The Gen Z Customer

The digital revolution has redefined the relationship that exists between customers and brands. No longer a one-way flow of communication, brands must now engage and encourage interaction and honest dialogue, with digital, interactive experiences replacing many traditional in-person moments.

For higher ed marketers, this is particularly important because of the influx of Gen Z students who began enrolling in college in the 2015 academic year. In many ways, Gen Z, as digital natives, are leading the way to upend the traditional interactions and relationships that take place between brand and customer. Gen Z expects uber-like responses, seamless experiences, and error-free processes.

And while higher ed marketers have been quick to embrace emerging technology and meet students where they are, these changing dynamics and expectations have created a need and opportunity for higher ed brands to differentiate themselves by putting customer experience at the forefront.

Mobile first strategies and social media profiles are the norm at this point, but seamless, consistent online and digital experiences across an institution are increasingly becoming an expectation. From prospects to alumni, there are key moments – for example, online inquiries, applications, class registration, transcript requests – that are opportunities for dialogue and individual representations of your brand. Each provides an opportunity to reinforce brand value by delivering great customer and user experience.

It may be daunting to think about the infinite number of moments for engaging customers across their journeys and in various channels, but higher ed can begin to prioritize by identifying key audiences and understanding their preferred communication methods. Here’s a few from Gen Z that are well documented:

  • On Demand: Chegg’s 2016 Social Admissions Report found that 53% of students expect a response within a day of contacting a college representative. I suspect a similar response time is also expected for inquiries such as campus visit requests and questions or complaints via social media. How can tools such as CRM and social listening software be used to rethink processes to ensure a timely, seamless experience and prompt response mechanisms?
  • Personalized Content: Chegg found 93% of students agreed with the statement, “I would like to receive communication from college admissions tailored specifically to me.” Similarly, a report from eMarketer found that college students are “most likely to click on a social ad if it’s for something they care about or need—meaning, if it’s well targeted to their interests and relevant to their lives.” This applies not only to digital and print communication, but also to in-person experiences. Imagine how personalized and digital integrations can enhance the visitor center, the application process, or student services.
  • Mobile First: 12% of respondents to Chegg’s study indicated they submitted a college application via their mobile device. Although it is widely understood that Gen Z’s digital experience is primarily mobile, 12% seems low, especially when you consider the number of students who may not have access to a regular computer or laptop. Mobile friendly websites are certainly an asset, but ensuring other important interactions such as virtual tours, application submission or the ability to chat with a college representative are optimized for mobile are important considerations.
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