Omnichannel: Why are so many businesses STILL failing to deliver it?

Omnichannel: Why are so many businesses STILL failing to deliver it?

An omnichannel customer experience remains the holy grail for many businesses – yet in my experience, just like the holy grail, for most companies it remains just out of reach.

I came across a recent survey of 500 IT and business decision-makers that reveals that 82% of retailers are committed to implementing a data-centric strategy in the next five years, and 58% of retail decisions are being guided by data, yet almost half are yet to implement a single customer view in the omnichannel era!

Consistency is key

There are a few organisations out there who are doing it well. Argos is widely acknowledged as providing a good omnichannel experience. You’re able to go online, see what’s in stock at local store, place a reservation, walk into store and then go to the counter to collect it. Consistency here is key: the process beyond reserving the item is the same online and offline.

But with companies spending a great deal of time and money trying to create a seamless customer experience across all of their channels, it begs the question… why are so many failing so abysmally?

The difficulties in achieving omnichannel

Companies face many challenges when attempting a seamless omnichannel experience. Many retailers have not yet implemented a strategy that provides a holistic view of their customers.

It’s hard to marry data, particularly with legacy back end systems, and many businesses don’t have the data analytics experience. Despite customer experience becoming a mantra for leading retailers, only 46% use data analytics to better understand their customers’ behaviour and needs across all of their channels. It is because of this that a truly seamless omnichannel experience is very rarely experienced by customers who interact with a business across different touch-points, such as online and then also in-store.

A wine merchant I previously worked with provides a good example. When they implemented a new ecommerce platform to support their brick and mortar stores they envisioned customers walking in to their stores and have different wines light up on the shelves based on previous purchases. A brilliant idea, but several years on and this has still not been actioned. They also wanted to provide a personalised shopping experience, matching the skills and knowledge about wines of store staff. This too has yet to be implemented. Perhaps the inability to execute these customer experience projects is due to legacy back-end systems that cannot marry data with in-store technology.

Perhaps treating online shoppers and in-store shoppers differently would make more sense. Online a customer needs easy navigation, informative content, good product images, choice of delivery options and click and collect facilities. Where as an in-store customer wants to ask for a staff member to advise them on choices, listen to what they need, budget, taste etc. Customers expect to be treated as a VIP in-store, but online they want a simple and frictionless experience, fast and cost-effective.

What do consumers REALLY want?

Many organisations believe that what customers most want is to be recognised. However, with its ominous shades of Minority Report, and often unhelpful follow-on recommendations based on purchase and browsing history, would customers often prefer to retain their anonymity?

The customer has at heart, quite simple needs. For the customer who knows what they want, the company should provide stock availability, store locations, store opening times, parking at the store etc. For the customer who doesn’t know what they’re after the company should offer advice, then provide them with suggestions based on what other people purchased and viewed. Ask some basic questions to be able to provide them with relevant product options. Here, guided selling, online chat service and AI are all useful.

A company would do well to remember that its point of difference vs pure play businesses is its employees. Customers can’t go to a pure play and have a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. Online, customers want the same sense of customer service as offline. i.e: they want to be greeted at the door to the restaurant, not ignored for five minutes and thinking that because you’re able to see that they viewed their a la carte menu online and offered the customer the specials menu, that is going to make them feel special.

Remember to focus on the basics

As with most customer interactions, omnichannel is as much about what to avoid as it is what to include. Rather than attempting to do too much, the key to a good omnichannel experience is to remember the core needs of the customer. This means that businesses should focus on basics such as the availability of the product, a quick checkout without having to enter or re-enter excess information, good delivery and returns options, real-time delivery tracking and a good customer service if there is a problem or query.

Equally, companies shouldn’t be scared of providing a different customer experience online and offline – being aware of what can be achieved easily in each setting means you are much more likely to get closer to the elusive holy grail of a seamless experience!

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