Stepping up products, service and customer care for a new generation

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The next generation of massive consumers and customers is represented by the Millennial traveler, tourist, shopper and citizen. They range from the ages of 17 to 37 years old, give or take. They also represent 93 million people in the United States today.

This generation (1980-2001) surpasses all other generations as the largest workforce population, and by 2025 they will account for 75 percent of the global workforce.

Their purchasing power is undeniable and yet, they can be tough customers to crack! One of the defining elements of Millennial customers is their need to purchase from a brand they trust.

Defined as perhaps a "fickle" generation, changing frequently with regards to their loyalties, interests, and affection, the Millennials are important to advertisers, employers and politicians alike.

There are many nuances that we can point our finger at and say, "See this is why they are so different." But, from all that I've seen, heard, read and talked about with many people, there is really no glaring difference from one generation of people to another.

Instead, I'm a fan of this quote from Hubspot founder Dharmesh Shah: "So here's the only major difference between Millennials and every other generation: Millennials demand a sense of purpose,demand transparency, demand access to information, demand feedback, demand inspirational leadership and meaningful work and a reasonable work-life balance. They not only demand these things — they expect them. Other generations want those qualities in their workplace too, but they generally don't demand them."

This statement was one of the most provocative I've come across. Due to Millennials' upbringing, which focused on the expectation that you could ask for anything, the world was yours, having an unwavering optimism for something better tomorrow, they simply expect more from the world. Ask most Millennials about their demands, and I don't think they would say they're making a conscious decision to make these demands. They are simply asking for what they believe is a reasonable expectation — as their parents and mentors have always instructed them to do.

Each generation of buyer (Boomers, Xers, Millennials, etc.) wants to trust in what we eat, wear, drive, buy and use. However, unlike other generations, who are perhaps more polite or more accepting of poor quality, the Millennial generation demands more and expects more from the brands than any previous generation.

In order for a business to become a beloved "brand," and have its products raved about or its customer service rated positively on Yelp, it must demonstrate the similar "the rigorous demand" that a Millennial would have.

For example, I think Apple has done a good job becoming a beloved brand of this generation. One of the key elements of Apple is that they demand excellence in everything they do. From design to function, their products are arguably superior. From the Genius Bar concept ready to solve just about any Apple problem you have, to the fleet of staff that greet you at the door with a smile and assist with your purchase (and check you out with their own point of sale system), Apple's demonstration of superior customer service within their brand and culture is Millennial-esque. Apple refuses to walk by shoddy product and service without changing it. They demand superiority in their product, service and from all of that, their brand.

Years ago, Jan Carlzon of SAS Airlines identified these as "moments of truth."

After studying his organization he realized that there were over 50,000 "moments of truth" or areas that influence how customers interact and find out the 'truth' about his organization. What was their product really like? Did their services offer all that they said it would? Was their customer service as good as they said it was?

We all have our 50,000 moments of truth in our brand, moments when we walk by shoddy or mediocre-to-poor product, service or behavior. We can decide to keep walking or to stop and say, "How is this helping in our pursuit of running or contributing to an excellent business, product or service?"

As our biggest tourism season, and soon shopping season, is upon us, I encourage our local businesses to examine your company and really decide whether you are "pushing the envelope" on a rigorous demand for your product (food, retail, beds, etc.) and customer service (how we treat people who rely on our work), and not walking by shoddy, mediocre-to-poor output.

If we want our businesses to relate to the next generation of travelers and shoppers, building trust and loyalty along the way, then we must rigorously demand excellence in our products and service.

Matt Harrington is executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.

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