Study Abroad and Generation Z
Our assumptions that Generation Z are just an extreme version of a Millennial may damage our businesses. It's important that we understand what this generation want from study abroad, ensuring that we create a holistic, positive, life-enhancing experience for them.
Moreover, our marketing and customer service strategies need to adapt to the online world they live in, and move quickly. With a history of unjust negative company reviews online, we realised that we needed to understand the Generation Z mindset much more if we were going to effectively and proactively manage our online reputation.
Study Abroad and Generation Z
My name is James Herbertson, and I am a Xennial. I’m part of a micro-generation, apparently, and just knowing this means you can predict how I work and socialise, my likes and dislikes and, very importantly, my buying preferences and habits. We all know that being a non-digital native makes me a very different customer to those who grew up in the digital age, but no sooner have we got to grips with the ways of the Millennial, a second-wave of digital natives are fast growing up and becoming our customers. We need to start to understand this new generation. A generation that communicates in pictures, understands the power of community, and cringes at the social media faux pas of the Millennial.
Before I list the attributes of a Generation Z student and suggest what we can do in the study abroad industry to attract him or her, I want to pause for a quick disclaimer. Just as I would never write an article about one nationality without pointing out that these generalisations are just that, I would like to say that these observations, although backed up by studies, are broad brushstrokes, guidelines to a way of communicating and consuming. So I am not describing every member of Generation Z… there will be exceptions.
Who is Gen Z?
Generation Z is currently described as those born after 1996 and their attributes are defined by the way they have grown up with technology and rapid global change. After reading many studies and articles about this generation, I have compiled my own list of “Ten essential things to know about Generation Z.” (Acknowledging these particularly helpful articles on eHotelier and Fast Company, to name but a few.)
- Are cautious, risk-averse and attracted by stability and security.
- Value privacy, and don’t like to share their whole lives on social media.
- Are self-educators, happy to learn from YouTube and Google.
- Need platforms to express their opinions and contribute content.
- Need flexibility in personalising their space.
- Are a highly engaged and idealistic group.
- Lack patience and prefer visuals to text; they like to communicate through emojis and prefer shorter bursts of communication.
- Suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
- Are producers, not consumers – they need to be involved.
- Embrace innovation – they are used to change.
How your brand can attract Generation Z
How can we use this information to attract them to our school or accommodation?
- Show more than you tell. Students will find you by searching YouTube so make sure your video content is up to date and available… and preferably produced by your students.
- Make sure you have a platform allowing your students to give honest reviews, which you can respond to.
- Give students lots of options so that they can create an experience that is unique to them. From pre-ordered refreshments at your school to a personalised notice board in their room, how can you ensure that their experience has never been on Instagram?
- Consider social enterprise. Choose a cause that means something to your students, or tie your charitable endeavours with something in their country.
- Involve them in innovative product development. Let them set up focus groups, let them prototype new ideas.
How we tackled average review scores head-on
With these insights in hand, we decided to tackle a problem that was nagging us at London Nest, my previous company which provided accommodation services to over 15,000 international students in London.
At London Nest, our review score on Google always averaged between 3 and 4. We were providing a quality service, however, students would often rate us poorly for problems they encountered in the flats or rooms where they stayed. For example, students would give us a 1 star review because they had a dripping tap in order to attract the attention of the accommodation providers to resolve the problem.
Rather than reviewing our core service to find them accommodation and support them, international students were equatling us with the accommodation they resided in. Unfortunately, things can go wrong in residences which might lie outside of our immediate control, but which were often easy to fix and resolved very quickly. By that time though, we had already had the negative review lodged on Google.
So how could we educate new student clients that London Nest was different than the properties we were promoting? And how could we get our review scores to properly reflect the quality service we offered?
Rather than shying away from this, we decided to place Trust Pilot on our own site. We encouraged students to go on there and leave reviews for the work we had done for them and the service we had provided.
Naturally, we were concerned that the same issue we had had with Google may resurface, but it was more important to us that our customers had a forum to voice their concerns and feedback to us.
Luckily, we were rewarded for this open approach with an 'Excellent' 5-star score on Trust Pilot. By taking more control over our online profile, and proactively asking for reviews on our site (right place, right time), we were able to turn the situation in our favour and obtain reviews that more accurately represented our brand offer.
Generation Z are producers, not consumers. They need to be heard, not told what to buy, where to study, where to stay. To me, the way to deal with Generation Z can be summed up in the iconic song "My Generation" by The Who. They lamented, “Why don’t you all fade away, and don’t try to dig what we all say.”
We don’t need to speak to them in their language, we don’t need to be fluent in emojis, post videos of us flossing or trying to do the Dele Alli challenge. We need to provide them with a platform to speak to us… and we need to start listening.
James spoke on the subject of “Accommodation for the networked generation” at StudyWorld in London on Tuesday 4th September 2018 in the Presentation Zone.