6 Rules for Meeting Millennial Customer Service Expectations
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After months upon months of hype, Apple unveiled its next entry into the smartphone world: the iPhone X. The latest and greatest technology from Apple includes a dramatic redesign that eliminates bezels and uses infrared face scanning instead of a thumbprint to unlock the device.
And phone capabilities, if you're into that sort of thing. My two teenagers have iPhones, but I doubt they've used the "phone" part of the device more than a dozen times. Whether they're supposed to call their grandmother on her birthday or a doctor's office to schedule an appointment, they remind me of the opening scene of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
These same teenagers send hundreds of texts, tweets and snaps to their friends every day. They are perfectly comfortable with short bursts of asynchronous communication, but they balk at the idea of speaking directly with another person.
Based on recent research, they're in good company. Microsoft's 2016 State of Global Customer Service report found that 64 percent of millennials believe social media is an effective channel for customer service -- a far cry from the 27 percent of Baby Boomers who feel the same way. The report also indicated that 52 percent of millennials actively use social media to resolve customer service issues.
To capture the enormous purchasing power of millennials and Gen Z, you need to shift your style, tone and conversational mechanics to match the preferences of these young consumers. It's time to drop the phone and take up the social media mantle.
The media world has covered the buying preferences and behavioral tendencies of young consumers ad nauseam, with countless pieces detailing how millennials are killing everything from cereal to designer handbags.
These young consumers are admittedly more demanding than past generations and expect to be able to interact with brands at any time and on any platform. Millennials and Gen Z consumers want two things: responsiveness and self-service. But when frequently asked questions pages and troubleshooting chatbots fall short, you need to be ready to fix issues quickly and completely.
A failure to meet these demands will cause a flood of negative feedback. Past generations would simply stop doing business with a company because of poor service, but younger consumers feel obligated to warn other consumers via social media and review sites. A report by Nuance Communications notes that 27 percent of Millennials have written a negative review -- only 16 percent of baby boomers have left online criticism.
Consumer preferences are evolving, and you must find ways to keep up with these changes. Social media platforms provide the ideal avenue to address customer service concerns at a time when conventional social skills have fallen by the wayside.
To keep your young audience happy in the brave new world of customer service, follow these six tips:
1. Be everywhere.
Young customers want service across all channels, including Snapchat and Instagram. If you market on a platform, you also need to handle customer service on that platform.
When Southwest Airlines -- a typically excellent leader in customer service -- dealt with a major technology failure last year, company officials took a multichannel approach to appease customers. Unfortunately, the airline ignored Instagram. One post received more than 322 angry comments with nary a response from Southwest, causing the company's Instagram reputation to plummet.
Review your existing marketing channels to determine which specific people and departments will be responsible for answering customer complaints on those channels.
2. Answer quickly.
Aim to respond to all complaints and questions in less than an hour. Edison Research and I partnered on a study that found that 42 percent of customers expect online brands to respond within 60 minutes.
To help your reps adhere to this high standard, make sure you're providing the resources they need to succeed. Use software that can identify, categorize and reply to complaints quickly. Hire the personnel necessary to handle the load, and standardize procedures to keep communications rolling.
3. Don't change channels.
When a customer contacts you on Facebook, he doesn't want you to send him an email; he wants to handle the issue as quickly as possible on the same platform. Don't provide a 1-800 number in response to Instagram complaints. In fact, you might want to ditch phone communications altogether. In fact, 32 percent of respondents to a Conversocial survey reported that telephone is the most frustrating customer service channel.
Put a team in place, and empower them to resolve issues on every platform. If you neuter your online reps, you will only make things worse for your call center team.
4. Act human.
It's OK to be less formal on social media and chat platforms. Millennials and other young consumers don't expect you to be buttoned-up at all times. If your customer service reps keep spitting out copied-and-pasted blocks of apology text, customers will feel frustrated.
Consider adding a human touch by creating a repository of helpful videos to share with customers who need help. My favorite tool is Vidyard, which requires minimal technical knowledge to create quick explanatory videos, recommendations and thank-you messages.
5. Reply only twice.
I don't generally get into many dust-ups and online flame wars, but I have advised plenty of companies on how to handle these situations. Every time a company got involved in a spat, it came away looking worse.
After quite a bit of research and analysis, I discovered that the sweet spot for these interactions is two replies. Respond to the initial complaint and any follow-up questions -- these are your two replies -- and cut things off after that. Don't leave customers hanging, though. Invite them to reach out via direct messages or private chat on the same platform. This is also a great point to direct them to a different channel to resolve the matter.
6. Provide self-service.
Young consumers are much more tech-savvy than their older counterparts and much less patient. A study by Microsoft indicates that the average person's attention span is worse than that of a goldfish. Young consumers know exactly what needs to be done, and they are not willing to spend 20 minutes on the phone waiting for someone to do it for them.
Self-service tools increase customer satisfaction while lowering costs for companies, creating a win-win situation. Start by supplying an abundance of information online so consumers can do their own research when problems arise. Provide billing access, service tools and anything else capable of putting power in your customers' hands.
As much as it pains me, my children may never know the purpose of the green "phone" button on their iPhones. And maybe that's OK. As long as they and other young people can get the sort of customer service they crave through social media and online channels, they won't have to. Welcome to the brave new world of customer service.