competitive edge now.

If you are already listening to your Millennial employees and diverse workforce, I am interested in knowing what you are doing.  Do you have any successes to share?  Any tips or lessons learned?  Please share them with the readers and me.  Together we can raise the bar on customer experience.

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