I thought it was just my kids, but evidently not. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 2000) have now entered the workforce en masse, and they’re not looking back at how things are “supposed to be done.”
Every study I see, every story I read points to the tidal wave of change they’re creating. In the next few years it will wash over customer relationships, workplace interactions, and how sales are done.
If you think you’re going to stop them, think again.
This wave is bigger than the long-revered Baby Boomer generation, and we’ll feel its impact in every area of society, just as strongly as the changes wrought by the Flower Children in the ’60s and ’70s. The new kids on the block have high expectations as employees and as your toughest new customers.

Understanding the shift

Your workforce is made up of three groups right now: Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. Boomers are retiring, and there aren’t enough GenX-ers to fill their shoes. Within the decade, 50 percent of U.S. workers will be Millennials. They’re going to have a big voice in how things are done.
If you’re going to set yourself up for success during the shift—if you hope to attract the best and brightest as employees and as customers—you’ll need to understand the drivers for each of these groups.

Boomers (1946 – 1964)
This group is nearing retirement, or at least beginning to think seriously about it. They value success, work long hours, and are good team players. They believe they’ve earned some respect from younger workers. And while their skills are part of their success, a strong work ethic and “face time” in the workplace are even more important. A few key points that are more prevalent with this group as a whole:
  • They’re workaholics (live to work)
  • They value options and consensus
  • Process is just as important as results
  • They’re adept at office politics and diplomacy
  • Technology is acquired—they prefer face-to-face, memos, phone calls anytime
Generation X (1965 – 1980)
As one of my coworkers puts it, “Generation X is the Jan Brady of generations.” Stuck between the Boomers and Millennials, they’re the middle child, screaming for attention. In the ‘90s they were called the slacker generation, although they’re anything but that. They’re looking for upward mobility, but are jockeying with Boomers who haven’t retired yet and Millennials who think they should be fast-tracked to the C-suite.
  • They value work/family balance (work to live)
  • They’re self-reliant, work smarter (not longer)
  • They don’t like office politics
  • They like informal recognition/days off
  • Technology is assimilated—they prefer mobile, email, calls at work (not at home)
Millennials (1981 – 2000)
This generation began entering the workforce in 2004, but they’re just getting up to speed. They’re digital natives who grew up with technology—they may leave at 5 pm on the dot, but they’re always connected. Raised under heavy supervision and scheduling, they’re comfortable with authority figures to the point of casualness. And they expect open communication from all levels.
  • They use technology to work flexibly anytime, anywhere
  • They expect to be evaluated on final product, not the process
  • They’re collaborative
  • They like informal, real-time communication and feedback
  • Technology is integral—they prefer mobile, text, social media, calls anytime
It’s easy to see how your company can quickly fall out of alignment if you don’t start looking at potential trouble spots now.

Bridging the gap

These three unique styles and the prevalence of the newest group is set to open a new generation gap between you and your customer—even between you and your employees.
How to bridge the generation gap? By meeting the expectations of all the groups, and blending old with new. Boomer salespeople will need to learn how to work with Millennial customers. That means reexamining when they enter the sales cycle, how they prefer to close deals. And new Millennial salespeople will have to understand Boomer customers preferences, as well.
Customer expectations for communication have spilled over from their consumer experiences into the B2B realm. After all, each and every one of us is a consumer. We’re familiar with great consumer experiences, and our expectations have grown to demand that our B2B experiences are just as “wow.” B2B customers will leave if your website isn’t cutting it, your customer service isn’t up to par, or if you don’t engage with them after they make the purchase.
All this means the sales cycle looks incredibly different now, and companies need to adapt. Sealing the deal with a handshake is passĂ© in the world of 24/7, always-on information. It’s going to take quickly learning some new ways in order to navigate the shift in how business is done:
  • Is your website optimized for mobile?
  • Are you monitoring blogs and social media where your customers hang out?
  • Are you reaching out to your customers through the mediums they frequent?
  • Is your customer’s experience seamless? Or are you losing customers because there’s misalignment?  

Most importantly, are you ready to make these changes, and do you know how to get there?

Companies of the millennium

Your revenues depend upon how engaged your employees are with customers. And your customers’ engagement, in turn, starts with how engaged your employees are in their own jobs.
According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the Global Workplace study, about 70 percent of U.S. workers are not fully engaged in their jobs. Some of them are even actively disengaged or hostile. They have choices, and they’re going to go where they feel engaged.
The level of employee engagement directly affects the level of customer engagement. And that goes directly to your bottom line.
The Gallup study showed that for the average company, there are fewer fully engaged customers than actively DIS-engaged customers. In fact, here’s how bad it is:

But world-class organizations with high employee engagement have 10 TIMES more fully engaged customers to offset those who are actively disengaged:

The most successful companies, the ones prepared to survive and thrive in the new world, are those who mix money, mission, and purpose. They’re nimble—ready to adapt as new ways of doing things come along. But they don’t lose focus, either … they know the power of “no” to keep the focus and passion on what will make them successful.
They know that the more they focus on something beyond money, the more money they make. Finding and living their mission becomes their greatest competitive advantage. Here are some B2C examples of focus that B2B execs can learn from:
  • Steve Ellis, CEO of Chipotle — Food with integrity.
  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple — Advancing humanity.
  • Indira Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo — Performance with purpose.  

That focus doesn’t drive things alone, though. Robert Wong, executive creative director of Google Creative Lab, talks about the Four Ps when it comes to focus: Purpose, People, Products, and Process. Each is important to consider in your engagement strategy.
Harvard Business School management professor Hirotaka Takeuchi says it another way: “Strategy comes from the heart.” That’s driven by a corporate environment that helps leaders and employees try to truly live the company’s mission.
It may sound “fluffy,” but it really does impact long-term company performance. Consider these two examples:

  • Gallup charted its Employee Engagement study against its Customer Engagement study results. It showed that high employee engagement gave companies a 70 percent boost over “average” organizations. Similarly, those that focused on high customer engagement saw a nearly identical boost. But combining both efforts—high employee engagement coupled with high customer engagement—gave them a 240 percent boost above the typical competition!
  • The Harvard Business Review’s Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones reported that companies with highly engaged people outperform firms with the most disengaged workers by:
    • 54% increase in employee retention
    • 89% increase in customer satisfaction
    • FOUR TIMES the revenue growth

Maybe that’s why Accenture reports that 85 percent of B2B executives said customer experience is important to their companies’ strategic priorities. That begins at home.  

Engaging customers through engaged staff

So, back to our age waves. How do we drive a great customer experience with all these disparate groups? It starts by getting your house in order first.
Think about your own organization, and what I call “The Customer Experience Ecosystem.”

All of these things impact the culture and level of employee engagement:
  • Vision, Mission, Values
  • Leadership
  • Brand Position/Corporate Narrative
  • Organizational Development
  • HR/Employee Attraction/Retention
  • Internal Communications
  • Employee and Customer Experience Planning
  • Marketing Strategy
  • External Messaging Execution
  • Sales and Customer Service  

In turn, the culture and level of engagement directly impact the overall brand—the promise that the organization makes and delivers to its customers.
Ultimately, all of these together determine the type of experience customers have with the organization at each and every touchpoint. It impacts what they think, how they feel, whether they’ll buy from you again, and whether they’ll tell others about the experience, be it good or bad.
The power for the experience is in the employees’ hands … thus the brand is in their hands, as well. And brand is the lens through which customers view you and must be the lens for defining performance.
Employees have to understand the brand promise and their role in delivering on it. They need to have the ability to make real-time, market-based decisions. They’re closest to the customers. And they’re the ones who will ultimately define the experience.

Bridging the gap at work

Where to begin? Consider all three age groups as you embed the customer experience formally into day-to-day operations across every touchpoint. Think about their needs as you:
Recruit creatively — Evaluate your recruiting methods and benefits packages. Salary is important, but so are a comfortable environment, flexile hours, and things like telecommuting possibilities.
Build “doing good” into your core model — Millennials want to see the direct impact of their work on making the world a better place to live. They’re not satisfied with just “making money” at work so they can donate it somewhere else.
Adjust communication — Boomers may get more out of a meeting, while Gen X and Millennials just need an email. Accommodate your employees’ styles by using a mix of communications tools. Audit your communication efforts to see what’s working and what’s not.
Personalize performance — Look at what works for the individual. Real-time feedback versus an annual review process will generally be more helpful to Millennials. Focus more on developing strengths than pointing out weaknesses.
Encourage mentoring — Use Boomers and GenXers to mentor Millennials, while the latter can teach their elders about technology.
Customize incentives — Give all employees the ability to choose between monetary incentives and time off.
Remember the stat from Accenture? 85 percent of B2B executives said that the customer experience is important to their companies’ strategic priorities. But with 70 percent of U.S. workers not actively engaged in their jobs, and 48 percent of B2B customer experience investments reported as “ineffective,” there’s a long way to go.
The time to get started is now.