To millennials and beyond

There will be increasing demand for immediate intelligent service and seamless customer exerience. (123RF)

Gen Z is coming to work, putting five distinctly different generations into the workplace at the same time. Selling across the generations demands flexible customer experience strategies. According to research by Millennial Branding and Randstand US, there are clear differences between the younger generations – Millennials (or Generation Y) and Generation Z (or iGen/Centennials).

Millennials, born after 1980, aren’t that young anymore, and older Millennials grew up in an environment that was only partially digitised. Gen Z, born after 1995, are the true digital natives. Millennial Branding reports that Gen Z is slightly more entrepreneurial than Millennials. While both of these younger generations are changing the way businesses market, engage and sell, there are differences between the two. The US Center for Generational Kinetics says Gen Z blurs the lines between online and bricks and mortar throughout all shopping experiences and will seek better deals online while standing in a store.

The youngest Millennials and Gen Z embrace the sharing economy and say social media determines their happiness, well-being and self-esteem. Surprisingly, both generations say they prefer face-to-face communication over technology in the workplace.

Anyone researching what makes these new generations tick is likely to emerge confused. On the one hand, they are fully digitised and live half their lives in a virtual world; on the other, they appear to value genuine connections with people; care about social and environmental issues, and believe in work-life balance that allows them to self-actualise.

Power shift
Professor Adré Schreuder, CEO of research firm Consulta, says his company is increasingly researching Millennials and Gen Z as clients become increasingly interested in meeting their needs.

“There are differences between the older Millennials and the younger Millennials and Gen Z,” he says. “Millennials grew up knowing video stores, while Gen Z wants to stream content. Gen Z were practically born with cellphones in their hands and have been connected for almost all their lives. Some studies find Millennials to be more individualistic, while many believe the archetype of Gen Z being more streetwise and independent.”

What they have in common however, is their expectations around customer experience. “If there’s ever been a group believing they have the power and they will choose, it is this generation. They're changing the focus of customer engagement from what companies do for clients, to what clients choose to do with companies. This generation can’t be drawn by traditional loyalty programmes – their loyalty and engagement is more viral.”

In both the business-to-business and business-to-consumer space, customer experience is more important than ever, Schreuder says. “Now, one needs to listen much better and adapt faster than ever before. I wouldn’t try to second guess that – I’d say that now, companies need to appoint Millennials and Gen Z staff to run their customer engagement and customer experience programmes.”

Young is the new big
Richard Firth, chairperson and CEO of MIP Holdings, believes this is exactly what big brands are already doing. “I recently spotted a job ad for a Starbucks senior marketing post, where they were specifically looking for someone under the age of 30. This is the way more companies will have to go. Younger people are coming into the workplace, launching the disruptive new companies and becoming the new buying force, and we have to take them very seriously.”

Videsha Proothveerajh, Intel country manager for southern Africa, believes the channel needs to capitalise on the fact that that Millenial and Gen Z employees look for the latest gadgets, devices and solutions that will help them to get the job done, whatever it may be, as efficiently as possible. "They're not interested in slow, outdated and 'glitchy' technology, as that would be a time-waster. 

Millennials expect technoolgy to help them work faster, not slow them down.

Firth agrees that the younger generation of business partners and customers expects to be hyper-connected to responsive technology. The static website of the past just won’t meet the next generation’s needs. He advocates a ‘socialised’ and transparent approach in which customers can see and engage throughout the supply chain when dealing with a company.

“It means that companies have to rearchitect the space between the legacy enterprise system and the front end that consumers use to interact with businesses. At this front end, younger Millennials and Gen Z see the system technology as their friend. This AI-enabled ‘friend’ has to interact realistically and understand what they want to do. We believe we are just at the trough of advanced socialised environments,” he says.

The rise of the super app
Firth says increasing demand from Millennials and Gen Z for immediate, intelligent service and seamless customer experience will drive increased market collaboration and the rise of the ‘super app’. The super app brings together multiple services in a single ecosystem, and connects to automated decisions and processes. Firth believes there are opportunities for channel players to innovate in this area, looking to collaborations within ecosystems that allow them to work together to enhance the customer experience.

When it comes to the workplace, Proothveerajh cites the recent Dell and Intel Future of Workforce Study, which found 63% of South African respondents expected to work in a smart office in the next five years. They aren't just interested in technology to improve productivity and collaboration, but also to assist in smart office planning – like directing new employees to the nearest printer or maintaining optimal temperature control.

"This means that IT channel players will need to to incorporate technologies like the Internet of Things, as well as virtual and augmented reality products into their offering. As these technologies are still rather new in South Africa, channel players will need to ensure they not only have the products available, but also offer adequate training and support to businesses.

While adapting to meet the needs of a new emerging partner and customer base may appear challenging at first, automation, digitisation and a business refocus around customer experience provide significant opportunities for channel players.

New approaches needed for selling to the next-gen customer
•         Collaborative efforts to develop seamless environments for product and services purchase and delivery
•         Young professionals to manage effective customer engagement across multiple channels
•         Customer experience taken to the next level
•         Shared economy, ultimate convenience
•         Digital customer journeys assessed and remapped
•         Digitisation and automation to support transparency, agility and speed to deliver

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