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, what does great customer service feel like? Across the board, product knowledge, order accuracy, and quality are important to fastener buyers; but some aspects of service are particularly important to millennials. Through research and soliciting feedback from our own customer base, we have identified some common themes.
1. Give me more time back in my 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.
We recently polled our own customer base to gauge their service expectations and found that 61% of respondents expect a response within one business day—and 23% expect a response within one hour.
Buyers need to get work off their desk fast. In an industry where response times are often slow, Blue Ribbon Fastener is committed to a better experience. We help you work more efficiently through same-day responses and order confirmations. We also offer demand planning and forecasting services to further remove time-intensive work from your plate.
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.
Friendliness and empathy are also key aspects of a personalized experience. When we asked our customers how they evaluate customer service before working with a new supplier, several responses supported this. Below are two examples:
"If they don't seem friendly, I think they must not want my business very much."
"I judge how willing they are initially to see my need from my point of view."
When asked about how great customer service should feel, one respondent said this:
"It feels like a working friendship with great open communication."
At BRF, we believe in the convergence of data-driven and human support. We keep detailed records of service history and ensure that when you call us, you speak with a real person who has that information in front of them. It’s our goal to build meaningful relationships with our clients so that we can be a bright spot in their busy day.
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. Take these comments from our survey for example:
"We prefer to receive an acknowledgement or "I don't know but will find out" response rather than no response. Just communication of any kind is very important to us."
"On urgent matters, [good customer service reps] don't sit and wait for an e-mail response. They pick up the phone and call to protect their business and their customer's."
As the need for transparency in the fastener supply chain has accelerated, BRF has worked to implement sophisticated tracking capabilities. We pride ourselves on proactive communication; if someone has to ask for a status update, we consider that a failure.
4. Meet me where I like to communicate.
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.
When we asked our customer base about their preferred customer service channel, 91% chose email.
As demand for omnichannel support grows, BRF aims to meet customers where they like to communicate. For example, if someone reaches out via email, we respond quickly with an email. We embrace digital communication and won’t change the channel on you.
Why Getting It Right Is Important
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.
To illustrate how important getting it right is, we’ll leave you with these stats from our customer survey:
When asked how important customer service is when evaluating a new supplier, 60% of respondents gave a rating of 10 (out of 10).
In purchasing decisions, 91% said that customer services is equally important to price.
BRF is learning from clients and working to continuously improve service every day. In our latest survey, we received an NPS score of 79—an “Excellent” rating that we will continue to track and take measures to improve.
 Note: Respondents included both Millennials and non-Millennials
A shortened version of this article first appeared in Industrial Distribution Magazine, here.