Our overall brand perceptions are invariably shaped by our experiences. And loyal customer relationships can be severed in moments by a negative service interaction.
With the proliferation of big data and the fast-evolving digital marketing landscape, the pressure is on businesses to become more agile in tailoring their omnichannel strategy and design. Interactive Intelligence’s Head of Customer Transformation Service for Japan and A/NZ, Brad Starr, speaks about how creating the best omnichannel plan can open valuable opportunities to enhance the customer experience.
Q: What is omnichannel?
Starr: To me, omnichannel is really about creating a seamless and personalised experience that maintains context between the online and the offline, or digital and analogue channels.
Traditionally, if you think about how customers interact with businesses, it has been generally very direct and linear in nature, like purchasing from a bricks and mortar store directly. Today, however, customer interactions are really non-linear. They might start the transaction on the Web, but then pick up the item in-store. Likewise, today’s customers need help so they might attempt self-service on their mobile app, then may request assistance or complain via social media. So we’re seeing the interactions being very disparate in nature.
Q: What are the potential benefits for the business?
Starr: The omnichannel experience is critical for business because it encourages repeat business. Customers are now demanding an experience that is frictionless and consistent in nature. So they can go onto a mobile website, use a desktop or use an app, and as long as that experience doesn’t require a lot of effort, customers are likely to use that service again and it will encourage repeat behaviour from a customer perspective; and potentially encourage recommendation of the brand.
Q: How does the omnichannel design affect the customer experience?
Starr: With an effective design, customers don’t necessarily ‘see’ the different channels. Rather, the business offers a seamless experience within the ecosystem in which the customer operates.
A good design is about reducing that customer effort, thereby encouraging adoption and loyalty. Ultimately, the effect on customers is really about that speed and need of use, which customers now rate alongside accuracy and value for money to remain loyal and promote businesses.
Q: What are the key considerations in creating an effective omnichannel strategy?
Starr: While technology is a key enabler to delivering service and experience to customers, essentially it is also about getting the processes right and building the right culture for your people. What businesses today are doing to deliver a great omnichannel presence is really consolidating those websites and lines of business and functions around those websites, to ensure that they can provide a seamless and easy experience to the customer. It’s really about focusing on the common needs of the customer, looking at their journey and identifying ways to consolidate the online environment in a way that is going to reduce the customer effort.
The other aspect of that is mapping the customer’s cross-channel journey, looking at why customers are moving between channels and identifying any failures or weaknesses around them. Typically, you’ll take a look at the way customers are interacting with you, map their journey, and understand what are the most consistent things they’re trying to do with you.
It’s not about having channels for channels’ sake, but having a strategy that allows your customers to finish their interactions without having to repeat that interaction. At the same time, you also need to have visibility and contacts across interaction channels so your frontline staff can provide that seamless experience to your customers.
Moving forward, it’s important to define channel-specific business goals where you can measure performance. You also need to be present in the relevant ecosystem your customers are operating in. If you look at the likes of Uber, Netflix or Amazon, they just have a simple, easy-to-use interface that customers find very compelling. So while you need to have the right number of channels, they just need to be simple to use and relevant.
Q: How can marketing work with others to coordinate the right outcomes?
Starr: Interestingly, what we’re seeing is marketing and IT are sharing the same KPIs and budgets in terms of delivering the same types of services, so marketing, IT and the business are all responsible for delivering key omnichannel goals.
Marketing, IT and the business are building cross-functioning teams and using collaboration tools such as chatrooms, video and content management to share ideas and ensure all teams and key stakeholders are clear on priorities and outcomes. Collaboration tools used within departments can foster ideas and innovation, which also help to drive a better omnichannel strategy.
It is also important to note that while marketing builds cross-functioning teams with IT and other parts of the business, what we’re also seeing is marketing work with the operations department. So it is important that marketing does not work in a silo to the contact centre. The best outcome is when both management from marketing and the contact centremeet regularly to communicate changes in strategy to improve business operations moving forward.
Q: How can organisations leverage technology to create a better omnichannel experience?
Starr: Companies must operate in different ways to the past. Rather than building five-year roadmaps, we need to be nimble and agile to meet the changing demands of our customers. When we’re considering technology for enabling the omnichannel experience, it’s not just about choosing the right platform for now, but understanding that whatever you select, it must be able to evolve and do so quickly and simply.
Many organisations are seeking to simplify core platforms to enable agility and we’re seeing IT and marketing look at cloud-based technology as a way to add value sooner. But it should all be done with caution and not in isolation.
Q: What are the steps to achieving omnichannel success?
Starr: There are four core areas to consider: Technology, people, process and culture. These are the key areas we need to focus on to make sure we’re delivering an omnichannel experience.
You need to start with a customer-first mentality and design methodology. You must ensure you’re keeping your customers in mind when you’re implementing omnichannel technology and developing those customer journey maps from the outset.
After that, you need to look at redesigning the strategy and toolsets deployed to ensure your customers have a great end-to-end journey – whether they are online or offline. It’s also important to add value to the experience while at the same time, removing the failure rates and improving agility.
Customer behaviour has changed and legacy technologies have almost become a noose or chain around organisations’ necks. Today, organisations that deliver a great omnichannel experience look for technology that provides a broad set of features and depth of capability, greatly simplifying the integration points and promoting agility.
It’s also critical to have a digital-first mentality. The key to providing a seamless experience across all platforms is to give customers the opportunity to self-service in those environments and digital is the key. A consistent look and feel breathes familiarity and encourages use.
Finally the reality is, culture eats strategy for breakfast. No matter what strategy you have, if you don’t have the right culture for breeding innovation, then it’s a struggle to ensure you can actually deliver omnichannel successfully. In this regard, customer insights are absolutely critical to making sure processes are improved, you meet their preferences, are co-designing with them, and understand how they’re using your channels and interacting with your product.