All hail the digital native

digital native

By Rodney Carey

A few months ago, I took my family on vacation out of the country. We thought we’d arrange for at least one of our cell phones to work, but as soon as we landed, we realized none of them did. While my wife and I agonized over how we would communicate with our world back home (as I planned to work every day of our trip), our kids had already assimilated to the situation. They set up in the adjacent room with their laptops and were video-chatting with their friends, never skipping a beat.

We made two quick calls during that trip – both cost $59 apiece. Our kids, on the other hand, were in constant touch with their world at the stroke of a thumb. While my wife and I had laptops and could have communicated the same way our kids were, it didn’t dawn on us to leverage technology that way.  Making the situation more comical was that our kids never contemplated that there was a communication problem.  They shifted from one medium (a phone) to another, video chatting.

Participating in this experiment between the generations brought to light the wonderful opportunity and grave risk the business world is facing.  The digital native, born to a world that has always known e-mail and the Internet, doesn’t know what an LP record is and views Facebook as the center of the social universe. He is uniquely conditioned to have his entire life online.

As these digital natives, my children, become young adults, their expectations of integration and customer service will be entirely different than prior generations.

The dichotomy is astounding.  We grew up cherishing privacy and taking great care in ensuring that our personal information was held confidentially, never supplied online.  The growing population of digital natives sees the world in just the opposite way.  All their personal information is stored online, allowing Internet companies to track, socialize and match consumer needs and expectations in a dizzying array of stimulus.

The non-digital business world needs to pay keen attention to the shifting perspectives of this new consumer.  In the not-too-distant future, consumer demands will change.  Consumers will have an expectation that you, as a merchant or someone who wants their business, should know everything about them.

With the amount of information readily available on this new generation, the practice of filling out a loan application or supplying documentation of income or assets will disappear.  Successful businesses will harness the growing number of information storage houses to assimilate the necessary profile so that the digital native will only have to confirm accuracy rather than supply information.

All you need to know about your customer is already available because as we all know, once something is put out in the virtual world, it’s there forever, never to be erased.

Our industry is muddling through the idea of single point of contact, but the digital native would be perfectly happy with an automated online system to reach out and touch them. They might even be uncomfortable with a phone call.

Technology has the ability to take advantage of what’s already out there and benefit a new generation that will be driving our industry in no time. While all of the pieces may not be commercially available yet, it’s only around the corner.  The convergence of technology and the aging of the digital native will produce the opportunity for progressive businesses and be the curtain call for those rooted in the old ways of doing things.