Gen Y and Self-Service: A Love Story


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I just finished interviewing retailers about their employee challenges. By far, the largest complaint was about managing Gen Y. Now those same complaints were being echoed again.

They are lazy.

They don’t want to pay their dues.

What exactly are they wearing? And do they think that is appropriate for work? I mean look at the Facebook guy! Wearing a hoodie for a Road Show!

They don’t read their emails.

They won’t look me in the eye when I’m talking to them.

They are like children, but they are 25! When I was their age, I had a mortgage and two kids!

I can’t get them to put away their phones and wait on customers!

The room is packed with some of the largest retailers in the world at the Micros Retail Connect event. We are patiently waiting for Jason Ryan Dorsey “The Gen Y Guy” to impart his wisdom on us. The first thing he does is validate all of us cynical Gen Xers and hardworking Baby Boomers.

“Our generation suffers from delayed adulthood.” The room nods in accord with him. Then he says something that really makes me put down my pen (turns out Baby Boomers are the only ones who write things anymore. I vow not to write again as I’m a proud latchkey kid of Gen X).

In 2017, Gen Y will outspend Baby Boomers for the first time. That means that not only do we have to understand how to manage them, we desperately need to know how to connect with them as consumers. As Dorsey continues to describe his generation, I can’t help but pick my pen back up and scribble furiously.

Gen Y or Millennials

  • Need context and information.
  • Trust reviews of people online more than their family members.
  • Believe they are special and therefore want to be treated as such (they’ve got a 12th place ribbon to prove it.)
  • Have delayed adulthood and that affects their social skills (You can blame their Baby Boomer parents for this.)
  • Are not technology savvy but rather tech dependent
  • Really don’t want to talk to you. If it is important, then send a text. A phone call is considered an invasion of privacy.
  • Are never 10 feet away from their phone.
  • Are completely outcome driven

As he started ticking off some of these characteristics of Millennials, I couldn’t help but think Gen Y and self-service are a match made in heaven.

Provide Context and Information

As Dorsey said, Gen Y doesn’t really know anything. However, they’ve become great researchers. This translates into their consumer behavior. It means they are very knowledgeable shoppers.

Self-service and kiosks are great to bring that online information into the store. Also, another interesting fact about Millennials is that they don’t typically own a PC. Instead they are tethered to their phones and take advantage of free wifi locations. This means that having an interactive, in-store display with product information and how the product is used would help them move from research to purchase more quickly.

Showcase Reviews

Anyone who is building a guided selling application without consumer reviews front and center is woefully behind the times. As Dorsey said, “Gen Y trusts online reviews from anonymous people on the internet more than family members.” The good news is that this also benefits Gen X shoppers as well as apparently we don’t believe anything people tell us.

Personalize Service. Personalized Products.

With facial recognition software like the Intel AIM suite we know more about customers as they approach digital signage or kiosks. That means, we can intelligently predict items that they might be of interest for particular demographics.

Also, personalization of products is important to Millennials. Nike ID has had tremendous success by allowing shoppers to design their own shoes. Spoonflower allows consumers to design their own fabrics. Gen Y likes to know they are being treated in a unique way to reflect their individuality. Therefore, anything you can make personalized for them endears them to your brand.

Don’t force human interaction.

Because Gen Y has been so sheltered, they have delayed their social development. Many were cloistered away at university with Mom’s credit cards only to find the job market not very welcoming when they graduated. Now they are 25 and living at home again.

This delayed development is compounded by the fact that many of their interactions are digital rather than face-to-face. That means is that you new policy on ensuring that every customer is greeted in a friendly manner may actually backfire with this demographic. Dorsey recommended that a tablet could be used for the associate to show the Gen Y what’s on special. Therefore, making the conversation less intimate by using technology to guide it.

Tech dependent

One thing we hear about Gen Y is that they are technology savvy. Dorsey restated that, as Millennials are more dependent than knowledgeable. They can’t tell you why it works but they do know they can’t live without it.

I recently watched a group of twenty-somethings waiting for their order at Noodles & Co (a very popular restaurant among the demographic). They were clearly four close friends based on their body language. However, not one of them was talking to the other. All four had their phones out and were texting feverishly. This means that when you are designing customer or self-service experiences for this demographic, technology is going to be a key component of how their path to purchase.

Outcome driven

We often here that Gen Y is requires instant gratification. However, it is more that they are outcome driven. They need to understand what the ‘end state’ is before they embark on the journey. The immediacy of results in their world means that they have little patience for lines –especially when waiting for their coffee. Anything you can make easier and more expedient will endear this generation to your company, products and brand.


The notion of what constitutes good service is evolving. Gen Y will forever change that in 2017 when they start outspending Baby Boomers. If you want to win the hearts, minds and wallet share of this generation, you will need to create personalized experiences that appeal to the characteristics of the generation. There recently has been a lot of discussion about the Connect Consumer. Some of the early research suggests that they are a demographic of their own as the transverse several traditional categories. The good news is that Gen Y and the Connected Consumer expect many of the same things from their interactions. Some key questions to ask yourself are:

  1. How can I provide information to the consumer along their decision path?
  2. How can I bring customer reviews into the store?
  3. How can I create a personalized experience in products or services?
  4. Am I forcing other generations into uncomfortable social situations?
  5. Does the way I’m using technology make sense? Is it easy to use and clear what it is for?

To find out more about Jason Ryan Dorsey, visit his website at: If you are looking for an exceptional keynote speaker, I highly recommend him.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Sheridan Orr
Sheridan Orr is considered the Ralph Nader of the customer experience. She is a noted speaker and author as well as the managing partner of The Interrobang! Agency, a consulting firm focused on crafting customer experiences. Her primary area of expertise is consumer behavior in a connected world. She has over a decade of experience working with some of the world's most recognizable brands. When she's not waxing poetic about the modern, connected customer, she's an avid skier and atomic soccer mom.


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