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Article | Business Wakes Up to Omnichannel

The Plight and Promise of the Omnichannel Journey


Omnichannel strategy has been doomed from its proud start. Blocked and stunted by siloed infrastructures and disjointed technologies, omnichannel has limited opportunity to grow into its intended seamless customer experience nirvana touted by some customer experience leaders. 

For omnichannel to succeed, companies must first think like a customer. Customers bounce from channel to channel and device to device, but often their information doesn’t travel with them. For example, if a consumer is in the market for a new truck and spends time on a manufacturer’s website designing the model that he wishes to purchase, he expects the sales associate to know which products he was viewing from the website when he calls the dealer later to set up an appointment. With most manufacturers, that often doesn’t happen. The same thing applies to financial services and retailers. If a customer browses a retailer’s website for dresses and then walks into the store the next day, the empowered associate should know that she spent 20 minutes looking for dresses on the brand’s website the day before. The in-store visit should be a continuation of that journey that began online—not a new start.

These scenarios are all too common across many industries and often due to insufficient technologies and broken organizational structures. Both the challenge and imperative then is to encourage channel owners to collaborate, facilitate the communication of legacy systems with newer systems, and integrate enterprise channels. Here are five tips to help companies expedite omnichannel approaches in their organizations. 

 1. Start small
Avoid pulling in every process all at once. Instead, deploy the low-hanging fruit that will impact the customer first. We’ve seen success from companies that start small by pulling in small data instead of capturing all data at once, creating pilot strategies for bringing on specific sections of the organization one by one, and finding quick wins by layering on technologies that enable parts of their omnichannel strategies. If you have multiple retail partners, consider a pilot with just one to test the waters.

For example, if a customer spends an hour online designing a pickup truck, he’s likely interested in buying one. So connect him effortlessly to the dealer and don’t make him repeat what he just built online. For an automaker to achieve this, the company could enable its auto build on the website. Then with geo-location capabilities, companies can take what he’s built and connect him with the closest dealer. 

 2. Get key C-suite members to collaborate
Companies that can solve the omnichannel puzzle often have seasoned and strong chief digital officers working side by side with CIOs who understand how the legacy apps, the CRM apps, and the supply chain all fit together. These counterparts must work together to find middle ground in determining how to solve any problems that create friction along the customer experience. And the overall strategy must have support and resource commitment from the upper levels of the organization from Day One. Don’t tiptoe into the project and ask for permission later.

Ford, for example, has a prominent leader helping drive its omnichannel strategy. Elena Ford, vice president of global dealer and consumer experience, is the face of the recently launched FordPass, a comprehensive mobility platform designed to take the company to the next level of connectivity, mobility, and autonomous vehicles. Ford pulled together world-class thinkers from outside the organization along with employees within the organization who owned the company’s legacy infrastructure. Together they developed innovative ideas for the mobile marketplace complete with virtual assistants and the ability to connect with dealers virtually. 

 3. Provide employees with the necessary tools
In order to deliver on the omnichannel promise, it’s essential that employees have the necessary tools, which is why the impact of operationalizing omnichannel is as significant on IT as it is on the organizational structure. 

Unified communications, predictive analytics, intelligent call center routing, journey management solutions, real-time customer analytics, and solutions that create next-best offers are all tools required to remove friction from the customer experience and engage with customers in personalized ways throughout their journeys.

While these solutions are critical to enabling seamless and tailored interactions, the call centers of old operate in a very command and control environment. Rather than try to first deploy these customer-facing tools, contact centers initially need to ensure associates are empowered and have the ability to communicate freely. We recommend deploying an app on associates’ mobile devices that enables them to freely receive information and communicate with people throughout the company. After employees are properly equipped and empowered, then it’s time to deploy the tools that can connect customers’ journeys and allow associates to proactively follow up after purchases with engagement strategies that are meaningful and delivered in customers’ preferred channels. And most times it won’t be a phone call. Think two-way texting, social, and email.

 4. Take a mobile-first approach to  customer experience design
Most customer interactions start on mobile. More than 50 percent to be exact. With 1.2 billion mobile web users worldwide, that means in order to truly understand how customers behave, companies of all sizes must rethink their mobile strategies and design a mobile-first customer experience. 

Mobile-first implies that customers begin their purchase journeys on a mobile device. If they don’t start there, organizations can assume that at some point, the consumer will make the jump to another channel. This theory essentially positions mobile as one channel in an omnichannel strategy—but possibly the most important one. Consequently, by not giving mobile prominence in an omnichannel strategy, companies may miss critical moments to engage with customers because they don’t understand the complete scope of their intent.

So what do organizations need to know when building out their mobile-first strategies? First map out customers’ mobile journeys and then examine their mobile experiences. Whether an organization focuses on responsive design or app deployment, start by executing a simple and clear experience and then expand out. Don’t create an app just for the sake of saying, “We have an app.” Sometimes responsive mobile sites will suffice for your customer experience strategies. Forward-thinking businesses build mobile-first into their entire business strategies assuring a better customer experience will be on hand. They then use this as the foundation for how to engage in other channels. 

 5. Use context with every interaction
Context is everything. And to be able to market within context, an effective strategy looks at customer behavior, intentions, expectations, platforms, and trends, and then designs a content infrastructure. The problem with achieving context along a customer’s omnichannel journey is that the customer experience is often created with a siloed mentality that treats contact center teams differently and separately from sales teams. Until organizations get past this siloed mentality they can’t deliver the context they need to personalize interactions throughout the customer journey. 

The other reason organizations lack context is due to insufficient technologies and analytics capabilities that can extract customer insights across all channels, quickly analyze them, and suggest the most appropriate action, content, or engagement based on the context. With journey management and decisioning tools, organization can weave all customer channels together and make them work in harmony, toward the customers’ goals. This way, companies can be certain that they’re deriving the necessary insights from customers’ journeys that will enable them to present appropriate offers at the right time and engage with them in personalized ways based on their needs and goals.  

Conclusion
Whether companies are just starting out with their omnichannel efforts or fine-tuning their strategies for connecting with customers along their journeys, they need to strike the right balance between solving for the big picture and making things happen now for customers. More often than not, making smaller strategic bets is a great way to get omnichannel strategies and initiatives off the ground. Start small, do something that affects a customer pain or gap, and measure it. Those initial wins snowball into more wins and put companies on pace to make transformative omnichannel changes that begins to affect the bottom line.