By Dave Gardner
Companies who employ the “digital” generation, known as the millennials, had best be prepared to evolve or risk being left behind.
Millennials are the members of society who reached adulthood at the beginning of the 21st century. They live within an electronics-filled, socially-networked, online world where their combined consciousness creates a form of collective intelligence that is new to the world. They may be computer wizards and able to learn quickly, but within some circles, millennials have been described as entitled and reticent, attributable, some say, to doting parents and insecurity about their skills and little employer feedback.
According to the Pew Research Center, 76 million millennials now inhabit the United States, and 50 percent of these youth consider themselves politically unaffiliated. They send an average of 50 text messages every day and 20 percent have at least one immigrant parent.
The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development has cited data from 2014 that indicates Lackawanna County, with a total population exceeding 212,000, includes 6.6 percent of its residents to be within the ages of 15 to 19, 6.6 percent between 20 to 24 and 12 percent between ages 24 to 34.
Luzerne County, with a much larger population exceeding 318,000, tallied population percentages numbers comparable to Lackawanna. Both counties have millennials very close to averages throughout the state.
A big picture look at the millennial generation indicates that millennials are replacing the nation’s baby boomers as the largest demographic group. Abhijit Roy, D.B.A, professor of management, marketing and entrepreneurship at the University of Scranton sees millennials as the product of global times, with superb technological proficiency and short interest spans.
“The millennials are not that concerned with privacy and expect a lot of their personal information to be out there for all to see,” Roy said. “This is so widespread that many employers no longer contact a job applicant’s references. Instead, they look at social media for information because it’s more truthful.”
He said millennials are also effective multi-taskers and they’re comfortable in urban environments without the safety concerns of their generational predecessors. In addition, they are observational in decision-making processes, with their short interest spans playing a role in decisions.
“The modern marketplace has many tools to reach this diversified group with purchases and nimble and fast makes the sale,” Roy said. “Celebrity endorsements also mean little to the millennials.”
Demand for immediacy
Vendors seeking to capture business from the millennials must understand that, as a group, these youthful buyers want immediate answers, according to Jeff Kimmel, vice president of customer service at Web.com. Kimmel’s company helps businesses achieve a web presence and of his 350 employees within NEPA, 50 percent are millennials with a broad mix of educational achievements.
Kimmel described how call centers such as used by Web.com have traditionally used a sequential process where customers weed through menus, read, possibly wait and eventually are connected with an agent. However, this is changing because millennials will move on instead of waiting, requiring process designers to quickly offer web-based options.
“Millennials do not want to talk on the phone,” Kimmel said. “Instead, they demand a digital solution up front, in real time and this has required a lot of changes to be made in our industry.”
Amid these digital process changes in customer service is optimum timing when a chat box to an agent will eventually appear. The process offering the agent for contact must also be seamless.
Kimmel also noted that millennials, both as customers and employees, crave new experiences. Employers, to keep millennials satisfied, should create pathways for lateral moves that satisfy these urges.
Loyalty is another changing issue. If millennial buyers endure a bad product experience they will quickly move on and do business elsewhere, while also valuing cyber recommendations on vendors that abound on the internet.
“We now must monitor social media for web comments,” said Kimmel. “Social media puts issues right in the public eye.”
During a shifting 40-year career in the hospitality industry, Gail Kapson, director of catering with the Woodlands Inn views millennial customers as among the greatest of change agents who alter the process followed during weddings and events from complete vendor management by the Woodlands to self-direction, often down to the smallest details.
“These young people can view 1,000 images on the internet before their event is booked and have a specific vision already established,” Kapson said. “This is a big change, because for decades our customers would just pick a basic color for the event and let us handle the rest. Now, the millennials dissect everything with detailed knowledge, right down to which vendors we use.”
Kapson said these new buying tendencies must be respected if a company is to do business with millennials. In addition, millennial couples are often older than their predecessors, are competent with research, have entrenched lives and careers and appear at sales presentations prepared and ready to compare buying choices.
On the employee front, Kapson deals with a different situation among non-career millennials. Despite superb technological and computer proficiency, a number of these young employees may not display the drive and work ethic of their predecessors, with cell phones creating distractions while on the job.
“Yet, these people are quick thinking with technology and that makes training easy,” Kapson said.
Teri Ooms, executive director with The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, has noticed how the behavior of millennials varies by their age and place in life. Recent college graduates are restless, demonstrate a strong work ethic and crave new experiences and changing environments. They do not worship wages, but crave work-life balance as well as employment perks such as having their own office, a title and a positive environment. Innovation and the latest technology are mandatory.
“As a group these people are diligent with their work while being attuned to social issues,” said Ooms. “They have no problem being established in urban environments where they are not car dependent. They also love amenities, visit restaurants, do not buy homes right away and definitely do not rush into marriage and parenthood.”
According to Ooms, millennials with lower education levels often have missed out on badly-needed soft skill training. This creates deficiencies as employees, requiring training by the employer to increase their workplace effectiveness.
Millennials as consumers present an evolving challenge to sellers. Ooms identifies these consumers as prone to on-line buying, off-brand patronage, niche retail purchasing and trend-setting individuality.
Yet, their focal point is not the consumption of goods. Instead, they prefer to dine out, rent small urban apartments and escape for weekend adventures elsewhere.
“These people are travel friendly, almost fearless, impulsive and flexible with their recreational purchases,” said Ooms.
Social causes, associated with the companies they patronize, often drive Millennial consumers, according to Kris Jones, founder/CEO of LSEO.Brand name or process loyalty are not priorities, but considerations for social considerations are profound.
“Any company that wants millennial customers had better be out there doing good things,” Jones said.
Employee millennials present other types of challenges. According to Jones, employers who desire millennial talent within their workplace must accept that the mobile telephone has become a third arm, with the youthful user depending on their telephone in ways the baby boomers usually can’t relate to.
This reality makes non-traditional environments for work essential if millennials are to join an organization. While sometimes rebellious, these youths will work hard within the proper environment but will not accept detailed legislation of their behavior, a dress code, or requirements to stay in a cubicle.
“Many corporations are not allowing millennials to be themselves where they can be very productive,” Jones said. “However, this is not the case with my company. I’ve not had behavioral problems because I allow them to be themselves and it works.”
Despite his workplace praise for millennial employees, the community-service-oriented Jones has detected one behavior that troubles him. Millennials under 35 do not appear to be participating with civic boards and philanthropic organizations.
“Difficulty with verbal communication can be a challenge for many of these millennials and perhaps this is one reason why they don’t participate,” Jones said. “In the future as their identities predictably become more aligned with their parents, perhaps they will participate more as social causes undoubtedly remain a key driver.”
Larry Puleo, president of MLP Consultants believes that workers come in all shapes, sizes, and age groups and that associated problems are often the result of inferior human resource and management programs. What has changed is that the millennial generation will not behave with blind obedience.
“Employers consistently say they are more flexible, less rigid, and encourage teamwork, support and mentoring while doing exactly the opposite,” says Puleo. “This sets the company on a course to create conflict with the millennial talent they hire. The real work ethic problem is a lack of effective management.”
Effective management of millennials, according to Puleo, must include feedback, coaching and no old-fashioned dictatorial behavior. Millennials also communicate differently than their predecessors and therefore may need to be trained in face-to-face interaction.
“White-collar America has big problems coping with change, but management that resists change will be in conflict with millennial employees,” Puleo said. “These talented kids have grown up in an instant-information environment and are not patient with dark ages processes or information systems. When you waste their time they get frustrated.”