Millennials are a favourite topic of conversations these days. Marketers worry about how to market to them and employers worry about how to employ them. David Reid, the founder and CEO of Be All Ears has had a fair amount of experience in managing Millennials. We asked him to give us his take on working with Millennials.
Be All Ears: How would you summarize your experiences of working with Millennials?
David Reid: I have had my fair share of tough & fun times. But I believe the most important thing is to take the mystery away from Millennials. They are not so very different from us when we were younger. Working with Millennials can be easier than you think. It doesn’t have to be a challenge and it carries its own reward. The key is to treat your employees the way that you would expect them to treat your customers. They need to know that they are as important to the business as customers. In my experience, Millennials want to be informed and they want choice, just like within customer experience, choice is key to support the individuality in all of us.
Be All Ears: How are Millennials like us when we were younger, and how are they different?
David Reid: They want to know what is going on and what the big picture is, so they can decide if the company they are with is one that offers a career or if it is one they should move on from. They want to be given choices, so that they can define their own future. This is not so different from when I was young. I used to feel uneasy if I stayed in a job for too long and nobody was telling me why decisions were being made which could affect my future. I used to feel restless if I felt that there were no obvious opportunities for me to progress in my career.
In a recent study exclusive to CNBC almost 90% of millennials surveyed said that they would choose to stay in a job for the next 10 years if they had annual salary raises and career mobility. Additionally, 36% of those surveyed also stated they left a job they liked for a better opportunity elsewhere. They do not expect to have a job with one company for life, but, if they can develop and grow in one organization, they will stay loyal to that employer.
What is different today is that our younger colleagues have access to a lot more information than we did because of technology. They can access the same information in the public domain that you can and can challenge you more effectively. Although sometimes, they must be reminded that knowledge gained from the internet is not always the same as practical experience.
Be All Ears: A lot of people are talking about the “Individual CEO” these days. What is your understanding of this term and what are the implications?
David Reid: We use the word “Individual CEOs” to talk about how employees in this age range expect to be involved in all aspects of decision making. This has both positive and negative aspects. A positive aspect of this employee experience is that when you do get them on board, they are interested and want involvement in the way the company is run, they will then approach tasks and projects with great enthusiasm and determination.
Things become challenging when they do not understand or accept the limits to their involvement. These need to be defined as soon as possible. You want to paint for them a clear picture of what they are walking into. You also have make it very clear that these limits vary from one part of the business to another and why. For example, contact centres often ban bringing mobile phones onto the calling floor to comply with data protection rules. Some agents may feel that it is unfair that their colleagues in other departments can bring their mobile phones to their desks. The reasoning behind this must be clearly communicated and the rules consistently enforced.
Be All Ears: Can you tell us more what you mean by treating your employees the way you expect them to treat our customers?
David Reid: Certainly, fairness is an essential part of the employee experience. Young people expect those in authority to model the behaviour they expect from them. Any experienced teacher will tell you that teachers cannot enforce a “no chewing gum” policy in their classroom if they chew gum themselves. Similarly, if team leaders and managers want their staff to treat customers politely, efficiently and with a smile of their face, they will have a lot less trouble convincing their staff to do it if they treat them in the same way.
Just as marketers and salespeople must identify the key promoters and detractors among customers, it is up to management to identify those among their staff, and tailor their approach accordingly, an internal NPS so to speak. This is a key principle for successful employee engagement. If there is a pilot project, make sure that the agents participating include promoters and not detractors. If all goes well, your promoters will promote the change to other agents.
Detractors can present real problems when it comes to employee engagement. Understand why they are unhappy, treat them fairly and ensure they are not made to look like victims. Make sure that you answer at least one or two of their questions in open meetings as clearly as possible, but don’t give them the chance to dominate. Take the learnings from employee detractors into future decision making, just as you do with customer experience and create an environment where people can be open and innovative.
Be All Ears: Some of our more experienced readers may find these recommendations difficult to accept. What, in your experience, are the consequences of not following them?
David Reid: The obvious one is staff attrition. Just as the internet has eroded customer loyalty so that customers can easily switch from one utilities provider to another, internet job boards and the large numbers of service centres in large towns make it easy for Millennials to vote with their feet and change jobs.
A second, less obvious consequence is that your brand will suffer. If your staff do not feel their needs are being met, those who can leave will leave, and those who can’t will end up being detractors. This is where social media can become a burden rather than a useful tool for brand marketing. In a contact centre, where staff should communicate with customers both enthusiastically and efficiently, the enthusiasm will be lost, and your customers will soon feel it. If your agents are not enthusiastic and efficient, while your competitor’s agents are, then it’s easy to see who is making the better impression on customers. Happy employees are more likely to lead to happy customers.
Be All Ears: You mentioned that managing Millennials has its challenges and rewards. Can you give us an example of each?
David Reid: Everyone wants to be treated as an individual and acknowledged personally, corporate communications are not enough. It’s very easy for a senior manager to say, “My door’s always open”, but junior employees are scared to talk to you because of their level and yours, so it’s up to you to go out and talk to individuals. This happened to me in a previous company, I made this mistake, often got too lost in admin and reports reviewing feedback instead of engaging more with peers and staff, which ultimately impacted staff moral with the sense “I am not listening”. Getting to know your staff and colleagues means that you should talk to them about other things than work. Ask them about their families, where they come from, what they are studying if they go to university, make jokes etc. and build a rapport, just as you would do with customers.
From a positive aspect, with their access to technology and proficiency with, I have learned a lot from people who are 15 years younger than me. Their minds are very sharp. We involved some a mix of fresh and tenured agents in a workshop to map processes and I visited a couple of sessions to see how they were getting along. It was very interesting to see how their minds worked and how methodically they were analysing a problem. If you need some research done, you could do a lot worse than asking one or more of your Millennial staff to do it for you.
Be All Ears: So, do you have any parting thoughts on this topic?
David Reid: I think to go back to what I was saying about treating your staff the way you would like them to treat customers, give them choice, improve your employee experience and you will improve your customer experience. Lastly, here are two words you should say to them whenever the opportunity arises, “Thank you”. Appreciation and recognition of their efforts and involvement will go a long way to winning their loyalty and respect.
Open questions & talking points?
- What challenges have you faced in your organization when working with Millennials?
- What have you learned from your Millennial staff recently?
At Be All Ears, we specialize in supporting businesses to successfully overcome growth and operational challenges, driving change through employee & customer experience. Get in touch with us and see how we can best support you.