Customer Service and the rise of Millennials, part 1 of 2 posts

Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. George Orwell

I was asked to take part in a discussion on the impact of the Millennials on the service industry by the Field Service Magazine What on earth are Millennials you might ask? Well they are a group of people that can be best defined as:

Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort born between 1980 to 2000. They follow Generation X, my generation, who were born between 1965 and 1979.

Other names for Millennials include: Generation Y, Generation WHY, Generation Next, Nexers, The Digital Generation, and finally The Gaming Generation

They are the first generation of humans to have been born and brought up in a digital world. If you think about it for a moment you will realise that before the 1980’s there was no digital TV, no smart phones, no public internet, no Personal Computers, nothing of the Internet of Things, no Facebook, no Twitter, no 24*7 multi-channel TV, etc.

If you wanted to phone someone you either used a public phone box or called from home. If you were working on your homework, researching a topic or revising for exams, you either used the school or college library, the local public library or if you were rich [and we were not] a set of Encyclopedia Britannica books. There were only 4 terrestrial TV channels – BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4 [launched in 1982]. Satellite TV was only launched in 1990! Games were restricted to Atari and Space Invaders, or ping pong.

In the IT service industry, we have seen the technology shift more than anywhere else. When I started in the industry, the kit I used to repair were terminal’s, impact printers, and computers running Basic, Pascal, Fortran or proprietary manufacturer operating systems. Now it is Laser printers, PC’s, Intel Servers and a mix of Microsoft, Android, Linux and Apple OS operating systems – much more standard and non-company specific.

In the IT service world, the challenge is that our customers have equipment that may be very new, or up to 25 years old. This means that you need to have the skills and capabilities to be able to manage and repair a set of products that spans such a wide technology platform. In effect bridging two or more generations of knowledge.

This is the challenge all technology providers and supporters face. How do you have the skills and capabilities that you need to maintain a service for 25 years? We have a workforce that is now more than ever aging. A recent report stipulated that the average age of a customer field engineer was over 40 years of age. That 60% of companies currently report that they are understaffed in their technical positions. We are recruiting new engineers all the time and in a lot of cases, they are under 30 years of age with a Millennial view of the world. So what are the typical attributes of a Millennial generation are:

# Always Connected…24/7 and expect that the technology they use is as well
# Extremely self-confident and assured
# Optimistic and hopeful of the future
# They are very independent and are comfortably self-reliant
# Determined and goal oriented, you need to set challenging goals and reward them
# Highly success driven, they do not like it when failure occurs and seek to question why
# Lifestyle centered which means they are not indoctrinated into a 9-5 office world, work-life flexibility is key
# They live and breath diversity and inclusiveness and do not, in general have the same types of hang up and prejudices as the previous generations
# Every single one I have worked with are passionate about global, local, and community social support and activities. They are at the forefront for any charity or positive social actions
# They partner well with mentors, as they value guidance and support. However, they also expect respect
# They thrive on flexibility and space to explore and develop, so find time bound and structured sets of activity frustrating.
They are comfortable with speed and change and are flexible
# Finally, they are great at working together and you might find this surprising, very service oriented.

Why, would they be more service orientated than the previous generation? It is because of the world we live in and the growth of the service sector over the past 20 years. Since 1995, service sector jobs have grown 2x’s versus non-service sector jobs. In fact, over 80% of the jobs now in both the UK and USA are Service sector jobs, versus less than 15% that are traditional manufacturing type jobs. You only have to walk down the high street to see the plethora of cafes, restaurants, coffee shops and the like [for example Costa, Starbucks, Pret, Yo Yo sushi, and Subway just in the food sector].

In the next article, I will share the Q and A that was the outcome from the interview I did.

I leave you with this quote in homage to Christopher Lee who died on the 7th June this year.

He was one of the outstanding actors that spanned the Baby Boomers [1946 – 1964], Generation X [1965 – 1979] and even was recognised by the Millennials [1980 – 2000]. Think of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit series. He started his film career in 1948 and his last film was this year, 2015 – 67 years. He stared in over 206 films and 65 television appearances. Many a Friday evening I would stay up and watch a Hammer House of Horror film with Lee starring in it ….

What’s really important for me is, as an old man, I’m known by my own generation and the next generation know me, too. Christopher Lee


“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”  ― Christopher Hitchens, Letters to a Young Contrarian

A recent article entitled, “Can you buy in to these 5 contrarian concepts of Sales” from Inflexion Point Partners; on how you might like to think differently about the art and science of sales; made me question what I think are some of the norms of delivering customer service. The original article can be found at the link below. It also has green goldfish!!:

So, what are the 5 contrarian ideas? What is the definition of “contrarian” itself? So, lets start with the definition – ‘Contrarian is opposing or rejecting popular opinion or current practice’. So, with this in mind, I’d like to propose the following as contrarian ideas and see if they ring true for how you deliver Customer Service:

[1]. Focus on the Employee first, not the customer.
A book published in 2010, entitled Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down by Vineet Nayar – HCLT’s CEO at the time – recounts how he defied the conventional wisdom that:-

Companies must put customers first, then turned the hierarchical pyramid upside down by making management accountable to the employees, and not the other way around.

Creating a sense of urgency by enabling the employees to see the truth of the company’s current state as well as feel the “romance” of its possible future state

Creating a culture of trust by pushing the envelope of transparency in communication and information sharing

Inverting the organizational hierarchy by making the management and the enabling functions accountable to the employee in the value zone

Unlocking the potential of the employees by fostering an entrepreneurial mind-set, decentralizing decision making, and transferring the ownership of “change” to the employee in the value zone

I was given this book at a Gartner symposium in 2011 and read it with relish. This is a fantastic approach to how to motivate and enable a workforce to focus on the really important aspects of customer service. Not the internal company bureaucracy, but the way in which you deliver the service. Don’t forget, this is not about making the employees more important than the customers, after all the customers come first. Rather, think of the following as the two different approaches

# Traditional Approach Employee First Approach
1. Executives Employee
2. Managers Customers
3. Employees Managers
4. Customers Executives

[2]. Don’t focus on error removal, instead promote best practice in customer service,
The traditional approach is to always focus on the negative in customer services. What went wrong? Who screwed up? why this or that failure occurred? This does more to drive down innovation; ownership; positive outcomes and puts negative focus onto the services teams.

I have spoken and written before about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and believe that using positive and empathic language to find out what has worked well in the past is my preferred approach in understanding and sharing best practice. I would recommend reading the following to understand what AI is and how I have used it to effect change in services.

[3]. The cost of customer retention v’s Just focusing on the existing customer service:
Most B2B companies focus on the customer service aspects and pay little notice to an explicit customer retention policy. Churn in customers is inevitable no matter what market you are in. Even in our personal lives, these days there appears to be a dwindling loyalty to brands, companies and services in the high street. It costs at least 10xs as much to obtain a new customer as it is to retain one. So why do we not focus on retention, rather just focus on the day-2-day in the now service. I give you some of the major cost areas to acquire new customers:

a. The time you spend on getting people onto your sales pipeline through direct marketing
b. The time your sales people spend Networking at Events
c. The time you spend converting a customer from warm to paying
d. The time you spend on support or install calls to help a customer roll out the product within their network
e. Integration work to include your product into their system or data flow
etc etc etc

So if you think about it, you might want to develop a customer service retention plan – WHILST you still have the customers!

[4]. Deliver to the customer needs v’s SLA’s
Ever heard of the water melon effect? Green on the outside, but red on the inside, it is a term coined by KPMG, to describe how service-level agreements (SLAs) don’t reflect the real service given, nor the service experienced by users. While teams think they are doing a great job hitting green targets, their customers view it quite differently and only see red.

One of the big challenges for people in organisations is being able to set and measure meaningful and relevant performance targets and key performance indicators (KPIs). It’s too easy to set up SLA metrics based around service activities, rather than agreeing realistic and useful measures of business value and success. SLAs are, of course, very useful components of service delivery and management, although too often they are regarded as the de facto measures of overall service quality.

SLAs should focus on customer needs and should provide a business-focused set of measures. So, service departments need to engage at a business level, build relationships and get real agreement with customers. They should think of systems and SLAs as components of a service – not the other way round.

The KPMG article is available here:

[5]. Finally, Seek to be different, rather than compare yourself to your competitors in your market:
Too often, I have been asked “Who are our key competitors? What are they selling? What is their value proposition?” etc etc. So if you are seeking to be the best in the market, why compare yourself to others? Even if one of your competitors appears to be in the top spot for service? All you are doing is seeking to be the same as them.

Why not think about the market you are in; the customers you serve AND wish to serve; their expectations, needs, hopes, and wants. Have you spoken to them? Asked them what they want? Have you planned how you will deliver those services and solutions based on this analysis? That is seeking to be different. After all, why follow the herd!

As always, I leave you with the following quote….

“Because even among contrarians, I’m a contrarian. But all of this is just words of bronze, third place rhetoric. What do I really mean when I say we want to shock society into awareness? Do we mean we want more originality and individuality? Less TV, more reading, writing, actual thinking? Less sheep, more shepherd pie? Yes, yes, and a little more pie, please. Oh, and some more sweet tea, too” ― Jarod Kintz, I Should Have Renamed This