Back in the day, the only way you could buy an item was through an in-store visit. Then telemarketing was introduced, allowing customers to make a purchase over the phone. Then the internet came along which enabled us to buy things we wanted online. Now, technology has enabled us to make a purchase on our phones, watches, and even TVs.
As more and more of our devices become connected to the internet, it’s imperative for retailers to avoid giving customers a different feel whenever they switch gadgets. The shopping experience they provide online on a desktop device should be similar when done on a smartphone, and more so for in-store purchases.
The solution is to implement an omnichannel approach to ensure the quality and consistency of customer service experienced by consumers is maintained across all channels.
What is an Omni-channel Customer Experience?
The word omni-channel has been around for years but it still confuses people because it is actually different from the multi-channel approach. Many companies think they’re providing omni-channel customer experience when in fact, they’re implementing a multi-channel one.
Fig. 1. Multi-channel vs. omni-channel (Source: MultiChannel Merchant)
Multi-channel means you are using various platforms to get in touch with your customers’ needs. Mobile apps, websites, SMS, phone hotlines, and in-store services are the usual communication channels a business taps into. But that is the end of the story; you are only present on all these platforms, they are not connected to each other.
On the other hand, an omni-channel system connects all these platforms to better serve the customers. It is a marketing approach that provides customers a seamless experience as they transfer from one interactive communication tool to another. According to John Bowden of Time Warner Cable, the omni-channel experience is just a properly executed multi-channel approach.
The omni-channel experience is particularly important to mobile users. They want to be able to quickly switch from text and call to social media chat channels whenever it is convenient for them. The shift from one platform to another must be fluid so that the experience and quality of service received remain consistent.
Businesses usually treat their websites and physical stores differently. For instance, the stock available on one often doesn’t affect the other. The most typical problem people encounter with this approach is that they’re not able to return the items they purchased online in a retailer’s physical stores. It’s almost like they’re dealing with two different businesses when in fact, they’re both owned by a single entity.
As expected, this situation negatively impacts the company’s branding. People don’t want to be forced to stick to one platform alone when it’s more convenient for them to use several channels whenever they want to.
Customers don’t want to think about the platform they have to use to get to the solutions they’re looking for. The only thing they want is to get the right answer to their problem. Whether it’s on social media, email, or SMS, customers expect to get the same quality of service in whichever platform they choose to use.
Users want to have a seamless transfer between different communication channels. There should be continuity when they talk to a customer service representative over the phone and then decide to continue their conversation over chat. There should be no loss in context during the transfer so that the rhythm of the conversation is not broken.
What’s the use of responding to Facebook chat and Twitter queries only to ask the customer the same question again once they continue the conversation in-store? Instead of helping them, you would just annoy them because they have to repeat the things they already discussed on the chat or call when they visit the store in person.
Instead of being present on all social media platforms, it would be better to focus on a few channels and interlace them with each other. Each channel shouldn’t be treated separately. Instead, all communication platforms should be viewed as a part of the whole customer experience lifecycle.
Benefits of an Omni-channel Approach
The omni-channel customer experience brings a number of advantages to the table. Below are some of the biggest impacts it can bring to your brand.
1. Convergence of in-store and digital shopping experience
Omni-channel retailing isn’t limited to online experiences alone. The most important aspect is to integrate it with your brick-and-mortar operations and create one large, unified entity that has different interaction options.
The best example of this involves inventory management. An omni-channel marketing strategy ensures that both in-store inventory and online stock availability are updated in real-time.
Online and physical stores should reflect the actual number of items left in stock in their repository. Customers don’t want to see an item available online, only to get disappointed that it’s already out-of-stock the moment they visit the store.
The same goes for the quality of the product you’re selling. The actual item should be as good as how you promote it online to ensure customer satisfaction. Consumers hate false advertisements – they even compare it to being scammed.
2. You get a treasure trove of information
When you are present across multiple channels, you have the power to harness information from all those platforms. There’s a wealth of consumer history data you can cull from all of them.
You can collect their information in-store, search their preferences online, and better understand their purchase timing so you can provide them with personalized product suggestions on their next visit. Better yet, you can send targeted marketing emails that offer items relevant to what they want. Your business also gets the opportunity to cross-sell or upsell to further boost sales.
3. Enhanced customer satisfaction
Having an online shop mitigates the limitations brought about by brick-and-mortar opening hours and location. Even when the physical shop is closed, customers can still shop 24/7 or place their orders in advance. Queries and reservations can be handled by a chatbot which can be read by actual sales agents on the next business day. Once the physical store opens, customers with reserved orders can just pick up the item they paid for online.
This is what we’re all looking for in doing business with people. Seeing the smile on the face of a satisfied customer or hearing good feedback on how well you served them. These are the benefits of an omni-channel experience.
Businesses must be flexible in order to satisfy customer needs without sacrificing the quality of service provided. An omni-channel marketing strategy exemplifies this practice since customers can contact you on the platform most convenient to them. The less hassle, the happier customers are.
Challenges in Implementing Omni-channel Systems
Many businesses provide multi-channel experience but only a few are successful in fully implementing a true omni-channel customer service. Although the benefits are obvious, the cost and complexity involved in integrating all communication channels can be high, especially to those who are still using legacy systems. Their ERP systems and business processes must also be highly-customized to accommodate the changes.
There are sophisticated out-of-the-box POS solutions and e-commerce platforms available in the market that show a partial implementation of the omni-channel approach. Some still lack mobile components and integration capabilities with popular social media platforms but the concept is already there. There’s still a lot of room for improvement so we may have to wait years before a real, complete solution appears in the market.
Another challenge facing the implementation of omni-channel experience is culture. Change has to start from the top and the “higher-ups” must recognize the value of the technology in increasing the company’s ROI.
Employees also have to be retrained in the way they handle customers who have made the purchase online. Incentives are usually given to employees who make the most sales in-store. They may be reluctant to assist customers who have purchased online since this won’t earn them any commission in return.
It really is quite a hurdle to implement an omni-channel system. It will involve revisions on the business model you may be using right now. The IT, marketing, distribution, and human resources departments have to pool their efforts and align their goals toward a more customer-centric operation in order to fully execute an omni-channel approach.
At the end of the day, consumers want to have the power to choose how to make their purchase. Providing an omni-channel customer experience is one of the most important trends in business today.
An organization doesn’t have to be present on all communication platforms. What they need to do is maintain the same high level of responsiveness and service quality across the channels they’re in.
If your business is already operating on an omni-channel strategy, you must regularly check that it’s working as you intend. The best way to do this is by having a mystery shopping agency assess your communication services and platforms. SeeLevel HX can give you structured customer feedback and comprehensive reporting on how well your business meets expectations in delivering quality customer experiences.