Katelyn Burrill | 06.22.17
Summary >

When you hear the word millennial, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Lazy? Entitled? Socially awkward? Tech savvy?

No matter your opinion, there’s undoubtedly been an avalanche of news about millennials in the workplace lately. Some of it is glowing with positivity, other pieces are downright hostile. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this coverage has been anything but helpful, when it comes to hiring and motivating millennials to do quality work.

According to Pew Research, millennials surpassed boomers as the largest chunk in the US workforce back in 2015, and now make up a full 30%. News flash: It’s time to stop talking about millennials like they’re a rare species appearing on Animal Planet, and time to start figuring out how millennials and boomers can work together.

In field service management, we’re facing one of the toughest, and highly opportune times in history. Our success or failure in the face of these challenges will be determined by one thing; whether or not we can get millennials and boomers working together efficiently.

The first challenge is our aging workforce. According to The Service Council, 70% of service organizations report they’ll be facing a pinch as they lose workers to retirement in the coming years. Second is technology. According to recent ClickSoftware research, customers have come to expect lightning-fast resolution, Uber-like experiences, and simpler appointment booking.

Are we keeping up? Not even close.

The good news is with their powers combined, boomers and millennials should prove an unstoppable force in service. Just like bacon and eggs, Starsky and Hutch, Han Solo and Chewbacca, we believe each bring something unique to service that the other doesn’t.

Here are five character traits of boomers and millennials that when combined will yield exponential gains in field service.

1. Technically Brilliant & Customer-centric

Brilliant may be an overstatement, but millennials are most certainly more technically gifted than their boomer counterparts. This is the generation that considers computer programming code as much of a language as Spanish, or French. This is also the generation that pioneered nearly all of the apps that are digitally disrupting business as we know it (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Facebook).

Boomers, on the other hand, have a customer-centric mindset and bedside manner that is seemingly lacking in their millennial counterparts. Boomers brought us the satisfaction guarantee, and were taught if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Boomers are also not afraid to roll up their sleeves, and get the job done right. All of these traits mean their face-to-face service skills are top notch.

If your organization was able to combine the technical aptitude of millennials, and the customer-first mindset of boomers, could anyone possibly compete with you? Unlikely.

2. Driven by Purpose & Fueled By Getting the Job Done

In 2016, Gallup released a study on what drives millennials; in this study they found that millennials who feel connected to a purpose in their workplace are highly satisfied, and likely to stay. Millennials are a passionate bunch. They want to feel connected to something more than a paycheck. They are taking longer to have kids, redefining what college means, and calling many social norms into question. When motivated by purpose, millennials are quite capable of achieving huge big things.

Boomers, on the other hand, are fueled by getting the job done. At large, work has been the center of most baby boomers’ lives. Getting the right job, being promoted, working hard, providing for a growing family are common themes among boomers. They brought the world Six Sigma, corporate efficiency, and working overtime.

That’s not to say boomers aren’t purpose-driven. Quite the opposite. But on the whole they don’t need their work lives to support a social, religious, or deeper purpose in the same way millennials often demand.

If these differences can be embraced, both groups will improve their service organizations exponentially. It’s time for millennials to roll up their sleeves, and boomers to embrace deeper meaning in their everyday work lives. In an age of personalized service, the need for both are self-evident.

3. Unconventional Curiosity & Decades of Experience

Many millennials have grown up learning to ask one question; why?

As the world has become increasingly complex across religion, economics, politics, and even media—a great many millennials who were raised amidst this chaos want answers. They don’t trust traditional news, and some don’t trust superiors in the workplace. While their unconventional curiosity is often demonized, we believe it can be harnessed as a secret weapon. Artificial intelligence, wearables, the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data are all reshaping our industry. We’ll need people asking tough questions, if these new technologies will work in our favor.

Baby boomers are the backbone of service, and bring decades of field-based knowledge. Which can act as a perfect counterbalance to a new generation of service professionals asking tough questions. As we explore new ways of reaching customers and technologies to optimize service, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

4. Social Online & Social In the Real World

In 2012, Business Insider claimed millennials would lose much of their face-to-face social candor, and all of their deep-thinking skills by 2020 due to the constant distraction from smartphones and social media. While we most certainly are living through an age of digital media over-consumption, the truth of the matter is much less severe than business insider predicted.

Millennials are incredibly savvy with social media, and this is a key advantage for service teams. Many customers now demand instant answers, socialized service, and online attention that only millennials can provide in real-time.

On the flip side, baby boomers have superior real-world social skills. In an increasingly digital world, speaking ability, and social candor are also proving a key differentiator in service. As more and more customers get fed up with call centers, being put on hold, and waiting six hours for a service technician to show up, these real-world social skills are more important than ever.

Service organizations willing to embrace and leverage both the social media-savvy millennials, and the real-world socialite boomers will win big in the coming years.

Increasingly, customers want omni-channel service, and each generation stands to give deliver service at unique stages of the customer journey.

5. Wants Training & Has Knowledge to Train

According to a KPCB Internet Trends report, among all the potential workplace benefits valued among millennials, “Training & Development” rank highest. Compared to many other generations, millennials accept that the world is changing, and likewise understand their skill set must evolve too. In service, we are facing the potential for a massive brain drain as aging workers retire. Why not leap at the opportunity to better train and develop a whole new generation of workers who have professed eagerness in the opportunity?

Baby boomers, on the other hand, have deep knowledge gained from years of on-the-job learning. Often times in field service, these technicians are the busiest because of their proficiency. Which means, their knowledge and skills are rarely passed down.

Sure, there will be communication challenges. Of course, pairing up millennials and boomers for training comes with the risk that they don’t understand or even respect one another. But, ask yourself—do we really have another option?

Whether or not you believe all the bogus news painting boomers and millennials as fundamentally irreconcilable, keep this fact in mind: millennials are now the largest group in our collective workforce.

If boomers don’t find a way to motivate, inspire, and work alongside millennials, the risks for field service are high. We can tap millennials to help us disrupt the service industry from the inside, or we can wait for them to come up with the next big app, platform, or digital disruptor from the outside.

It is the opinion of this publication that we’d all be better off with the first option.

For more news, advice, and coverage on all things field service, subscribe to the Field Service Matters blog.