A decade ago, the phrase “customer experience” meant a past-tense, start-to-sale look at an individual buyer’s brand interactions.
The CX term began to take on new meaning around 2011, when chief experience officers started to crop up at enterprises like FedEx and SAP. Most came from general manager, marketing, and operations leadership roles, and they were often the first to hold the new title at their companies.
Around the same time, another trend took hold: Generation Z entered the economy. In 2011, the generation born after 1996 started high school. As this group began earning their own disposable income through after-school jobs, CX was gaining executive-level attention—and these changes directly influenced how Gen Z interacts with the companies they buy from.
CX’s Digital Decision
Although CX includes the in-store experience, executives have understandably spent more time focused on the digital path. Not only is the online portion of the customer journey more predictable and trackable than the physical one, but improving it also requires less upfront investment. It’s far easier to develop and tweak web copy, for instance, than it is to edit a series of television ads. It’s worth noting, too, that younger generations devote more time to devices than their predecessors.
Whatever the ROI of digital and real-world optimization, CX-minded marketers have shaped Gen Zers’ online lives by anticipating their needs and heightening their expectations. By sending the right messages at the right time to the right people, marketers showed Gen Zers quite directly that the world was their oyster. To a degree that prior generations simply don’t, Gen Z expects any-site, any-device, and anytime digital experiences—tailored exclusively to them.
To understand how Gen Z’s online expectations are different than those of past generations, think about how consumer technology has changed since 2011. Back then, smartphones were still novelties, and the web was almost exclusively the domain of desktop computers.
Those device roles have since reversed. Consumers are having more brand interactions on mobile devices than any other medium—including desktop, television, and face-to-face communications. To Gen Zers, a desktop-first site is a relic, much like a landline phone. And they’ve become so accustomed to in-the-moment access, in fact, that they’re suspicious of websites that take more than a couple of seconds to load.
All Content, All Channels
But it’s not just that the CX movement has changed how Gen Z accesses the Internet; once they’re online, Gen Z expects a one-to-one experience. When WPEngine studied the subject, it discovered 68% of Gen Zers would stop visiting a website if it didn’t anticipate what they wanted. More than two in five told the WordPress service that they’d trade their personal data for a more personalized experience.
Gen Zers’ marketer-driven penchant for personalization is likewise reflected in the digital marketing tactics of their age. A Nativo report showed native ad spending grew sixfold in just two years—with the greatest increases in categories, like entertainment and food and drink, driven by young people. The growth of social, influencer, and native advertising all trace to the same thing: a generation that insists on individualized, unobtrusive online ad experiences.
The story is similar even when it comes to scalable digital communications. The Roche UK found that fully two-thirds of Britons in the 16-to-24 age group said they’d be comfortable chatting with a bot about a medical diagnosis. While barely one-third of those 55 and older said the same. For Generation Z, almost no topic is too personal to discuss with a digital personality.
More Than Millennials
Millennials may be the first digital generation, but they grew up during the days of dial-up Internet and banner ads. For Gen Z’s older siblings, waiting for pages to load and ignoring irrelevant content were part of online life.
While marketers have strongly guided the way Generation Z views online activity and marketing content, how those perspectives morph and shift in the future is only partially in the marketer's control. The rules for marketing to Gen Z are very different and will likely change over time. One thing will likely remain the same, however: the need to deeply know and channel your audience.