The electrical industry has seen how technology is rapidly changing the way business is done, with different methods now used to interact with and support customers. What’s more: a new workforce - the millennial generation - is flowing into the industry. Millennials have grown up with technological advancements, many never even knowing a time before the Internet. However, with many smaller companies still using more traditional approaches to business, these new workers are being hired into environments in which the technology they know is not being adopted. Additionally, once brought onboard, millennials’ employers may not be utilizing these individuals in a way that maximizes their strengths and skill sets.
In April, tED Magazine hosted its monthly Twitter #tEDChat to discuss what keeps you – members of the electrical industry – up at night. Voices from throughout the channel agreed that adapting to new technology, along with bringing in and retaining millennials, were top concerns. We wanted to go a little deeper and explore how companies in our industry are currently thinking about millennials and technology in the workplace. In this article, we provide the viewpoints of a few #tEDChat participants, as well as some suggestions for integrating new industry members and technology into the channel.
Technology is Your Friend
Simply put, a company caught up on the latest technology will appeal to potential millennial customers and employees alike. However, certain factors, such as the time commitment, financial cost, and the failure of decision makers to embrace newer tools, has limited the use of technology for some within the electrical industry (e.g. EDI, eCommerce, or mobile apps).
As customers’ buying habits continue to change, the lack of technology adoption will become more painful. “Your customers are living their lives every day with this expanding technology, but then must turn it off to do business with you,” said tED Magazine publisher, Scott Costa. “I just don’t think that’s good business.”
Director of Marketing and Communications at NAED, Linda Thurman, agreed. “They [millennials] expect the customer relations process to be simple, quick, and cheap. As a millennial myself, I’m less likely to pick up the phone to call a business if I can just email them,” said Thurman.
Having up-to-date technology not only helps with external processes; it also greatly improves internal ones. “Improving the capability to collect and filter data through technology can help an organization find root causes of flaws in their processes, help to identify issues more quickly, and address customers’ concerns in a more speedy and personal way,” said Kerry Nedic, Vice President of Marketing at Emerson’s Appleton Group.
First Steps to Integrate Technology in the Office
So, if you are a company lacking in the latest and greatest technology, where do you start?
- Have a strategy. Look at all of your options and consider how new tools can integrate with your existing business. Will an email marketing tool link with your customer management system? Does an eCommerce site platform pull in your product data automatically? Assess what needs you have, and then look for tools that meet those needs.
- Start small. Technology is not all-or-nothing. If overwhelmed by the options, start by getting your toes wet. Send some emails instead of exclusively making calls; create digital versions of advertisements or product information to supplement print versions; set up your business systems to exchange EDI with your trading partners instead of faxing, emailing, or mailing documentation. These small changes will lead to larger outcomes.
- Plan for the next generation. The tools that your company adopts now will have an impact on business for the next few decades. Consider not only what your customers want today, but also what they will want 20 years from now. Talk to your customers, and ask them what they are looking for in a buying experience. Once you have a baseline of expectation, it will be easier to plan ahead.
- Ask for help. You don’t have to be in this alone! Some projects, especially at smaller companies, are hard to manage. Don’t assume that you will be able to implement large technology changes without an IT staff or someone who can strategize how to integrate the changes into your company’s larger framework.
Millennials as Customers and Employees
When millennials shop, they are looking for a company that already has a presence in the digital world with which they interact every day.
“I’m more likely to check out a business’ social media page to hopefully get honest reactions from other consumers before I proceed with any serious business decisions with them,” said Thurman. “ Also, an excellent website will go a long way – that includes eCommerce! If their website doesn’t look legitimate, there’s no way that I’m going to trust them with future business, much less my credit card information.”
Adding millennials, who are more likely to be familiar with technology and the way your customers think, to your workforce is a great way to set your company up for success.
“Millennials want to be on the ground floor and make something great using tomorrow’s technology and an innovative boss ready to grow with them,” said Costa. “Companies that fail to innovate are dead-ends to millennials.”
One of the largest concerns in bringing younger workers into the industry is how to integrate the talent and ideas they bring with those of the more-experienced industry veterans. How can companies introduce newer, fresher faces to help advance, not replace, the way businesses have been operating?
How to Use Millennials
- Two-way knowledge exchange. View hiring new staff as a way to integrate new methods and tools with the proven techniques of industry veterans. Nothing can replace industry relationships or depth of knowledge, but those things can be implemented in a newer, more effective way. Consider starting a mentorship program within your company, where millennials and more-experienced staff can learn from each other. Above all, respect and collaboration on both sides is essential.
- Understand that technology is not just IT. The technology a company uses helps to define its brand. The image that customers see of you online, or during their shopping experience, is now heavily dependent upon new methods of communication. Your marketing department needs to get its hands on assets such as product data to ensure that the information present on your website will sell product. Your sales department needs an effective customer management system. Company divisions can no longer be kept in silos.
- Create positions to manage new processes. Creating and managing an eCommerce site is not a side project that can be completed in your IT department’s spare time. Consider using millennials, who have an understanding of what online customers are looking for, to manage your online efforts. Additionally, hire employees to manage the product data that your business system and website use. Marketing and IT need to work together now more than ever, and having a middleman who can translate for each side is invaluable.
Adapt or Die
So, what can both millennials and industry veterans take away from this? For those hesitant to adapt to new technology and methods, we suggest thinking smart.
“At some point, you have to accept that what worked 10-20 years ago is not going to work four years from now, when millennials make up more than half of the workforce,” said Costa. “The future of your business is on the line here. You need to embrace the technology that is going to keep you in business for the next 50 years.”
“You have to have a nimbleness and adaptability about you if you want to provide the kind of leadership that will allow an organization to grow and succeed,” Nedic said.
And what advice is there for millennials coming into the electrical industry?
“Be patient, but assertive,” Nedic continued. “Choose your battles wisely, and don’t get frustrated – tuck the experience in your belt and drive on.”
Just like higher-ranking employees, millennials should avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly. “Keep an open mind,” said Thurman. “There are so many great, amazing things to learn from the electrical industry, but you have to be open to accept it and learn from it.”
The future opportunities for millennials in the electrical industry are bigger now than ever, according to Costa. “This is your chance. Take it. Own it. Show. Teach. Grow.”
Ultimately, the way the market is advancing offers an abundance of learning opportunities for everyone in the electrical industry. How each person decides to take advantage of those opportunities will determine if they sink or swim. Learning how to adapt doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes practice and determination. Starting today with some small steps will help set up the industry for generations of success.