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Five Ideas for Motivating Millennials

I recently counseled with a supervisor who described a challenge he had faced. He inherited a Millennial inside sales agent who had a history of consistently poor sales performance.  After trying several motivational tactics that didn't help, the supervisor had to put the agent on a performance plan. When an unexpected increase in absences coincided with a surge of customer service issues, the desperate Generation X supervisor temporarily moved the inside sales agent to customer service.  The former sales agent quickly adapted with unrealized creative problem-solving skills combined with a “get it done” attitude. Wanting to see if this was an aberration, the supervisor left the Millennial in Customer Service and watched the metrics.  The agent thrived from being measured on satisfaction ratings and first contact resolution rather than close rate and revenue generation. He quickly became a top performer and eventually an influencer in their center.

Was this a tale of poor hiring and a lucky recovery, or more of a hint to a broader insight? First, we see persons in generations in each of these roles, so this single story is only that.  Second, it’s not necessarily an employee’s age that makes them unsuccessful in a particular role (inside sales, for example), but rather the fact that they’re not being motivated in a way that’s meaningful to them.  But allowing for a broader, more generalized view an effort to learn and possibly improve, it may prove valuable to look at the generations involved in this single microcosm.  Let’s look at the foundational elements of those generations in the United States, with a little help from the Pew Research Center. 

Motivating millennials

Generation X is generally accepted in the United States to be ages 39-54 in 2019 (b. 1965-1980).  GenXers experienced unique events during their childhood that added to developing their sense of the world and a manner of working in it.  GenXers are more educated than previous generations. During their formative years, they saw things that eroded confidence in the establishment, such as Watergate and the Nixon resignation, the Iran hostage crisis, and John Lennon’s murder.  Broadly speaking, GenXers aren’t immediately trusting and will research independently and diligently. They're typically candid and at times, cynical. GenXers grew up with video game arcades but have adopted technology and social media into their lifestyle.  

Millennials make up the largest US generation, ages 23-38 (b. 1981-1996), and now account for a dominant majority in the workplace.  They value efficiency and stress-free approaches, having grown up with the angst of Y2K, Monicagate, and the Desert Storm/ Kuwait invasion. Millennials have an affinity for technology; unlike GenXers who became familiar with technology, Millennials grew up with an expectation of a connected internet to their home computer.  They also find multitasking a natural skill, as cable TV and adoption of multiple screen windows became commonplace as they were coming of age. More so than prior generations, Millennials are broadly motivated by the greater good and can exhibit an unconventional, can-do spirit when empowered.

Pluralists (ages up to 22) are a whole different consideration which I’ll save for a later post.

So how can contact centers tap into that unique blend of personality and capability?  Here are five ideas to consider for motivating Millennials:

1.    Use that generational creativity in your center’s operations service improvement process.  Poll your Millennial leaders for ideas.  When you find good ones to adopt, publicize not only the plan and its results but the source of the ideas.  

2.    Tap into the Millennial desire to help others.  Schedule community service days or team contributions (e.g., collections for filling back-to-school backpacks for underprivileged).  Highlight individual service activities.  This prevailing sense of accomplishment will be infectious. 

3.    Embrace smartphones in the contact center.  As a logical extension of the connected internet of their childhood, smartphones are the universal way to maintain that connectedness.  For the Millennials, Smartphones are not only a device for connecting to the world, but a part of their persona. For those centers challenged with PCI compliance, provide smartphone breaks during the workday.

4.    While many centers rely on gamification techniques to increase agent productivity, it's important to remember that games don't motivate everyone. While Gen-Xers tend to enjoy more competitive games, Millennials value low stress.  Look for activities that are more fun than competitive—and still tied to your contact center's KPIs.

5.    EMPOWER!  Don’t stifle Millennials' natural can-do spirit with process limitations.  Not only will unnecessary barriers miss the opportunity to capitalize on Millennial capabilities, but perceived arbitrary rules will demotivate your staff.  With a record low unemployment rate making the talent pool excessively shallow and the average cost of $17-45,000 to replace a defecting employee, attrition is a bigger problem than ever for most customer contact operations.  

Have you seen these traits in your center?  How are you capitalizing on the unique talents of your employees, and what are you doing to motivate your team?  Please share your thoughts and comments below.

Topics: Culture And Engagement