How to sell stuff to the millennial customer

WHY are millennials getting so much attention these days? The obvious answer is that this generation is now the largest population worldwide.

According to the US Census Bureau, there are over 83 million millennials - defined as those born between 1982 and 2000 - in the country alone.

Not only do millennials have the consumer buying power, estimated at US$600 billion a year in the US, but as they progress in their careers, they are becoming corporate decisionmakers for larger B2B purchases.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to engage with millennials must understand what they want and how they can serve them better.

Here are three ways to fine tune your strategy for serving the needs of the millennial.

1. Millennials want it now

Millennials have grown up in a fast-paced world. E-mail and mobile phones connect them with friends immediately; online shopping has cut through waiting in a queue; and when they need information, the Internet is on hand 24/7.

Instant gratification has resulted in millennials being impatient when it comes to customer service. For example, a survey by Trustev found that more than half of the millennials surveyed expect retailers to offer same-day delivery.

Businesses are under increasing pressure to provide timely customer service.

One solution is providing self-service solutions, such as an FAQ section on the website, DIY videos demonstrating how the product works or an online community which provides crowdsourced support. As millennials were raised in the Internet era, they are comfortable finding information on their own.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are supporting the self-service drive by enabling automatic responses to customer services queries.

They can identify keywords or phrases in the customer query and find relevant knowledge-based articles to share with the customer without a customer service agent needing to engage.

Not only does this provide millennials with information quickly, it also reduces the workload of the customer service team, allowing them to focus on other queries. This is ideal for SMEs, which may be constrained in manpower resources.

Another option is live chat - a chat widget for websites, that acts like a sales assistant at a retail store. Customers type their queries or concerns in a chat box and can receive an answer from the customer agent straight away.

As one agent can chat with multiple customers simultaneously, live chat enables a business to manage a higher volume of enquiries, compared with an agent speaking to a customer over the phone.

Most people, millennials included, dislike talking to agents on the phone.

2. Millennials want to be social

Businesses need to be where the customers are, and most millennials are on social media platforms. Many millennials have grown up amid financial uncertainty, which tends to make them more careful about spending.

Before making a purchase, millennials tend to read blogs or social media, looking for authentic reviews rather than advertisements. Frustrated millennial customers often air their complaints in a public space, so providing customer service via public platforms requires extra care.

Businesses must respond quickly - preferably within one hour, replying to the customer in the same manner that the query came in. For example, if the customer made a public tweet, reply via Twitter publicly. If they sent a direct Facebook message, reply the same way.

Be mindful of what you say and how you say it, since it is a public forum. Businesses should speak in a friendly, compassionate manner, matching the company's personality and brand.

Be careful not to share any customer information in a public forum. If necessary, move to e-mail, direct messaging or phone calls for more sensitive or complex issues. Before doing so, inform the customer why you are moving the public conversation to a one-to-one conversation. This is for both the customer as well as others who may be watching.

There may be some instances when it is best to refrain from responding, for example trolling or an obvious attempt to engage in a pointless altercation in the public space. Nobody gains from this type of interaction, so in these cases, the best response is no response.

3. Millennials want brands to give back to society

Millennials are leading the trend for the conscious consumer - those that align their spending habits with social causes such as environmentally-friendly processes, animal-free testing, safe and fair working conditions or other ethical behaviour. Millennials want to make a difference in the world and try to integrate their causes into daily life, by purchasing from companies that support their values, even if they need to pay more. A survey by Nielsen found that 73 per cent of millennial respondents were willing to pay more for products that had sustainable offerings.

SMEs targeting the conscious millennial cannot focus purely on profits. They must establish a higher purpose beyond just their product offering, exploring how the brand can make a positive impact on its employees, suppliers, the community and world at large.

Inspirational stories or valuable insights can be shared on social media, encouraging millennials to share the information with their friends. Businesses should align every touchpoint with customers to these values - from the corporate website to customer service department and even external vendors, such as an advertising agency.

Token activities are not good enough. The purpose must resonate throughout the business, with leaders genuinely caring about doing what is right. This will allow the business to be authentic in its purpose, and communications to be honest and transparent.

With the rise of new technologies and platforms, it is highly likely that millennials and future generations will drive new ways of customer engagement in the future.

The writer is Vice President Sales, APAC at Zendesk.