Every business owner must not only please existing customers, but generate new business to sustain for the long-term.

To do so, one must anticipate the needs of emerging customer bases and appeal to those new customers in a manner that is familiar and enticing. With the emergence of the Millennial Generation, or Generation Y, businesses are presented with a new set of challenges to court this market. Generally considered to be defined as anyone born between 1980 and 2000, or roughly 18-34-year-olds, depending on the source. 60 Minutes suggests that there may be as many as 80 million Millennial consumers now, a broad customer base to tap into if ever there was one. We’ll first look at the habits of these potential customers, then discuss the various tools you may employ to bring their dollars to your business.

Tech Savvy

Due to the prevalence in technology in the lives of members of this generation, Millennials exhibit traits that their parents’ generation does not. In general, Millennials are far more comfortable with technology, seeing it as an expected and necessary part of their lives. Because of the global sense of community provided by the internet, Millennials are less likely to form attachments to brands or businesses, instead seeking new experiences they often share with their web communities. There is a general interest in environmental and issues of societal responsibility in this demographic, far more conscious of the impact of their buying decisions than in any generation prior. This group tends to eschew the traditional in favor of the new, and is quick to adopt new technology or ideology, heedless of whether such a change is necessarily for the better.

Differentiate Yourself

What this means for the business owner is twofold. First, tailoring a menu to this new (and highly profitable) group of consumers means being either highly adaptable or developing a presentation and set of features that are unique enough on their own to withstand the transient nature of Millennial interest. In previous articles, we’ve discussed how using the reporting features of your POS will identify items on your menu that sell very well, as compared to those items which show signs of less interest from your customers. Using these sorts of tools, you can determine trends in your customers’ needs that allow you to shift your menu’s offerings to items that cater specifically to them. Obviously, one cannot ignore traditional menu items, but sales reporting will show what one perceives as traditional and time-tested, but may not reflect this impression in sales. Alternately, a business may have such a unique menu or atmosphere that Millennials will seek it out as a new experience. Because Millennial studies have suggested a lack of loyalty, particularly with businesses they perceive as having poor service or providing an experience that is seen as being not worth the value, it is important for management to ensure that the total customer interaction is of high quality. This is nothing new in the service industry, but it bears repeating as Millennials are categorically more sensitive to negative experiences and less likely to offer businesses a “second chance.”

Interact & Engage

Due to the prevalence of technology in Millennials’ lives, there is not only a familiarity with new devices and applications, but there is an expectation that businesses will provide technological interaction of some type. Whether it is a self-order kiosk or a server using a hand-held device at a table to swipe a credit card, Millennials tend to patronize businesses that use technology to enhance the customer experience. Any service-based business must now have a web presence, a way for the customer to “like” them, not only promoting the business in this fashion, but allowing the customer the ability to share the experience of having patronized your business. The greater the interaction and perceived ease of use, the more likely a business is to maintain a Millennial customer. Ordering online for pickup or delivery, popularized by pizza franchises, is now more and more prevalent. Having your menu on the web is a necessity, and the ability to use this web interface to place an order not only drives up revenue, it gives the Millennial customer the sense of value. The Millennial generation tends to see time as greater commodity than money, and, therefore, will tend to spend more if they perceive value in time-saving applications.

Of course traditional businesses still thrive in today’s market, but we always recommend examining the latest trends in your patrons’ behavior. There is no need to toss out old traditions of business, the baby with the bath water as it were, but being flexible and willing to change to meet new demands is essential in the service industry. Reliance on technology is only increasing, and customers have become, as a result, far less likely to repeat negative experiences, or to patronize places that do not have a web footprint to be found, interacted with and, ultimately, shared as part of social networking. With an eye to the future and a willingness to provide customers with specially-tailored interactions and experiences, your business may grow well beyond the less adventurous competition!