Chances are, you’ve heard the word omnichannel. Like any sufficiently worn buzzword, everybody has their own understanding of its meaning based on personal experience, while few have attempted to clearly articulate or document its core premise. Let’s change that today. And then let’s look at some relevant challenges and success stories.
The central premise of omnichannel is a holistically seamless brand experience that adapts to the customer’s life, rather than the other way around. Time, location, and channel are no longer impediments to commerce, but rather are component opportunities within a stronger, more personalized, and more comprehensive brand relationship.
Omnichannel takes advantage of the unique opportunities presented by every available channel to improve CX in a cohesive way, from customer acquisition to brand evangelism. Ecommerce, social media, brick and mortar, custom hardware and technology, call center, wearables, loyalty programs, marketing campaigns and targeting/retargeting strategies, packaging and more are all carefully considered and crafted components of an end-to-end, customer-first experience.
Given that the customer is central to this premise, individual identity is key. This means collecting and employing customer data for personalization to be sure, but even before that it means being able to access a singular, consistent identity across all channels. Within the world of ecommerce, this is relatively easy. But try asking in-store customers to self-identify without a compelling value proposition and watch how fast your brand is labelled as intrusive. Balancing privacy and general “creepiness” against personalization and convenience is a challenge that won’t be going away anytime soon.
Another challenge often arises from outdated corporate culture, and–more specifically–structure. An organization that hasn’t properly integrated through a modern digital transformation often produces customer experiences that betray internal silos. Imagine a delightfully personalized, in-store clientelling experience–fueled by your individual preference and browsing data–followed up by a call center debacle with a rep who can’t even access your purchase history. Seams and disconnects between channels are like cracks in a fine flute of champagne–if you’re trying to create an experience that transcends the sum of its parts, you can’t keep drawing attention to the flawed or broken parts.
There are many other issues like these that make tackling omnichannel challenging, and each unique proposition requires its own uniquely holistic solution. The good news is that there are a number of success stories to be inspired from. Here are a few:
Your Apple ID isn’t just for accessing iTunes (R.I.P.), it’s the heart of Apple’s omnichannel experience. You can schedule time with a Genius to have your MacBook keyboard replaced through your iPhone, check-in to your appointment in-store, pay for new Airpods, and access your receipt all with your Apple ID. Apple’s walled garden may have its drawbacks, but their seamlessly integrated hardware, software, services, and experiences are tough to beat. And surprisingly–given their end-to-end integration into our lives–Apple has better reputation than its peers when it comes to privacy. In fact, customer control of personal information is increasingly the centerpiece of its differentiation strategy.
Disney opens its gates to us at a very young age, cementing its intellectual property within our developing hippocampi in a magical way that optimizes for nostalgia and reproduction later in life. As adults, we prepare for our pilgrimage to Disney World/Land/etc. using the My Disney Experience app. This app allows us to book our entire trip, explore, plan, and order meals, book FastPasses, access park maps and wayfind attractions, view and order photos and photo merchandise, and do just about anything else you’d ever want in a Disney trip lifecycle companion. With Disney MagicBands (smart wristbands), you can enter the park without paper tickets, check-into rides, pay for things, open resort room doors, and more. There is much to learn here, and we haven’t even mentioned Disney’s retail store network.
Crate & Barrel
Homeware brand Crate & Barrel wanted to combine the best of ecommerce with brick and mortar retail. It developed a program called “Mobile Totes” that gives in-store shoppers digital tablets to scan products as they browse. Taking advantage of the organic multichannel trend that saw in-store shoppers browsing product reviews from competing retailers on their phones, the tablets enable access to on-brand reviews seamlessly. Customers can conclude their sessions by saving their shopping lists for later online purchase, or checkout in-store while a sales associate gathers the items from their virtual shopping carts for them. In addition to being a delightful retail experience, the in-store data Crate & Barrel gathers enables a truly 360-degree view of their customers.
If you are thinking, well that is all well and good, but how do I start to replicate the success of the brands above, you are not alone. As you start to formulate your plan, consider the following tips:
- Design your products and user-experiences around what is ideal for your customers, and not what is possible based on your existing architecture by focusing on user episodes. Read more about placing your customers at the centre of your business transformation here.
- Remember that buying behaviour is driven by emotions – ensure that your brand is making an emotional connection with your customers through your omnichannel experiences.
- Create a culture of innovation within your business – successful innovation programmes stand on the right building blocks of strategy, execution and scale. Find additional principles to consider here.
The promise of being able to give customers what they want, when they want it, or to market to them with the exact right message at the exact right moment in their journeys is as enticing as it is challenging. But if your organization can be disciplined enough to organize around this holistic, customer-first approach, we believe it is a promise well worth pursuing.