Tools of the Trade …putting Generation Y to good use

Customer service is never a one-man or one-woman business. The notion that “no one is an island” is very true when it comes to providing a great experience for the customer. Those who have attempted to do the job all by themselves have had to find out the hard way.

Individuals must necessarily work together to ensure that an organisation gives its customers the best of service. In my experience, the best employees are those that know how to work well with others. Great team players make for great employees.

Teamwork is not only confined to employees within the organisation, department or unit. Teamwork must also take into consideration those outside the company. There must always be collaboration between employees and the customers they seek to serve as well as all other stakeholders such as suppliers and distributors, etc. In other words, customers must collaborate with employees if customer service is to be described as good, great or excellent.

Thankfully, there are tools that an organisation can make use of to ensure that collaboration of whatever kind is always smooth. These are aptly termed collaboration tools. Collaboration, in this sense, simply means working with another individual or group in order to achieve an aim. A collaboration tool therefore is any a technology tool that can be used to help people work together to achieve a common goal or objective.

I like to group collaboration tools into two categories—the simple low-tech ones and the high tech ones. The former will include simple tools such as flipcharts and whiteboards around which colleagues can gather and brainstorm on an issue. Even Post-it Notes or Sticky Notes that are shared among colleagues qualify as collaboration tools. The high tech kind includes all the online collaboration tools such as e-mails, voicemails, online calendars, etc. This kind involves Google Drive, Dropbox, Instagram, iCloud and Workplace by Facebook.

There are so many collaboration tools available for organisations to choose from. The choice of collaboration tools is very important for every organisation since no tools, wrong set of tools and a mismatch of tools with personnel have the potential to create wrong customer experiences.

Collaboration tools are very important for the daily operations of the business, especially when it has to do with activities that require teamwork. If you have had to hold a brainstorming session without flipcharts or whiteboards, you would truly appreciate the importance of collaboration tools. Can you imagine not being able to hold a press conference with multiple stakeholders on a very important matter? Can you imagine the frustration of not having internet access for an important Skype meeting?

Another advantage of making use of collaboration tools is that they aid in the development of new ideas which can lead to the development of new products and services. Brainstorming sessions for newer and better ways of serving customers are much more effective with the right collaboration tools.

The proper use of collaboration tools can also be very cost-effective. Meetings that would take lots of man-hours and resources to put together can be done with without any fuss. Messages that would take days and weeks to send across the world can be sent with the just the tap of a key.

The use of collaboration tools especially between a business and its customers can also provide valuable feedback for the organisation. Online collaboration tools such as video conferencing tools can help an organisation to not only stay in touch with its customers but to collect very valuable feedback—and feedback is precious resource for every organisation when put to good use.

As the world becomes much more connected with newer technologies popping up every now and then, more tools for collaboration are coming into the world of business. This situation brings to the fore the need for individuals with the right knowhow to make the best use of these tools. Even the right tools will not do much good if the people utilising them have no idea what they are doing.

According to a 2015 Ernst and Young report titled, “Global Generations: A Global Study on Work-Life Challenges across Generations,” by 2025, millennials—i.e. individuals born from the early-80s to the mid-90s, and also known as Generation Y—will comprise three-quarters of the global workforce. This will make them a very important generation in the coming years.

Studies upon studies revealed that these millennials have a totally different approach when it comes to their choice of collaboration tools. Since the workforce is going to be comprised of these young tech-loving individuals, it is therefore important that their choices are considered by organisations when going for collaborations tools. It is important the technology needs of the organisation must be dictated, to a large extent, by these technophiles. Anything less and the organisation would be in real trouble.

I have had a personal experience in this regard. There used to be a time when I did some work for an organisation that had a television station among its many businesses. One day we hired a new guy to handle our editing suite. On the day this young gentleman arrived, we took him around to show him the many gadgets and tools we had made available for him to ensure that he gave off his best.

I still remember the look on his face when we took him into the editing suite. To say he was disappointed would be putting it mildly. It was clear that the many expensive machines we—the Generation X executives—thought were the best tools for this Generation Y chap was actually not that impressive to him. He told us there and then that he wished we had the latest versions of the machines we had spent so much money on. You can imagine how “hurt” we were.

That incident is actually not an isolated case—at least, according to an August 2015 study by California-based Dimensional Research and sponsored by Information software providers, Alfresco Software. Titled “Collaboration Trends and Technology: A Survey of Knowledge Workers,” the study indicated that 59% of the millennials surveyed claimed that they had challenges with the kind of collaboration tools made available to them at work.

Interestingly, while 71% of the millennials who took part in the survey said they face challenges with the collaboration tools they work with, only 45% of adults born from 1946 to 1964, otherwise known as “Baby Boomers, had issues with their tools. This stat alone should be a clear enough proof of the extent of the generational gap between these two generations.

Generation Y employees are of a different make. Having grown up in a world which is truly becoming a global village and growing smaller by the day, Generation Y’ers think, act and work differently.  They understand things that the older generation would struggle to make meaning of.

For those of us who grew up during the days of floppy disks and video cassettes, these can be strange times. That is the way of the Generation Y and to think of the fact that the Generation Zs are coming up scares me. The Generation Zs might even be “worse”. Put a phone or tablet into the hands of a toddler today and you would know what I am talking about. One cannot therefore discount these dynamics when it comes to putting in the right collaboration tools for a business set up.

If there is one word that clearly defines the thinking of this generation, it must be the word ‘FREEDOM’. This accounts for why a 2014 report by the US-based business investigations and intelligence firm, Intelligence Group indicated that 72% of millennials want to run their own business one day. They want to be on their own as soon as possible. It is therefore not surprising that millennials seek collaboration tools that are flexible and can even be made available on their many smart mobile devices.

Bentley University in Massachusetts published a study in November 2014 titled “The Millennial Mind Goes to Work: How Millennial Preferences Will Shape the Future of the Modern Workplace.” In that study, it was found that as high as 77% of millennials believe that flexible work hours would make them more productive. This led to the some experts claiming that by the next decade, millennials would have done away with the normal 8am-5pm work day.

Millennials can also be very adventurous. If they find out that the collaboration tools available to them are malfunctioning, they would find other means of still going ahead with the collaboration. They have the technical knowhow and they would not hesitate to put it to use to collaborate with colleagues or customers alike.

According to a June 2016 Thought Leadership Paper released by US-based Forrester Consulting and commissioned by Silicon Valley, California-based collaboration software provider, Prysm, collaboration tools are indeed very important to the proper functioning of an organisation. Titled, “Digital, Disparate, and Disengaged,” it was made evident that 71% of respondents insisted that they are more likely to remain with their current employers if investments were made in more modern, digital collaboration solution. The same study claimed further that 83% of respondents say that the right tools can actually help them become more productive.

When you add these to figures from the August 2015 Dimensional Research report, you will understand the very important role collaboration tools will play in the future. According to the Dimensional Research study, 83% of millennials depend on technology to collaborate while 82% said they would be impacted by the loss of collaboration technology.

However, there is a need to issue a word of caution when it comes to millennials and their love for sophisticated collaboration tools. The 2015 Dimensional Research study discussed earlier also found that of millennials surveyed “only 38% always think of data security when collaborating externally.” Furthermore, “11% revealed that they never consider data security when collaborating externally.” Millennials must therefore be advised to be a little more cautious when collaborating with external customers.

It is true that the future belongs to those who prepare adequately for it. Tomorrow belongs to those who are ready for it. Businesses have a great opportunity to prepare in advance to make use of all the available collaboration tools to ensure that their employees are giving off their very best. If the best farmer will achieve very little without the right implements, so would a customer-handling employee struggle to please customers without the right tools of the trade.

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