I was reading a post the other day about a poll that was done to try to learn from 60 American teenagers “about their digital lives and habits, the apps they use and the games they play, pop culture, and politics” in 2016: 60 teenagers reveal what they think is cool — and what isn’t — in 2016.

As I was reading through the highlights, I wondered to myself what we might infer from this with regards to the future of social customer care, and by extension, customer service.


Here’s my summary of the highlights:

  • Teens get their first smartphone when they’re 11.
  •  teens spend about six hours a day on their phones.
  • On average, they spent 11 hours in front of screens every day
  • Teens aren’t only spending a ton of time online — they’re shopping online too.

The most popular [app] by a landslide: Snapchat. 

  • “It’s how I communicate with most of my friends and it’s fun.” — 15-year-old
  • “Snapchat because it’s pretty much just texting, but with pictures of my beautiful face ” — 16-year-old
  • “Snapchat, because it is fun to send your friends what you’re doing, and where you are in a fast and easy way. I also like being able to make stories, for all of my friends to see, and I also enjoy seeing stories of my friends on it and see what they’re up to.” — 17-year-old

Instagram was another favorite.

  • Instagram leads as the “most important” social network among US teens

The dark horse: Twitter.

  • “Twitter because I can update everyone all the time quickly and it’s not annoying like Facebook.” — 17-year old
  • Twitter because “you can voice your opinion on anything you want to and you can somewhat interact with celebrities.” — 18-year-old
  • “My favorite app is Twitter because I am the kind of person who needs to get out my thoughts, and Twitter may be like shouting into the void but at least I am heard and often validated by my peers.” — 19-year-old

Absent from the list: Facebook.

  • Facebook may be dead to teens, but a surprising number of them are texting their friends through Facebook Messenger.

The most common form of messaging among teenagers in our survey was iMessage or SMS messaging (100% of the teens we talked to used one or both of those). But Facebook Messenger was mentioned almost as frequently — 80% of teenagers we spoke with said they used Facebook Messenger as a primary or secondary form of communicating with friends. Less popular were WhatsApp, Kik, and Snapchat text.

We asked teens to identify the coolest app, website, or thing on the internet that adults probably didn’t know about.

  • After School, Musical.ly, Color Therapy, Wishbone, “Neko Atsume”, “Color Switch”

There was just one media company teens said they were obsessed with:

  • BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed Video, Tasty (the BuzzFeed food video Facebook page), and BuzzFeed’s quizzes.
  • But as far as slang goes, “Anything is very uncool as soon as BuzzFeed gets it.”

So what slang *is* cool, by teens’ standards?

  • “I use YASSSSSSSS a lot when I get really excited and don’t really realize it. I also like slay, even though I know that’s kind of stupid.”
  • “Regularly use: hype (as in ‘I’m so hype for this’), mad, dope, low key/high key, lit. Uncool: on fleek, bae, fire, etc.”
  • Goals. You might look at a beautiful celebrity or your favorite couple and say they are goals.”
  • “Me and my friends use Gucci and squad and #goals a lot but in a joking manner. The ones that are uncool are on fleek and holla @ me.”
  • “I regularly say v instead of very (ex: ‘She’s v aesthetic’) and ‘it’s lit.'”
  • “‘Throw shade/spill tea’ — talk negatively about someone or gossip. ‘Read‘ — make a judgment.”
  • “I normally use flames or lit to sound cool. We need to stop saying bae and on fleek.”


So what can we infer from this about the future of customer service?

Teens start using technology to communicate and share with each other from a young age. They learn through mistakes about what to publish and what not to publish. They are comfortable with technology, and because they start so young, their understanding of technology and its individual and collective characteristics are instinctive and intuitive.

When we use the word ‘communicate’ we need to really understand what this means? We need to understand the nuances of context and urgency and how and when we use different types of communication.

Teens spend a lot of time online, not only communicating and sharing, but also doing things online like shopping, researching, searching. They are learning how to find their way around the internet. They are learning to be proactive, to find the answers they want. They are learning how to inform themselves. They are not necessarily learning how to self-regulate or validate what it is they do or critically sift through the information they find; what Howard Rheingold perhaps refers to as ‘critical consumption’ or ‘crap detection’. Do your agents have the relevant literacies to communicate? Actually, forget your agents, does your management have the relevant literacies to understand or comprehend? Actually, let’s not even talk literacies, does your management simply have the ‘willingness’ to do so?

The most popular ways to communicate are via Snapchat, followed by Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Messenger. Is your customer service designed with these types of communication platforms in mind? Take it a level up: Is your customer service designed with these types (ignore the names) of characteristics in mind: images, sharing, short sharp bursts of text, ability for the user to switch between private and group mode (stories)…?

Have you thought yet about how you might provide a resolution on Snapchat, or even have a conversation there? Have you even thought about the unique characteristics of Snapchat or are you still just getting to grips with Twitter?

Is your customer service geared up for images or a more visual experience?

Is your customer service ‘Gucci’, ‘slay’, ’v lit’ or simply ‘fleek’? Do you speak or use the language of your customer? I’m not talking about using slang either. Does your mindset or culture reflect theirs? Perhaps you need to think about the Laws of Requisite Variety? How long would it take you to know to stop using ‘fleek’?

A word which seemed to crop up a lot was ‘fun’. Is any aspect of your customer service ‘fun’? Perhaps it’s about having a ‘fun’ mindset? It’s not always about scaling or institutionalising a process…

Teens use a lot of apps you’ve never heard of. It’s not that you have to offer customer service via them, but what can you learn from them? What are their characteristics? What is it about the way these platforms do what they do?

The teens of today are your customers of the future. Their habits may in time be your reality. They will expect their customer service to reflect what they are used to: their language, their way of doing things, their tools, their mindset. This expectation will be their baseline. Do you have the literacies or fluencies to meet their baseline?

Do you have the mindset or culture (or will) that wants to understand your customers enough, beyond technology and operational efficiencies dressed up as customer experiences, to create interactions that in their words are “lit’ rather than “fleek”?!