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Guest Blogger

For years marketing firms and consumer experts have talked about the oncoming rise of the millennials, the generation Y, the digital natives. This the generation that grew up with mobile phones and the Internet and is expected to behave completely differently to the customers from previous generations.

Except, the millennials are already with us. This is no longer a future trend that companies can plan for. In the American labour force, millennials are already the majority age group.

An Aspect/CGK survey also performed in the USA predicts that the total consumer spending power of the millennial generation will surpass the baby boomers by 2017. This digital generation is now the largest constituent in the workforce and is about to have the most spending power.

It’s no surprise that this generation should behave differently with technology. Think about a young college graduate entering the workforce today at the age of 21. They were born in approximately 1994, which means that they were born after Netscape made the web easy to access. They grew up in a time when everyone had a mobile phone, the Apple iPhone created the smart phone revolution when they were still just 13 years old – and they have spent their entire teen years using social networks.

For many companies this is going to come as something of a shock. How many banks are still closed at the weekend? How many stores have truly integrated their online experience with the physical store? Why is it such a surprise that this demanding young group of consumers are now in employment and out shopping when we could see this happening at least six or seven years ago?

The voice channel remains the most popular for customer service, but it is declining in popularity as text-based social channels surge in popularity with the younger demographic. But instead of just assuming that what younger shoppers want is a few extra channels, some texting or an answer on Twitter, why not work with them? Hire some young people into your marketing team to help figure out how to make your brand relevant to people like them.

One fundamental difference between older customers and millennials is their level of engagement with brands. Millennials ask more questions before making a purchase and keep conversations going, especially with the brands they like. But it doesn’t have to be just online chat with trendy brands. They might tweet a supermarket chain to check on the closing time of their nearest store and will expect an answer. Ask your mother how she would check on closing times and the answer is likely to be ‘just get on the phone and ask them.’

So there are changes in the way people communicate that need to be absorbed into corporate marketing and customer relationship plans, but this need for greater engagement must be handled in a way that encourages loyalty. Build a relationship with the person who asks about opening times; don’t just send them a URL link to a PDF document and think the job is done.

I’m astounded that companies have not seen the rise of the millennials coming and realised that they would need to communicate differently, but I also believe that millennial habits are spreading through society fast. It’s not only 20-somethings who research purchases on their phone then tell their friends about a problem using social media.

The millennials have been leading the change because they grew up thinking that a phone belongs to a person, not a building, but many of us agree with them and are riding this wave of communication change. Soon we will move beyond phones into a world of wearable communication technologies. Companies that are too late to adopt to new ways of interacting with their customers – of all ages – can expect to be washed away.

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