Five traits of the digital customer

By Arun Shankar   4 January, 2018
Five traits of the digital customer

Jenny Sussin is Research Vice President at Gartner.

You are standing in your local coffee shop waiting for your order watching other customers try to keep from spilling their coffee as they open the door. What if you sent a suggestion to the coffee shop and they began installing automatic doors?

This is the idea behind the My Starbucks Idea community on which over 200,000 ideas have been submitted. It has not only led to the introduction of almond milk and stevia in Starbucks stores, but it has resulted in the development of recyclable coffee cups. This is the type of relationship that the next generation of customers is expecting – they want to be heard, not marketed at. Companies like Nike and Starbucks have capitalised on this desire with direct-to consumer customisable products.

Sweeping generalisations have been made about the next generation of customers from – They want digital everything, to – They do not have the same values as their predecessors. So, it is not surprising that application leaders charged with supporting customer experience are wondering what their next move should be.

To complicate matters, they are broadly given the misnomer of Millennials when for most organisations, the next generation of customers refers to the youngest Millennials and mostly to older members of Gen-Z. Millennials are people born between 1980 and 1994, and who are 23 to 37 years of age. Gen-Z, is a class of people born between 1995 and 2009 who now range from eight to 22 years.

Interest in understanding the next generation of customers is growing. With big investments being made in customer experience strategies and technologies, organisations cannot afford to get this wrong. To date, however, we have seen some scrambling to increase engagement rather than focusing on what these customers want from companies that is truly different from those who have come before them.

Gartner’s research suggests that application leaders should focus on five key differences in the next generation of customers:

#1 They do not trust you, yet

Trust in businesses, government and media is at an all-time low. The next generation of customers do not always trust authorities. Instead, they gather information from other sources that they do trust to be accurate. Peer validation has become a key way for many younger people to self-evaluate, thanks to social media, which they use as sources for reality checks.

#2 They want a reciprocal relationship

When it comes to the customer relationship, the next generation of customers is looking for benefits akin to those of a real-world relationship, as they may differentiate less between online and offline activities. Benefits include regular engagement, the opportunity to be heard, and the understanding that the organisations they engage with will support causes they care about. They actively look for opportunities to co-create with the organisations they associate with.

#3 They want to be trusted to self-serve

Although next-generation customers want engagement with the organisations they deal with, they also strongly desire self-service. They do not see the need for another person to be involved when they can do it themselves with technology, which has typically been reliable for them. They grew up in an era of immersive video gaming; from games played on game consoles, smartphones and computers, they have learned that an initial failure to accomplish a task does not mean that they cannot accomplish it, it simply means they need to try again.

#4 They want to buy experiences, not products

Unlike traditional products, experiences are not easily mass-produced. Members of the next generation of customers flock to businesses that treat them as if they were special, rather than as just another number. These customers want to have a connection, a relationship, with the organisations they deal with. They want to be in a position to endorse and support organisations, as long as they know they can trust them and believe in their mission.

#5 They influence other customers

Some organisations choose not to pay attention to Millennials and Gen-Z because they do not perceive them as their target audience. Although Gen-Z might not be your customers today, their behavior will dictate consumer dynamics for years to come. This is because over 70% of Gen-Z influence their parents’ retail purchasing decisions.

The next generation of customers influences far more than just retail purchasing decisions. Just think about how Millennials pioneered the adoption of Facebook and WhatsApp – which were subsequently adopted widely by other generations.


Usage of technology must facilitate five traits that distinguish the digital customer today says Jenny Sussin at Gartner.


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