Anne M. Obarski

Article Summary:

How you can improve your customer service by understanding the generational differences with Generation Y employees and customers.

The Challenges of Generation Y Employees and Customer Service

"Tell me about your employees who are 25 years of age and younger", is a favorite question of mine during one of my workshops, "Communicating and Managing the X and Y Generation Employees". The reaction from those significantly over the age of 25 is one of head shaking and frowns. I consistently get the following replies: no work ethic, always talking on their cell phones, want to work their schedule not the one that is posted, sloppy appearance, and most of all, no communication skills. How did you answer that question?

I recently read the following statistic," 72% of retail employees enjoy customer interactions. But that satisfaction level drops to just 55% among employees between the ages of 16 and 24."

Interestingly, the research reported 74% of workers between 35 and 44 years of age claimed they were pleased with dealing with customers and a whopping 83% of those polled between 44 and 64 years old said they enjoyed the time interacting with customers.

So what's going on with the young employees and yes, the young customers? I predict that dealing with the "Y" generation, those born after 1980, will be the biggest wake-up call businesses will need to address, and soon.

If you have children born after 1980 you already realize some of the signs that the people in my audiences have addressed. However, their "baby boomer parents, who are currently 40-60 years old" have written this behavior off to just that, behavior of young people as they ponder their Woodstock days. Ah, it will pass and these fresh faces will conform to our management and customer service training. Think again.

Let me share some information from Eric Chester, author of the book, "Employing Generation Why". Eric's book has really made me take a closer look at my own Gen Y kids but also take a totally different look at the expectations we have for this age group when it comes to their first real jobs and not only how we are going to manage them but how will we deliver service to this instant gratification generation.

Eric says, "Generation Why has never known life without cell phones, pagers, fax machines and voice mail. Their world has always included minivans, bottled water, cable television, overnight package delivery, and chat rooms....And sadly enough; Gen Whys have never known a world without AIDS, without crack or without terrorist attacks. They've never known a world where kids didn't shoot and kill other kids. He goes on to say, "Gen Why has grown up in an instant world and they don't buy in to the old "patience is a virtue, and "good things come to those who wait" axioms".

The scary thing is that we "Baby Boomers" created this fast paced, technology savvy, multi-tasking generation and I think what we see, sometimes frightens us.

Research shows that the Gen Y group is over 60 million in size, just about the size of the now "retiring" Baby Boomers. The "Gen X" group who were born between 1965-1980 is a little over one half the size of the Baby Boomer numbers. Why is this important? Well, when the Baby Boomers start to retire there is not going to be enough "Gen X'ers" to replace them. The next people up for promotion are, yes you guessed it, the Gen Y's!

Do I have your attention yet?

We are dealing with a generation who has a different set of values and attitudes and beliefs, most of which we helped to create. We were the ones that scheduled those little tikes every night of the week with baseball or soccer practice, dance lessons, voice lessons, tutoring for kindergarten and heaven knows what else would fit into their tiny schedules. No wonder why my kids never had a problem sleeping at night, they were exhausted.

Here's how to kick up your expectations of Gen Y and look at them an important part of your business instead of a hindrance.

1. Recognize their intelligence.
This is a group of young people that have been eager to learn. They grew up with technology and it is an important part of them. While the boomers are still trying to program their VCR, the "Y" generation is watching videos on their ipods that they have 5,000 songs downloaded to. Harness their creativity and their knowledge of technology to make needed changes to your business. Request their feedback when trying to solve business problems as they may come to the table with unconventional yet very smart solutions. Make sure that you acknowledge their accomplishments publicly since this is a group that has grown up with trophies and certificates and awards as feedback for a job well done.

2. Recognize their impatience.
Chester calls this group, "stimulus junkies" and that title makes sense. This is a group of multi-taskers that can have an IM conversation with 8 people on their computer, text message someone else on their cell-phone, while listening to their i-pod and downing a burger and a Red Bull! Lists don't intimidate them so provide them with enough work to keep them busy and don't waste time in the explanation. Be direct and to the point because that is how they have learned to communicate. When you hold a meeting, stay to the point and use visuals if you can as they have been used to stimulation during their learning processes.

3. Recognize what customer service means to them.
This is the area I believe businesses will struggle with the most. The Gen Y group has been able to get whatever they want, whenever they want at lightning speed and they don't really see a need to be loyal to anyone. They have been used to employees at Old Navy with headsets and roller skates to bring them whatever they wanted while they were in the dressing room. They don't think twice about Googling a business and purchasing on the internet. To them, speed is a way of life. My son has worked for McDonalds for a number of years and his experience with giving good customer service is getting the correct order into the hands of the customer as quickly as possible.

If you want them to build a relationship with a customer, you are going to have to explain "why" first, and then deal with the how. The Gen Y's don't make eye contact very well because they tend to be focused on screens of all sizes and not a human face. Maybe that is why only 55 % of that age group actually likes interacting with the customer. When you are training, try using video or web training or even roll playing to explain exactly what your customer service should look like to your customers.

But what about Gen Y customers and what they want as far as customer service? It's no different from your Gen Y employees. These "customers" will probably make very little eye contact, probably engage in very little chit chat and want to get what they want and get out of the store in a short period of time. They won't really care if you ask them about their day or what they are wearing or if they have been in the store before. They will get frustrated very quickly if you don't know the answer to their question immediately and they can smell BS a mile away and they don't need it or want it.

As you can see, it will be even more important to educate your Gen X and Baby Boomer employees on how they should be greeting and treating this new customer instead of making the assumption that they are cold, uncommunicative, young punks.

On the contrary, they are our future. This group of fresh faced young people will embrace change, they will find the answers to curing AIDS and breast cancer, they will teach society how to reject prejudices and they will demand ethical behavior in business and those they choose to do business with.

It's not your father's customer service strategies anymore. Frankly, it's not your father's business anymore. How will you change what you are doing to embrace the Gen Y's in your business as employees and as customers? The future of all of our businesses rests on that answer.

Anne M. Obarski is "The Eye on Performance!" As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne helps companies focus on the profit building service strategies that will keep their customers coming back. Anne presents nationwide keynotes, break-out sessions and customized training in the area of customer service. She has written "Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers" and "Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work". For more information visit her website at www.merchandise concepts.com.

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