As millennials come to age into the workplace, they are also coming to age as the largest buying group in the coveted 18-35 age range since the baby boomers in 1965. However, with the ever-changing technology options available, brands need to take heed to the way millennials think, act and buy. Brand loyalty isn’t gone, it has just dramatically changed.
Chances are if you’ve worked in customer service for any period of time, you don’t believe millennial loyalty exists. Many of today’s brands openly air their frustrations about capturing millennial hearts, especially given that this group has moved past other generations to hold the majority of market power. “They’re just not loyal,” is the most common complaint, followed closely by, “it doesn’t matter what we do, they just don’t care.” However, this isn’t at all the case. Millennials are loyal and they do care—just not about your brand.
Fifty years ago, when our parents were in the buyer’s seat, a brand name meant everything. Everyone bought Wonder Bread. It had no holes and it was perceived as the best. What exactly made it the best outside of its non-porous perfection nobody knew, but when people saw it on shelves it was a name they trusted. There’s no doubt that growing up watching this consumption approach left a lasting impression on our generation, but the millennials are a new breed of customer. They take Lyft instead of Yellow Cab. They buy birthday cards from Etsy rather than Hallmark. Why? They don’t hate big brands; they love great experiences.
According to Gartner, 89 percent of today’s companies compete mostly on the customer experience, compared to just 36 percent five years ago. They realize that a logo will only take them so far with modern customers, and having an established and reputable brand might get millennials to purchase once, but it will be the experience that dictates whether they return. Not name recognition. Not even more advertising. So, it’s no wonder that so many legacy B2C brands are struggling with customer retention. Millennials have changed the rules, and these brands are still trying to win the same way they always have.
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It’s time for brands to stop thinking about loyalty in terms of brand name and start thinking of it in terms of experience. This is the mind shift that has allowed so many tech startups to disrupt their respective industries, and it’s what will continue to drive consumer decisions from now to the foreseeable the future. For brands that haven’t yet taken this leap, here are three ways to start improving experience and turning one-time millennial customers into lifelong ones.
1. Make it easy
Millennials are fans of technology. They use their mobile devices for just about everything, from finding a great restaurant to ordering a valet. Part of what makes tech so appealing is the ease in which it helps them find and acquire whatever they need. The same principle can be applied to customer experience. If getting in contact with a brand requires navigating confusing automated menus and long wait times, the experience will be poor. Instead, brands should consider how to make interactions as easy as possible through the introduction of apps and self-service options or, at a minimum, an easy-to-find and click phone number to take care of them.
2. Make it personalized
Although personalization is not new, it is a critical component of the customer experience and the most challenging to get right. Brands know that no two customers are alike. Where eggs benedict might make a delicious complimentary breakfast for one hotel guest, it could spell disaster for another with a poultry allergy. Some brands address this by offering a middle-of-the-road solution for everyone, but the result is unsurprisingly a middle-of-the-road experience. Getting truly personal means being able to offer both eggs benedict and vegan French toast.
Fortunately, analytics is making personalization easier. By capturing customer interactions across digital and voice communication channels and applying advanced analytics, brands can understand their customers more deeply. They can also share their findings across departments in real-time to get ahead of process or product-related experience faux pas before they occur.
3. Make it socially conscious
It’s important for brands to understand that the millennial customer lives under some of the toughest social pressures in modern history. With an uncertain political sphere, an ever-changing job market and unprecedented financial debt, they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They know it, we know it, and they expect the brands that serve them to know it, too.
That’s why one of the simplest ways brands can improve experience is by following in the steps of socially conscious leaders like Toms or Patagonia. Millennial customers are drawn to these brands, not necessarily because of their name or a difference in product quality, but because they make it easy to do good while giving them business.
At the end of the day, there is no silver bullet for the loyalty challenge that millennial customers pose. They will end up doing business with whichever companies they please. But for brands to survive, whether big or small, legacy or new, the focus must be on the experience, and that experience better be worth it.