Millennials have spoken, and they have different customer service expectations than the generations before them. It’s time for companies in the industrial distribution space to take notice and make some changes.
At 72 million strong, Millennials are the largest living generational group and make up 35% of the workforce. That number is expected to grow to 75% by 2025. Despite these growing numbers, many B2B companies servicing them have failed to adapt to their preferences — instead following antiquated practices set in place by prior generations.
In the fastener industry, COVID-related supply chain challenges have put a spotlight on what’s not working. Millennial fastener buyers are fed up with slow response times and a lack of transparency, and many will move their business elsewhere if companies don’t adapt.
Every quarter that passes, the percentage of Millennial buyers increases, so it’s paramount to make changes now or lose market share.
What Today’s Fastener Buyers Want
So, how do you provide great customer service as a fastener distributor? Across the board, product knowledge, order accuracy and quality are important to buyers. That said, some aspects of service are particularly important to Millennials. Here are some tips on leaving a favorable impression on this demographic.
1. Give them more time back in their day.
As the first generation to grow up with immediate access to information through the Internet, instant messaging, texting and smartphones, Millennials expect convenience and speed. A survey by American Express found that the most annoying customer service phrase is this:
“We’re unable to answer your question. Please call xxx to speak to a representative from xxx team.”
71% of millennials report that the most important thing businesses can do is value their time. Passing customers around like hot potatoes does the opposite of this by creating more work for them. Buyers need to get work off their desk quickly, and a smart distribution partner will help their customers work more efficiently through same-day responses and order confirmations, demand planning services and forecasting solutions.
2. Deliver a highly personalized experience.
When Millennials reach out to a business, they expect their rep to have a strong handle on their service history. Buyers get frustrated when they are constantly speaking to new people with no familiarity of their account.
Meeting these expectations requires a convergence of data-driven and human support. Service providers in the fastener industry should keep detailed records of service history and ensure that when customers call them, they speak with a real person who has that information in front of them.
3. Be transparent when issues arise.
Millennials value proactive communication when issues arise. Historically, the fastener supply chain has been stable and involatile. Because of this, many fastener suppliers have not felt the need to implement tracking, visibility or exception management processes. However, COVID-related shipping challenges have wreaked havoc on supply chains everywhere, and Millennial customers have been frustrated by the lack of transparency when products are delayed.
As the need for transparency in the fastener supply chain accelerates, it’s important to implement sophisticated tracking capabilities and push status updates out regularly.
4. Meet them where they like to communicate.
The overwhelming majority of millennials prefer email and other digital service channels over talking on the phone. But for many fastener suppliers, a phone is the only option for getting a timely response.
As demand for omni-channel support grows, distributors should work on meeting customers where they like to communicate. For example, if someone reaches out via email, respond quickly with an email — not a phone call. Embracing other forms of digital communication as well, such as chat or self-help content on your website, can also give you an edge over competition.
Strong customer service is a critical component of a business’s success. Those that don’t adapt to Millennial preferences will lose market share as this cohort continues to dominate the workplace.
Ben Lussier is vice president at Blue Ribbon Fastener.