Businesses today in nearly every industry are dealing with the changing expectations of millennials and other on-trend customers who are looking for a new style of customer experience and customer service.
For today, let’s see what lessons we can draw from an industry, automotive retail (car dealerships), that may not come to mind when you think of businesses with a model that appeals to a millennial mindset. In fact, the default at some old-school car dealerships can be exactly what millennials hate: slow, afraid of digital, nontransparent, and often patriarchal/condescending in how the dealership interacts with customers.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s look closely at what millennials and other customers sharing their mindset are looking for in the customer experience and customer service, and how a car dealership can scratch these itches. And if a car dealership can do that, so can your business, in whatever industry you operate.
Millennial customers (born 1980ish-2000ish) are the largest generation in U.S. and world history. They, and others who are quickly adapting a millennial mindset (including, more frequently than you’d think, their parents, who are the second-largest generation, the Baby Boomers), share some clearly identifiable expectations that I consult closely in my work as a customer experience consultant and customer service designer.
Five Millennial preference/customer experience trends:
Customer experience trend #1–Peer to peer customer service style: A preference for being served in a way that makes the customer feel that those serving and those being served are equals, rather than an older style of service that was sometimes servile and sometimes condescending.
Customer experience trend #2–Digital parity: Customers expect an experience that is as streamlined and hassle-free/friction-free. Regardless of the arena in which your business operates, they want you to be as easy to use as what they’ve experienced online. Channel shouldn’t matter: the info available online should be available in the store, and vice versa, and all channels with which you interact with the customer should be streamlined and integrated.
Customer experience trend #3–Authenticity: Today’s customers are on a quest for what is genuine, authentic, what feels like “the genuine article.” They’re put off by all that seems false, plastic, scripted and so forth.
Customer experience trend #4–Transparency: A preference for businesses to be open and forthright in explanations, pricing, quality standards, vendor relations, and so forth.
Customer experience trend #5–Adventure and Experience: A feeling that most commercial interactions are improved if there is an element of adventure, excitement, a true “experience” within the customer experience.
Let’s look at how these five millennial preferences are served by the dealership model of two western car dealerships, Avondale Toyota near Phoenix, AZ and One Toyota of Oakland, CA, both owned by Brian McCafferty). [Note: I don’t have an affiliation with either of these dealerships, nor with Mr. McCafferty. While I am a consultant to the automotive industry on the customer experience and customer service, these are not among my clients.]
iPad-based, seamless go-everywhere data system: The sales advisors at the dealerships carry iPads with them, loaded with the proprietary “DealerTag” cloudware (developed by McCafferty and team themselves) that allows the advisor to do nearly everything while side by side with the customer, seamlessly and quickly: No running back to the desk to photocopy your driver’s license for a test drive: the salesperson scans it right into the iPad (and presumably, though I didn’t check this, deletes it right after the test drive for privacy reasons).
No scrounging around the lobby for brochures: detailed photos and spec “sheets” are right there on the iPad. No running back to the desk “have a seat, would you like some incredibly stale coffee and powdered corn syrup-cum-creamer while I attempt to type in your hard to spell last name into my CRM system” routine; the customer and salesperson can together fill out any needed customer information, with neither of them having to read upside down. No bulky folders of paperwork; very little duplicate filling out of forms.
Trends addressed: This goes a very long way to answering three millennial expectations that I listed above: a peer to peer customer service style [Millennial preference/customer experience trend #1] (employees don’t sit behind a desk, literally separated from you, the customer; rather, you’re side by side, shoulder to shoulder); digital parity [trend #2] (although the dealership is a bricks and mortar experience, it is as streamlined as what customers have experienced with online businesses); and transparency [trend #4]: the customer can see what the salesperson can see; when the sales professional doesn’t leave the customer’s side to get the latest inventory, incentives, or trade info, it gives the feeling that everything is out in the open. A feeling that customers today by and large appreciate.
“One price” approach: The dealerships offer a single price, their best price, with no need to haggle (and, presumably, nothing to gain by haggling). There’s no “I’ll have to check with a manager” routine. No fake dealer invoice not showing incentives received. No employees paid different commission for different models; no incentive to upsell or to recommend a particular model based on anything other than the interests of the customer.
Trends addressed: This one price approach continues the transparency [trend #4] theme: complete pricing transparency rather than the usual mix of confusion and subterfuge.
“One person”: A single point of contact approach: One person works with the customer throughout the sales process. There’s no handoff from a receptionist to a salesperson to a finance person to the traditionally gum-chewing cashier. Instead, the advisors are trained in everything, even finance; there’s no traditional finance department.
Trends addressed: The ability for a single person to assist with financing as well as sales and catalog-type questions helps with the them of authenticity [trend #3]; you as a customer are working with “your” advisor throughout the process. But most of all it provides digital parity [trend #2]: Customers expect an experience that is as streamlined and hassle-free/friction-free. Regardless of the arena in which your business operates, they want you to be as easy to use as what they’ve experienced online. And that’s what’s being offered here, through clever use of technology: an experience that is both as streamlined as what they could get online and that is enhanced, rather than gummed up, by the involvement of a human employee.
(Note: this approach is not new; it’s just often overlooked. In fact in my first book, we describe how the creators of the Ritz-Carlton developed this approach for Lexus. However, it’s rare now–even at Lexus. Which is in many cases too bad.)
Redesigned showroom: Models are no longer blockily placed to cover much of the floor; they’re organized asymmetrically and quirkily into “scenes,” little vignettes that look cool and are evocative of the adventures, small or large, that the cars can, literally, transport you to.)
Trends addressed: This clearly is intended to scratch customers’ adventure/experience itch [trend #5] , to make the customer eager to get out of the showroom and on to the open road. Which makes sense. A showroom–even a nice one–isn’t much of a place for a car, or a customer, to spend its life.
Micah Solomon is a customer experience consultant, customer service speaker and bestselling business author, most recently of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. He also directly addresses millennial customer experience/customer service trends (including the preferences discussed in this article) in depth in his latest book for Forbes, obtainable via the banner link below.
This article was written by Micah Solomon from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.