Voice of the Millennial: Workplace Culture Analysis of the Retail/Customer Service Sector

As we learned from our recent guest post author, Bill Latta, the sales industry has always been a tough nut to crack for all generations. Burnout in the sales industry is always an issue, regardless of generation. But as 15 executives shared this week regarding their first jobs, you’ve gotta start somewhere.

However, Millennials are growing up and entering the workforce in a different world, where purchasing behavior is changing dramatically. There are many posts and new thought leaders rising in the world of how to market to Millennials and analyzing the Millennial consumer. But what about Millennials employed as sales and customer service professionals? How is the world changing for them?

I interviewed Shaun Kelly, a Millennial who has already worked multiple retail jobs in a span of nearly 7 years, including Best Buy, Lowe’s, and Sam’s Club, on the road to getting his college degree. Like many Millennials, he has thoughts of being an entrepreneur and looks for meaningful, flexible work. What has he learned from his experiences so far?

Q: What did your retail employers do well that you liked? How did they keep you interested and engaged in the work?

I loved working at Best Buy. I stayed there the longest because they pay you to research the products. So you get to learn about the latest technology and become a better salesperson, too.

I also really liked the management. They would come to you with the sales targets for each product every day, so you knew exactly the goals you were working towards. You knew where to spend your time and what success looked like.

At other places it was hit or miss with the management. I appreciated places where I wasn’t micromanaged, but the managers were always available if help was needed. But in other places, a lot of the time dealing with the manager was a greater challenge than selling the product. The manager would not be available when someone needed help or would say, “Just figure it out” and leave you on your own when you clearly asked for help.

Q: Was there more that they could have done to increase your productivity? What would you have improved?

At the end of the day, it always comes down to the management. Typically, that was why I left. There were situations where managers wouldn’t take the time to positively reinforce my work, even when I’d seen a customer I’d just worked with passing on positive feedback about me to my manager. I’d never hear the feedback and that was definitely a de-motivator.

Culture also played a role. At some workplaces, there was a pretty big generational gap. We didn’t easily work together as a team to meet the business goals. Team events would have helped, because it was always harder to relate to the wide variety of employees.

Also, career progression played a role. For example, ultimately, the reason I left Best Buy was because I had done everything I could do there. I had worked in all the different departments and learned everything I could. I wish there had been more room for growth and if I could have seen an upward path there, I probably would have stayed.

Q: What differences have you observed with consumers today? What changes do you foresee to the retail industry with Millennials as the key consumers of the future?

A major difference that I’ve seen with consumers today, as compared to when I first started working, is how quickly they want their products and services. Customers will literally ask you “What is the best product for the price?”, grab that product and head to the check-out. As a sales professional, I always liked asking the customer some questions to figure out which product is the most suitable for that specific person because everyone is different and has varying needs.
I definitely see the future of retail shopping as becoming more easily accessible, as seen by continued growth with online sales, a bigger increase in automated check-outs, and with brilliant marketing that makes up our minds for us. This may be a little far-fetched, but having store workers do the shopping for you and having your products ready for pick-up as you walk in may be the next thing.

Thanks Shaun, for sharing your input from the front line!

Chris Hoyt, Marketing and Business Strategy Consultant, did an excellent analysis through the new LinkedIn Publishing Platform, Pulse, of the transformational time for the retail industry titled “Apple Store Changes Signal the Next Era of Retail”. He looks at how Apple is focusing on selling a lifestyle vs. selling a product. As a result, employees need to be educated thoroughly on the product, the target customer, and the company’s brand.

This is new and I believe it’s a good thing. It gives employees more buy-in to the companies – if they believe in the product and are given the proper training, they will be selling a lifestyle, increasing product penetration into the market. Also, as Shaun notes, the new customer expects retail sales employees to immediately have recommendations about products. This requires a different type of training than today.

Furthermore, again echoing both Bill Latta and Shaun Kelly, investing in your employees’ dreams is critical. This includes being aware of career progression goals, as well as personal development goals. A great example of this in industry is the latest move by Starbucks: The Starbucks College Achievement Plan – offering full tuition reimbursement for employees to complete their degrees.

Starbucks recognizes the skyrocketing costs of a college education and, through a unique partnership with Arizona State University, is offering thousands of baristas and employees a chance to finish earning their degree. You can learn more from this article in the NY Times regarding this unique initiative.

Software Advice recently did a random survey from over 1,400 applicants to their sales positions in the last year on what was most important to applicants. The survey results showed that Culture/Atmosphere and Satisfaction/Fulfillment rank nearly as high as Salary and Benefits. Things like meaningful work and positive atmosphere aren’t going away.

Data Courtesy of HR consulting firm Software Advice.

The retail industry is most assuredly changing. How are yon changing your retail work culture to match? How can you become a Best Buy or a Starbucks, a place where someone is dedicated to staying for numerous years?