Generation Z: The 6 Big Ways Today’s Teenagers Will Impact Your Company by 2020

How well do you understand Generation Z? If you work for the average business, the answer is probably “not very well.”

Today’s teenagers are fundamentally different than the Millennials who came before them, and understanding Generation Z is important as this group increasingly enters the workforce.

Millennials (born between 1980 and 1999) were the first generation to discover and embrace personal technology. Most remember learning to type on electronic typewriters, saving homework on floppy disks and playing early video game consoles, getting their first computer, exploring the Internet, PDAs, laptops, cell phones, P2P file-sharing, reading their first blog, receiving their first friend request and flubbing social media faux pas. They can pinpoint their first smartphone, first selfie, and the first time they swiped right.

For Generation Z, born after 1999, these milestones are passé. Today’s 15-year-old doesn’t know a world without the Internet, a reality that has major implications for business. Here are six major trends to plan for:

No. 6: Product quality above all else: Today’s teen is marked by a distinct lack of brand loyalty. Born with the sum of all human knowledge in their pocket, they’re on the hunt for quality as decided by the crowd. Fundamentally, brand loyalty means hesitation to try competing products—a constraint that Internet-connected teens don’t feel. For businesses, that means traditional marketing will take a back seat to actual quality.

No. 5: Focus on online reviews: In nearly every consumer product category, today’s teenagers prefer online to offline shopping. It’s no wonder — teens read online reviews, watch video walkthroughs and compare prices with ease. For businesses, that means engaging in the product conversations currently happening online in an authentic way. 

No. 4: Generation Z wants to fix it themselves: 92 percent of teenagers report being online every day, with roughly 1 in 4 saying they’re online “nearly constantly.” Teenagers who have problems with a product will start online first, searching to see if anyone else has experienced the same issue. For businesses, that means launching self-service support tools to own those online answers—rather than leaving them up to the crowd. 

No. 3: They don’t want to call your (800) number: Waiting on hold for the next customer service rep is a foreign concept to today’s teenager, who would rather use virtually any other digital tool than the telephone to get their question answered. Those tools include knowledge databases, automated/live chat, video-based support, email, SMS and social media. For businesses, that means meeting consumers on the channel of their choice.

No. 2: They want their own devices and apps: By the time the oldest members of Generation Z land their first office job, they’ll (literally) have a lifetime of experience using their favorite consumer apps and personal devices. If Millennials are any indication, Generation Z will expect to use the best software and devices to get their job done. Bring-your-own-everything represents a two-part challenge for businesses: Securing corporate data on a range of apps and devices, and making sure data can flow easily between competing apps. 

No. 1: They might not want to work for you: Early indications show today’s teens are the most entrepreneurial generation in history, with 72 percent of high schoolers saying they’d like to start their own business someday. 76 percent say they’d like to turn their hobbies into fulltime jobs (compared to just 50 percent of Millennials who say the same). For the companies of today, that means thinking about how to plan for the coming wave of micro-sized businesses.

These six digital trends shouldn’t be a surprise: Millennials have been pushing businesses to respond to them for the past decade. The difference, perhaps, is that Generation Z is less forgiving about technology—for them, it’s a utility, not a novelty.

The fundamentals of good business remain unchanged: Produce high-quality products and services, find consumers who will advocate for your business, provide customer service on the channel of the customer’s choice, and plan for the tools of the future. The companies that win over Generation Z will be the ones that execute consistently on those fundamentals.