3 Happy People“The world is flat.”

I have faint memories of it being uttered by an econ professor in college and probably even wrote a paper on it, but its meaning escapes me. What does that mean? Who said it?

After a quick Google search and scan of a Wikipedia article, I’m reminded that the famous economist Thomas Friedman spoke the words, and he was referring to how globalization in the 21st century has led to a level playing field that allows everyone equal access to the global marketplace. Friedman’s book was published back in 2005 and, while this may seem like yesterday to most of us, I would venture to say that he would make some significant adjustments or additions should he have started his book today. The most notable adjustment would be to take into account the rapidly expanding influence of the constantly connected, information-hungry Millennial Generation.

To help Friedman millennialize his book, I would first suggest he re-name it to “The World Is Clear.” I say this because transparency is unavoidable in today’s marketplace. The everyday millennial consumer has access to any and all information with the quick squeeze of the Siri button or a few keystrokes on a laptop or mobile device. By 2017 Cisco is projecting that the average person will own 5 internet connected devices. (Take a look at this presentation; it is very interesting!) This may seem unrealistic but think about it right now: do you own an iPad? A Smartphone? A laptop? That’s 3 already! In the years to come, technology companies will undoubtedly come out with more amazing must-have internet-connected gadgets pushing this number up and making the world even more transparent.

Becoming a Millennial Company

So what does this mean to the business owner? Each device is another chance for someone to influence the success of your company by way of reading a review, sharing an experience or interaction on social media, or judging your business based on your website alone. This fact makes it crucial to adopt a business strategy where you use your knowledge, resources, and expertise to not merely provide a service or a product, but also an experience.

A recent Forrester report broke down some of the most popular and significant technology trends for 2014. The one that caught my eye was their recognition that delivering a compelling digital experience is critical for both customer acquisition and retention. Being able to engage your prospects and customers through personalized interaction as well as providing an interactive customer experience is what is driving cutting edge businesses today.  I have pinpointed three businesses that are seeing tremendous success and growth by taking a millennial approach to centuries-old products and services:

1. Uber

Uber is livery business that has taken the ancient concept of transportation for hire to a new level. They provide various levels of service from small sedans (UberX) to large SUVs. The backbone of the Uber experience is a mobile app that displays a map interface showing the Uber vehicles in your area. When a car is on its way, Uber informs you via text message of the driver’s name and also when they will arrive. The drivers are personable and focus on service, typically getting out to open your door and also providing bottles of water for the ride. When you arrive at your destination, there is no exchange of money as your credit card is linked into the app and the fare is automatically charged. Finally, you are asked to review your ride. If a driver accrues a bad reputation, he or she is let go.

So what makes Uber a millennial company? They have spared no expense at taking something as simple as a cab ride and turning it into a customer experience. The app provides transparency and peace of mind as to where your car is and when it will arrive, and the level of service provided makes the rider (customer) feel as though they are a celebrity. Uber takes additional steps to ‘delight’ their customers by running fun seasonal promotions. During the summer, they periodically run ice cream trucks, which you can track via their mobile app. During the holidays, they use their app and cars to deliver Christmas trees. Although one can only speculate on the ROI of these activities, the folks at Uber know they are crucial to enhancing the experience of their customers, thus generating brand loyalty and customer evangelism. Uber’s slogan touts “Everyone’s personal driver,” which illustrates their true understanding of the millennial market and their demand for a personalized experience.

Key Takeaway from Uber: The customer is king. No matter what business you are in, people buy from you. You should make them feel as though they are the center of the universe through exceptional service and unexpected moments of delight.

2. Grouper

Grouper’s mission statement is to “end loneliness,” and that is exactly what they are doing with their unique take on online dating. Tackling that initial first date awkwardness, Grouper has set up a system that leverages Facebook profiles to match two people up on a date based on their mutual likes. This is a good start to increasing the likelihood of a successful first date, but then they kick it up a notch. Each grouper member is required to bring two friends on the date, which turns the first date into a small organized party of like-minded people.  

As I am a satisfied Grouper customer, I can attest to their amazing customer experience. It goes something like this: Once you are paired with your date and the time is established, Grouper assigns you a meetup location, which is one of their member bars or restaurants. When you arrive and mention to the maître d' that you are with Grouper, they escort you to your reserved table. If your dates are running late, Grouper will inform you via text message to keep you up to date and allow you to plan accordingly. Throughout the date, someone from Grouper texts you to make sure things are going smoothly and will respond to your questions on the spot. Finally once the Grouper evening is done, your dates have a chance to rate how you did (politeness, how fun you were, etc.), and your performance scores drive a rewards program.

So why is Grouper a millennial company? Their use of technology to personalize the customer experience and their ability to engage and interact with their customers throughout the process sets them well apart from other online dating sites. Likewise they put a heavy emphasis on fun by turning the typical “interrogation” feel of the first date into a stimulating group experience.

Key Takeaway from Grouper: Transparency and engagement is key in driving customer happiness. Now, more than ever, businesses have the technology available to them to be in constant contact with their prospects and customers. Millennials expect this as they have grown up in a world of instant gratification and information. We live in a real time economy.

3. Bonobos

For me, finding a pair of well-fitting pants has proven near impossible over the years due to my ridiculously obtuse dimensions. Either the waist is too big or the legs too short, and custom-tailored pants are not exactly an economically sustainable habit. Enter: Bonobos.

Bonobos is a men’s clothing company that took a centuries-old product—pants—and set out to perfect them. While their prices are premium (typically $70 - $100 per pair) they put heavy emphasis on quality of product and perfect-fit assurance. Further, they have platinum-level customer service with a no-questions-asked return policy and easy-to-access service reps, ensuring you are never left in the dark.

So what makes Bonobos a millennial company? Aside from their instant responses to social media inquires and interactions (take a look at their Facebook page), they have adopted an extremely unique model that combines brick-and-mortar “Guideshops” with their ecommerce website sales. You can purchase directly from their website; however, you also have the option to schedule an appointment at one of their Guideshops. Your Guideshop appointment is a personalized shopping experience that includes getting your measurements taken for custom fit clothing and help with putting together outfits.

I urge you to watch this video as it is an excellent example of how to be a millennial company. There is no doubt that when you walk into a boutique and are greeted by a personal shopping guide that you will feel like you are the center of the universe. All in all, Bonobos is an amazing example of how millennial businesses are using innovative strategies to personalize their customer experiences and drive growth.

Key takeaway from Bonobos: Whether selling light bulbs or jets, every business has the opportunity to be more creative with their strategy to drive differentiation. Bonobos has taken an existing model and made a few small tweaks to make it completely original and, therefore, valuable. Rethinking your current model is a great exercise. Even if you end up not making any changes, you will gain a deeper insight into your business and how relevant your strategy is to today’s millennial business environment. 

In conclusion, no matter what type of industry you are in, there are opportunities to increase engagement with your prospects and customers, enhance the experience that your company provides, and leverage the endless amounts of data available on the internet to your advantage. Sit down, brainstorm, and think about how you can become a millennial company!

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Originally published Jun 12, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023