February 14, 2017

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A Multi-dimensional Perspective on Driving Omni-channel Customer Experience

Co-Authored By : Soumyajyoti Sinha Ray

A 21st Century organization’s ability to create a winning customer experience is an interplay of manifestation of Omni-channel capabilities over channels and the speed at which an organization can adapt to evolving consumer preferences.

Capabilities Across The Customer Value Chain

Not all capabilities in a ‘Seek-Discover-Evaluate-Purchase-Engage’ cycle are relevant to all channels for a particular brand. For instance, given that call centers are expensive to run, for low-margin products and formats such as mass-retail, these are usually not built as primary sales channels. Call centers, however, continue to act as service channels, which also end up carrying long waiting times.

Nevertheless, for high-margin sectors such as telecom, insurance, automobile, etc. – with a high customer lifetime value, it has always been a sales channel. This is likely to change as over a period of time as the cost of running a voice channel goes down with advancement of technologies such as AI-driven propositions like Amazon’s Alexa and IBM’s Watson. Domino’s Pizza is beginning to adopt Visual IVRs as a means to create a more effortless and engaging experience with customers.

Beyond the industry context, choice of Omni-channel capabilities is a function of customer preferences. Like I highlighted in my earlier article – Paradigm Shift: From Omni channel to select-channel retailing, about the essence of selectively identifying your sales channels, it is imperative to develop a heat map of Omni-channel capabilities to stages of customer’s purchase journey, which helps you in understanding the channel-wise criticality of capabilities for improving the customer experience. This will enable you to steer and speed up the evolution of your Omni-channel offer by making it more contextual and relevant to your customers, who are a moving target today.

Channels Continue To Be The Playground, More So Now

Channels could be meant for either orchestrating Demand (e.g. Sales) or Supply, (e.g. Inventory), or both!

Some examples of Demand channels are email, search, social advertising & games, website, physical store, social page, and communities. In addition to driving sales, a brilliant customer engagement is the key objective of a demand channel. Supply channels stock the product, which could be a physical product such as a shirt, or a digital product like an eBook.

Ability to provide a relevant and leading response to the customer during the moment of truth is a culmination of an engaging experience via demand channels powered by well-orchestrated supply channels. As an example, a brilliant looking website for a luxury brand where the prices or stock information are inconsistent, will erode customer perception of the brand.

According to a recent (reported in April 2016) survey by Periscope, a unit of McKinsey Solutions, retailers are struggling to move at the speed their consumers want and need. Periscope’s survey found 78% admitting there is no one brand experience across their channels but 64% acknowledged that a well-defined cross or multi-channel strategy is the top innovation that would drive digital growth.

The primary reasons behind Omni-channel struggle as identified by 39% was that their digital channel alone was suffering from a lack of internal coordination, but looking at the broader Omni-channel strategy, when asked about their top three challenges, the following responses came out:

  • Lack of customer analytics across channels (67%)
  • Siloed organization (48%)
  • Poor data quality (45%)
  • Inability to identity customers across shopping trips (45%)

Every organization needs to evaluate and arrive at the shortlisted Omni-channel capabilities relevant across their selected channels for the target customers.

Follow the Customer, at an High Speed

Interbrand says that creating a customer-centric view with an integrated multi-touchpoint customer journey will make shopping experiences more enjoyable and brands more valuable. But they also point out that 73% of business executives recognized a marked change in consumer behavior in the last three years, but 74% admitted they did not fully understand those changes, and 80% believed their companies were not taking full advantage of current trends and opportunities. This lack of action on trends and technology, whether due to lack of in-house staff, operations synergy, or partner knowledge will be hurting retailers now and in the future.

Larger businesses attempt to address broad customer segments. However, customer preferences continue to evolve. While understanding customer preferences, context is as important as demographics. While a customer might be an early adopter in one product category, she could end up dealing with a laggard experience for another one. Retailers need to up their ante and fine-tune the experience while promoting their core set of products.

Brands usually look at their direct competitors for inspiration. For example, Instagram and Snapchat became key social channels for fashion brands. But then, different companies target different demographics, which can dilute the extent to which one can borrow new ideas from their peers within the industry.

Beyond looking at your industry, another way to do this is by looking at brands in other industries that fall into the target basket of your focus customer personas. For example, beauty brands can seek inspiration from fashion brands. This will help in understanding key trends disrupting customer experience and hence sensing their expectations from the brand ecosystem. This can then be leveraged as a “leading indicator” for evolving the next few stages in the Omni-channel transformation journey. For instance, the connected experience of Uber disrupted the millennials’ expectations on customer experience.

As most retailers & consumer brands continue to invest in building capabilities for improving the customer experience, there is a constant need to revisit a brand’s offer and promise to the customer in an Omni-channel context at a high velocity.

It’s essential that retailers build or have access to top-notch predictive advanced analytics capabilities to help them form key customer insights, identify growth opportunities, and determine the smartest Omni-channel investments for their companies.