In his millennium-themed 1999 single Will 2K, Will Smith memorably rapped: ‘I remember trying to count how old I'd be; when the clock struck twelve in the year two G’. For millennials, the answer to this question would have ranged from 5 to 23 years. The millennial generation includes those born between 1977 and 1995 and is split into two groups: younger millennials (18 to 27 years of age) and older millennials (28 to 36). As the first generation to grow up with the internet, millennials are true digital natives. Labelled the ‘social generation’, they’re the founders of the social media movement and the first to be constantly connected to their social circles. Millennials are also the most educated generation yet: more than 23% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 39% are still in school. Research in the US suggests 90% of today’s high school students say they plan to pursue some sort of education after high school.
Millennials' expectations of technology and customer service are high and very specific. Here’s an outline of the reasons for this, and the impact these high expectations have on higher education.
Image by Matthias Ripp, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.
What millennials expect from technology
Millennials cite technology as defining their generation, more than any other factor. They sleep with their mobiles and post status updates from the bathroom. With so much digital stimulus fighting for their attention, they’re discerning users of technology: their expectations for slick user experiences are the highest ever. Although they can often figure out how to use a poorly designed app or site, they probably won’t take the time to do so. They are experts in finding alternatives and they have no desire to put up with bad user experiences that get in the way of accomplishing tasks. They want technology to be efficient and to not waste their time. They want to re-enter data as little as possible. All of this makes free trials of products more important than ever: millennials want to see if there’s a fit before committing to a contract.
Millennials also expect technology to play a large role in the learning process. They expect teachers to speak the same digital language as them, and for teaching to incorporate multimedia resources and even aspects of entertainment. Many educators have responded to these trends by adopting a ‘flipped classroom’ approach, where the lecture part of a class is recorded on video for viewing before the session, and the actual class itself consists of individual or group exercises and study tasks. Gamification has also proved popular – this approach applies game-like elements to traditional teaching frameworks. These elements may include point scoring, competition with others, and rewards for certain landmarks; all of which can inspire motivation and interest in students.
Image by Francisco Osorio, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.
What millennials expect from customer service
As Nielsen puts it, ‘millennials are changing the structure of business strategies and customer care through their dual love of technology and driving desire for personal interchanges.’ Millennials take to social media to celebrate or lambast brands and technologies, meaning they will be companies’ greatest advocates or harshest critics in real-time.
According to The Aspect Consumer Experience Index, over the past year, millennials have moved away from at least one company because of bad customer service. For all interactive technologies, from smartphones to websites to mobile apps to SaaS apps, it’s imperative to provide the most usable, self-guided, hiccup-free, efficient user experiences in history. Millennials also want to stay in control and work out how to fix problems themselves wherever possible, and expect a company's website to include self-service tools.
When it comes to higher education, millennials increasingly see themselves as customers, and more emphasis is being put on the ‘experience’ of attending university, rather than the education. They feel entitled to a level of service beyond that which universities have traditionally offered – due in part to increasingly high tuition fees. Millennials want to actively shape university policy and course content. They want to interact with universities by email and social media, and expect prompt replies to their queries. As a result, universities are releasing their own apps to provide students digital access to information like timetables and news bulletins. Institutions are increasingly investing in student centres with staff dedicated to providing these services, and spending more on survey administration, eager to gauge the opinion of existing students and alumni to better understand their market.
More than any generation before them, millennials want technology to be intuitive, easy to use and well-designed. They want customer service to be prompt, personalised and as tailored towards self-service as possible. And this increasingly extends to higher education.
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