Insights from the Interactive Intelligence Interactions Conference event — Meet Your New Customer: Panel Discussion with Millennial Aged Consumers 

Now that half of all Millennials (born 1980-2000) have reached the magical 24-year-old consumer demographic, they are rapidly displacing Baby Boomers in buying power in probably every category except health care and retirement services. What this means for business is that from now on every day that you don't put Millennials first, you are losing customers.

I'm part of Generation X (born 1960-1980), and most of my professional career has been focused on marketing to Baby Boomers and their predecessors, the G.I. Generation, both formidable and diverse, but ultimately quite predictable from a marketing perspective. Of course, all human behavior is more predictable when your choices are limited to 1/10th or 1/1000th of what they are compared to the consumer choices Millennials have today.

As the largest generation in human history, Millennials are changing the way businesses engage with their customers. These digital natives have needs and desires like previous generations, but they see the world differently, they have different buying habits, and they have altogether different expectations when it comes to customer service and communications.

Moderator Joe Staples, chief marketing officer for Interactive Intelligence, apologized to the seven 20-something consumers perched in director's chairs on the main stage for the Millennials panel at Interactions. "We threw you into this bucket, this Millenials bucket," Joe said. "I mean it was like we got you from a zoo. We told them (the audience) we're going to have Millennials here so, Ooooh! Let's see what they look like!"

In truth, Millennials are every bit as diverse and complex as previous generations, but being digital natives, there are some shared characteristics and common behaviors among Millennials that every business should take into account, especially marketing, operations and customer service.


1.)  Millennials don’t really make a distinction between shopping in a physical store and shopping online. To them it’s just shopping. 

Among the seven Millennial panelists, the ratio of online shopping to in-store shopping varied — one said she thought it was about 50/50, another said she preferred to shop in-store, but still made about 30 percent of her purchases online. They all check prices online before making any purchase. 

2.)  Making a purchase on a mobile device is equally common; it's all shopping, they do it every day and it's no big deal to them.

3.)  Parity is expected.

If you offer items in-store, Millennials want the option to buy it online too, and they don't appreciate finding out that there is a different price structure for the same items online. This practice is much less popular than it once was, but it turns Millennials off. If they want to shop in your store they will come to your store and in-store only specials don't work with them — the opposite is true.

3.)  Millennials have ZERO guilt about browsing in stores and then buying online.

They use physical stores as a "test kitchen" for size, color and other option selections, and then they buy what they want at the best price. One panelist mentioned that she has purchased things on mobile while trying them on in competitors' stores. The stores she visited missed opportunities to win those sales.

4.)  Pricing and availability of discounts is important.

Millennials use discount codes, coupons, and deal-of-the-day sites for EVERYTHING. Based on the reactions from the seven panelists, there is no stigma attached to hunting for the best deal.

5.)  Millennials look for discounts on social media.

Discounts are the primary reason they connect with companies via social media. Yes, they are interested in keeping up with their favorite brands, but they are more interested in getting discounts when they are ready to buy.

6.)  Personalization matters and impresses Millennials.

One panelist told a story about Purina going above and beyond and earning his loyalty. He tweeted a picture of his parents' dog on its birthday. Purina enhanced the photo and resent it to him and his parents with birthday wishes. The panelist himself doesn't even have a dog right now, but he said that if he ever gets one he will buy Purina brand dog food.

7.)  Millennials touch their smartphones hundreds of times a day. 

It's the first thing they look at in the morning and the last thing they look at before going to bed. This is relevant as further support for items 3-5 above. There are countless opportunities to retain customers through mobile. They are going to search for a better deal while they are in your store, so make sure they get that deal from you in the form of a discount or reward.

8.)  Millennials are as diverse as any other generation in behavior and preferences. 

You can't assume Millenials + Email = $$$ because some customers will prefer social or text communication. They are digital natives, but they get spam like everyone else and if your digital strategy eggs are all in the email basket you're leaving breakfast on the table getting cold. Some of the panelists did say they prefer to get discounts via email, but like item three above, parity is expected. Millennials don't want to (and won't) go searching for the place you put your discounts and other communications, they want them to be where they already are. If they are on Facebook they expect to find YOU on Facebook. If they are on Instagram they expect to find YOU on Instagram. While you can't be all things to all people, you can find out about your own customers and be where most of them are.

9.)  Opt-out is a RIGHT with Millennials. 

Their view of the world comes with a little red X in the right hand corner of everything. Millennials don't have tolerance for repetition. If what you are sending them isn't NEW content they are going to opt out. Make sure you let them know the other ways they connect with you because they may not like your constant stream of product pictures on Instagram, but they might appreciate a monthly email with highlights from your catalog.

10.)  It's a myth that Millennials don't like and NEVER use the telephone.

Much ado has been made about Millennials NOT liking and never using the telephone, but they do list the telephone as their first choice for solving problems and other customer service needs. Non-automated web chat is a close second, but Millennials (like most people, I presume) want to talk to a real person and they want to make sure they are understood when they have a problem. Be careful. They want to feel "like I got a guy" on the inside who understands, but they do not respond well to upselling, especially if they are calling about a problem with current service.

Panelists for the Meet Your New Customer event included:

  • Jasmine Ames, 23, Fall Creek Academy (high school English teacher)
  • Stewart Burns, 24, KSM Consulting (business, technology consulting)
  • Mirosha Chandrasekaran, 25 Interactive Intelligence (client support team)
  • Peter Chen, 22, (entrepreneur, free agent)
  • Ellen Funke, 23, (startups operations advisor)
  • Eric Murphy 23, Digial Relevance (content marketing)
  • Sally Reasoner, 25, (talent attraction)