Australia – nay, the world – is about to undergo seismic change. The next decade will see the biggest transfer of wealth from one generation to the next ever to occur. Businesses will change hands, family assets will be inherited (and more often, dissolved) and fortunes will be built and lost. India and China will erupt in a youth boom of technology and supercomputing. In Australia, we’ll see Boomers leaning heavily on the healthcare system, while Gen X-ers, millennials and Gen Ys attempt to negotiate wealth and commerce in an increasingly fraught economy and ecology. New markets are emerging.
Too often, senior business owners ignore the economic and political power of the generations beneath them who make up these new markets – in particular millennials and Gen Y’s. This willing blindness is evinced in several ways, none of which do anything to improve their bottom lines in the immediate. If they fail to recognise shifting expectations around communications, legitimacy and transparency, it will come at the cost of their practices. This deficit impacts most heavily upon businesses in the service categories, such as accountants and brokers, healthcare professionals, architects and draftspeople, lawyers and mediators. These industries look to referral as their key source of recurring income. All businesses want to service their existing clients and their clients’ networks efficiently – this is unlikely to change, as it is both cost-effective in terms of marketing, and is the reward for a job well done.
What many ‘legacy’ or heritage service businesses fail to recognise is that their consumer is changing; if they want to have thriving practices in the coming decade, they will need to begin to communicate and understand their businesses (and themselves) as brands. Generation X’s, millennials and Gen Y’s have matured (or are maturing) into home owners, business people and parents. Their purchasing power is real, and their decision-making process is complex. Yes, they will look to referral from friends and family. But they’ll also look to Facebook Groups, Google Reviews and traditional media forms to find service providers. It is incorrect to suppose that the users of social media are still ‘just kids’ focused on selfies and sharing their latest avocado smash. They are increasingly mobile professionals with real needs they need met, and real economic power.
Change is hard. Doubly so if you’re a business owner who hasn’t felt the need to market in the past, or if you’re in a conservative service category filled with peers who look at social media and customer service as a ‘nice to have, not necessary’ element of everyday trade. But change is coming, and service businesses need to adopt new ways of building legitimacy and relationship into their brands.
Here are the key ways that perfectly good businesses are losing their millennial clients.
Referral business is hard-won. It’s the best business of all, because your prospect is already warm. The first place your new customer will go upon receiving a referral is the internet; they’ll be looking to see your credos. These assets include a website that is clear, accurate, branded and in concert with the service you run. A graphic designer or an architect with a website circa 1995? That’s a bad look. They’ll also look for you on LinkedIn. If you’re presenting yourself as a Senior Consultant, CEO or Director, a selfie and cobbled-together professional copy won’t gel. And then they’ll seek our your business on Facebook or Instagram. If all digital assets they search for you on are either non-existant or poor quality, they will actively diminish your legitimacy. Even if their Mum or best friend Sally referred you to them.
Luckily, legitimacy and digital assets are easily built in collaboration with a designer, geek and social media agency (or similar). Being a citizen of the digital world is just part of being in business today, and it’s a strategic advantage for service-based businesses to ensure they’re smashing it.
When we are looking for a service provider, we seek an expert who is enthusiastic to work with us. That doesn’t mean we want a slavering, overly-friendly accountant, Doctor, lawyer, estate agent or broker … but we do want to know that we’re in safe, professional hands and that the service provider we’re appointing will be reliable and approachable. That first email communication or phone call is critical to establishing rapport. How would you rate your customer’s first experience of your business when calling? I recently called a service-provider whose phone manner was so poor that despite referral, I decided against proceeding with them. They couldn’t remember the person who made the referral to them (and made this obvious), they repeatedly were unable to take my details down accurately, and they wanted to make an appointment that suited their commute home. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with managing a diary in your own favour; but it’s important that your prospective client feels of value and as though they are not inconveniencing you. How can you improve your listening skills, and what language might you use to show enthusiasm whilst maintaining your own boundaries?
Customers don’t need to tolerate bad vibes or poor communications; they’ll simply Google another provider. This has nothing to do with the delivery of your actual service, and everything to do with the way you manage onboarding clients.
What system does your business use for following up prospective clients? Much business falls through the gaps through a lack of follow-up, failing to remind potential customers about your service and benefits.
Depending on your service, the ‘gestation’ period your client will take to reach the decision-making point could take months. In the real estate category, for example, prospects need to be entertained and ‘touched upon’ for years before it’s time to do business! You need a scaleable solution to managing clients who have shown interest in your service – whether they’re past clients, or yet-to-become clients. Depending on the size of your prospect list, diarising occasional email check-ins or calls – paired with a monthly quality newsletter – could be just the trick.
If you’ve a larger group of prospective clients or regular service users, you may wish to use ‘funnels’ – automated series of educational newsletters that will occur for a set period of time. Funnels are a terrific time-saving device, giving your prospects time to develop a relationship with your brand and reminding them of your seniority in the services space.
How many of these behaviours do you recognise in your own business? Every business has gaps in its business marketing strategy to be plugged or improved. The key thing to take away from this article is: don’t rely on referrals alone. With a new generation of decision makers, minimum compliance isn’t enough to keep any business competitive.