How to Create a Seamless OmniChannel Strategy for Customers
Before the days of eCommerce, if you wanted to buy a television or a microwave, you’d go to a department store, or an electronics store, look at your various options on the shelves, and make your purchase. Thanks to word-of-mouth, sometimes you got advice from friends and family about which product to buy. But, when the internet came along, everything changed. The market expanded to remove the necessity to be local to the vendor and empowered consumers with the ability to research and learn before making purchases.
As we’ve continued to grow and evolve, we’ve added smartphones, laptops, and tablets to the equation, giving us the ability to use the internet on the go, and allowing multiple options to meet our shopping needs. 71% of customers who use their smartphones for in-store research say it is an important part of the experience. They’re comparing prices to make sure they’re getting the best deal, reading user reviews to make sure the product is worth the investment … because they know they can go to another store, buy the product online, or change to anther product entirely. They are in control. And many retailers are offering free Wi-Fi in-store, to help facilitate the process. It may seem counterproductive, but studies show free Wi-Fi offers a number of benefits, including customers spending more time in the store, customers willing to spend more money and bringing more customers into the store.
To reach as many of your target customers as possible, regardless of their demographic, your best bet is to sell your products and services across multiple channels. Having an online presence isn’t enough and having a traditional brick-and-mortar store isn’t enough. For success, retailers must have an omnichannel strategy, which allows them to ensure customers have a cohesive shopping experience regardless of the channel they opt to engage with.
How is this different from a multichannel strategy? A multichannel strategy is focused on building each channel’s performance as a “standalone” compared to the rest of them – with their own revenue goals and reporting structure. An omnichannel strategy, on the other hand, focuses on creating a cohesive, consistent experience, with reporting and revenue goals more centralized.
Here’s how you can make sure your brand has a seamless experience across the board.
From desktop to mobile, to physical store, your brand should have a consistent look and feel in terms of color, design, and messaging, across all channels, including social media. Not only does this ensure customers get a good experience, but it reinforces the brand to make it easier for customers to recognize and trust.
How can you maintain consistency with your messaging on social media? What does your brand’s voice and visual appearance suggest? If you have a lighthearted brand, the way you speak on social media should match that tone. On the other hand, if you have a serious brand, your messaging on social media should match that tone. What matters is authenticity – whatever aligns with your brand voice is okay, as long as you use it everywhere. Don’t be funny in one channel and serious in another.
Beyond that familiarity and confidence, consistency fosters learnability, so it’s easier for people to learn as they interact with you on various channels. When you keep the designs and features consistent all channels, it’s possible for your customers to complete their tasks more efficiently, allowing them to get more done, faster.
One way to build consistency is to make sure your website uses responsive design. This type of web design automatically adjusts the website to fit the parameters of the user’s screen so no matter whether they’re on a desktop, smartphone, or tablet, the user experience remains consistent.
With a responsive design, you also make sure your core functionality remains consistent across the channel. Of course, different channels have different capabilities, and certain tasks could be optimally supported on a single channel. But, if a channel isn’t a suited for a particular task, you won’t choose it for that task.
For instance, if a person is applying for a job, the best way to do that is with a desktop computer, it’s still reasonable to believe that some people will be using their smartphones or tablets, because they simply don’t have a desktop anymore.
As such, you have to do more than support the task and make sure the core features and workflows also remain consistent. Keep a similar interaction style on all the different channels, because this will be familiar to users, which helps to strengthen the brand, and allows people to use knowledge they’ve earned from previous interactions with the company.
Test the Experience Yourself
If you’re not sure where to start with making improvements for consistency, test the user experience yourself. Go through everything you’d expect a shopper to experience along his or her journey, mapping out where you become frustrated, or see bottle necks. Keep notes for the process. Have several people in your organization do the same thing – you may find a key problem area you didn’t know existed.
Don’t be afraid to invest in usability testing of your existing setup, using people from your target customer demographic. Based on the results of those tests, come up with a plan of action, and execute the necessary changes to improve on the experience.
Once the changes are live, repeat usability testing to see how the experience improves.
Integration Keeps Things Simple
Omni-channel retailers should aim to simplify the process for themselves, and for customers by integrating the buying and returns experience. Many retailers, such as Walmart and Kohl’s make it possible to buy online and pick up in-store – sometimes the same day if an item is in stock locally.
That’s a wonderfully handy feature for shoppers, but those retailers also take it one step further and say, if you buy it online, you can return it in-store, as well. This gives customers the freedom to shop whenever and however it is most convenient for them.
It could complicate things on the retail end while the program is first implemented, but with the right point of sale system and supply chain management platform, it is easy to manage. If mass retailers with thousands of SKUs and hundreds of store locations nationwide can handle it, small businesses can, too.
Central, Unified, View of Inventory
To keep things running smoothly on the operations side of things, it’s essential for you to have a clear view of your real-time inventory, at every store and distribution center. This will help customers see if an item they’re looking at online is in stock at their local store, and help you keep track of what’s been returned from online and in-store orders.
Sometimes people need something right now, but are in such a hurry it is easier for them to place an order online, walk into the store, and pick it up. This saves a lot of time compared to driving to the store, trying to determine if what they need is there, then waiting in line to check out. Having that central view of inventory keeps everyone – customers and employees – in line with their expectations, delivering better quality service.
Use a Killer Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Platform
CRM Is an integral part of the omnichannel experience. Since customers have so many options to contact your – email, phone, live chat, social media, and online self-service, it can be hard for customer service agents to know which channels users have already exhausted to find a solution. But, with CRM, your customer service agents can keep track of all kinds of details –so that if Agent A speaks to a customer about an issue via Facebook, and that customer returns later with a phone call, Agent B can see the notes about what was discussed during the previous interaction, and leave notes for a potential agent C, should another contact be initiated.
These customer history notes help provide a uniform view of the customer, so that no matter where and when an agent steps into help – be it in person at the store or over the phone or email, the experience is seamless for the customer.
Remember, to your customers, you are a single company –they don’t draw lines to segment your company into departments like you do. As they move from channel to channel, they expect their account information find to be valid and consistent.
For example, if an unsatisfied customer calls customer service with an issue and the agent issues a credit, the credit should be visible immediately in the online system. This way the customer can login to his or her account and see the credit right away. Without that, the customer may doubt the credit will be applied and call back. Not only does this create more work for the agents, but also contributes to distrust.
The Key is Customer Experience
You want your customers to have a positive experience with you whether they are shopping with you online, or in one of your retail stores. In many cases, this comes down to adding personalization to your strategy, since each customer has different and unique needs. Even with privacy concerns, 73% of consumers prefer to conduct their business with brands that make use of personal information to increase shopping experience relevance. And if you’re not making an effort to personalize the experience, you could be missing out, because 86% of consumers say personalization is a factor in purchasing decisions.
Customer A may visit you online, on Facebook, and in-store. To create the best possible experience for him, your data needs to be able to separate him from the other customers who visit you across multiple channels, and the customers who only visit you online or in-store. The most efficient way to do this is to personalize the data for each customer, so you can identify patterns in customer behavior and tailor offers and experiences to each of them. Your CRM can help you see some of the patterns, so you’re not wasting time and money sending the wrong offers to the wrong segment.
How can you get data from the customers, to help you make their experience better? Simple – let them self-identify. You can require them to register before making a purchase, using either a traditional form-filled approach, or allowing them to use their social media profiles to login. You can capture the identity data as a basis for personalizing the experience. Then, as the shopper creates a trail – products browsed, purchased, returned, gifted, etc. you can add the information to the file. The more information available, the more tailored the experience can be, and the more tailored the experience, generally speaking, the more satisfied the customer.
Is this a shady practice? No, as long as you’re transparent about the data you’re collecting, why you’re collecting it, and how it will be used. If you don’t let customers know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, or you misuse the data, then you’re in trouble, risking your credibility and trust with the audience.
The Future is Omnichannel
Businesses that capitalize on omnichannel now, will be in good shape in the future since they will be positioned ahead of competition that drags along in the transition to omnichannel marketing. Retailers who are quickly adapting to new technology and rapidly changing customer expectations will be ready to meet those changes.
Through data collection and analysis, businesses can better personalize their consumer approach across all channels, with a number of solutions that allow them to better align their messaging and goals. In the end, this translates to better profit margins for the company as a whole, while also improving the customer experience.
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