Let me tell you about a situation that I found myself in recently.
I’d been browsing on Instagram, looking at the latest fashion trends and spotted a post which showed a pair of shoes.
The shoes are exactly what I was looking for, so I clicked on the post and it took me to a brand’s profile. There was a link which redirected me to their branded website where I could buy the shoes, so I did. After a few days, the shoes were delivered on time straight to my door.
Sounds like a perfect cross-channel journey so far, right? Here’s what happened next…
Excitedly, I tried the shoes on. Disaster strikes… they are far too big! Rather than heading to the post office, I decided it will be easier and quicker to pop to their physical store on the high street and exchange the shoes there. However, once I arrived at the cashier, the assistant explained that they don’t hold those particular shoes in stock and as they were an online purchase, they couldn’t process a refund.
This resulted in a wasted trip and meant I’d have to make a separate journey to post the shoes back to the company. This was all very inconvenient, and I’ll think twice before buying shoes online from that brand again!
Ouch. They were doing so well.
Can you remember a time when you didn’t carry a phone around everywhere, or when social media wasn’t a thing? Do you remember asking your mum to get off the phone so that you could go on the internet? What’s more, do you remember this:
Fast forward to the present day, technology and the internet has had a dramatic effect on the way we live our lives. The internet is so deeply entrenched into our daily lives that nowadays, the idea of going a day without using technology is for most, completely out of the question.
We live in a world of multiple touchpoints across multiple devices. We are completely connected.
Here’s a rundown of a typical day (one which might not be dissimilar from yours):
Once I’ve woken up, I promptly pick up my phone to check my emails, social media or news. Once I’ve arrived at work, a large proportion of the day is spent on a desktop computer. I get home after work and ask Alexa to play some music whilst I prepare dinner. Then finally, to wind down after a long day, I switch on my smart TV to stream my favourite TV show, at the same time using the iPad to browse for an outfit for a night out this weekend.
A typical day for me included five devices: mobile phone, desktop, voice-controlled smart speaker, a smart TV and a tablet.
This tells us that the game has changed. Today, it isn’t about whether or not we choose to go online, it’s about how we choose to go online, and for what purpose.
This also applies to the way your customers choose to interact with your brand. An omnichannel approach is therefore the most effective strategy for offering a seamless, unified customer experience, regardless of what channel your customer chooses to use.
So, to help you create the best omnichannel customer experience strategy for your business, we’ve put together 7 useful tips to help you get started.
1. Understand your audience
The most important thing to remember about creating an omnichannel experience is that it needs to deliver what your customer wants, when they want it, how they want it. But, this inevitably varies depending on the type of customer you have and the type of company you are. Therefore, the first thing to do before setting out on any strategy is to do some deep research on your customers to truly understand the people who make up your audience.
The thing is, your customers aren’t identical to each other, so there will be differences in the ways customers choose to interact with your brand and purchase your products. Depending on the type of service you offer, you might have a very niche audience all looking for the same thing, or you might have a mixed audience, so you’ll need to develop several customer personas to build your strategy around.
2. Breaking down department silos
In order to build an omnichannel customer experience, you need to cover all bases. The customer’s experience needs to be seamless as they swap between in-person interactions and various online channels, which means that many, if not all company departments need to be pulling together in the same direction.
Today, customers have many more options available to them which makes the brand (and their goods) more readily accessible. As such, there are more interfaces between the brand and the customer than there ever has been - and crucially, many of these are digitised and don’t necessarily involve human to human communication.
For example, it is very common for a customer to discover a brand on social media, follow through to their website, browse their products and make a purchase, without speaking to a brand representative at all.
This means that it’s extremely important that every touchpoint that customer has with the brand is unified and seamless, so that the customer doesn’t run into any issues as they engage with your various channels.
Breaking down department silos are necessary in order to keep internal communication between teams clear, so they can work together to deliver customer experience projects faster and more effectively. Marketing needs to have direct access to development teams, who need to communicate with sales teams and customer support teams, and vice versa in a multitude of different ways.
All of these departments share responsibility in managing an omnichannel customer experience, so it’s vital that silos are broken down to allow communication to flow and become more in line with each other’s projects.
3. Scale your content to fit different screens
It’s all well and good trying to create an omnichannel customer experience, but if content isn’t optimised properly for different screens, you can often fall down at the first hurdle.
“This website is amazing on mobile! I love that I have to zoom in 500% to press a button!”
- Said no one ever
The purpose of omnichannel is to enable your customers to interact with your brand with ease and fluidity, switching across different channels as they choose.
Unfortunately, not all websites automatically optimize their content for different screen sizes, so not doing this can disrupt your customers online journey. In the worst cases, this can deter online customers from making a purchase or using your website in the future.
Aside from creating a negative customer experience, not optimising your website for mobile can also hurt your SEO rankings, making it harder for your brand to get discovered in the first place.
4. Get it right before introducing a new channel
Have you ever heard the phrase “don’t run before you can walk”? Well, this is one of the times where people can make the mistake of doing just that.
The common advice for implementing an omnichannel strategy is to open up as many channels as possible, to widen your accessibility so that more of your customers can communicate with you. As well as this, operating across multiple channels can also be used to increase your company’s discoverability; the more places you’re in, the more likely your brand is to be found.
This is all true, but here’s the catch: this only works if the quality of customer experience is consistent across all channels, whether it’s in-store, on your branded website, on your app or on social media.
A great omnichannel customer experience should be seamless. So, it’s a better strategy to perfect what you know you can manage properly and build from there, rather than trying to launch everything at once. If a customer starts out on a glossy, pristine Instagram profile then follows a link to a poorly designed website, this can create a jarring experience for the customer and could leave them feeling frustrated. In some cases, customers may even question the legitimacy of your company if the quality of the experience is particularly inconsistent.
Another thing to bear in mind is exactly which channels are best for your brand to be focusing their efforts on, as these vary depending on the type of company you are and the type of customer you’re looking to attract.
Make sure that the integration of your existing channels is seamless before you start to increase the number of channels your brand manages.
Understanding your demographics...
Understanding how your demographics choose to shop can help you to build a strategy that works alongside your customers wants and needs, rather than battling against the tide.
Depending on the demographic you’re looking to target, the balance to strike between online and offline channels will differ considerably.
Younger generations such as Gen Z and younger millennials, will almost always prefer to use online channels to interact with your brand, with social media and branded websites being the most popular channels to use.
Conversely, older generations such as Gen X, older millennials and baby boomers prefer to shop in physical stores and branded websites, with very few Gen Xs opting to use social media channels and no baby boomers using Instagram or Snapchat at all.
5. Offering a balanced ‘brick-and-click’ service
Just because the quality of the experience needs to be consistent across channels, this doesn’t mean that the experiences themselves have to be identical. People choose to use different channels because they want to experience different sides of your brand. By understanding the different elements of your business, you can create campaigns to surprise and delight your customers.
One thing to remember is that although digital channels account for an increasingly larger share of the market, physical stores are by no means defeated. In 2019, the ecommerce share of global retail sales is just shy of 14%. Although this is a significant number which is growing year-on-year, it still shows that physical stores still hold the lion’s share of the market.
For an effective omnichannel strategy to work, it’s therefore important to understand that your customers are very rarely purely online or offline. It’s all well and good integrating your online channels with one another, but if the physical stores aren’t part of the strategy then the customer experience is split into two halves.
So if you’re a company whose origins lie in physical stores, understand what your customers most enjoy from the experience they are familiar with and have come to expect from your brand and maximise that. At the same time, consider what different experiences you might be able to offer them if you opened up digital channels.
By doing this, you can help to create a holistic brand experience for your customers.
A great example of a company which is doing this well is Amazon. Check out this infographic case study to see how they introduced a physical experience to the biggest ecommerce company on the planet:
6. Enable cross-channel customer journeys from start to finish
In order to be truly omnichannel, it’s important that customers can pick up on one channel where they left on another.
This idea doesn’t just refer to customer journeys, though. It also refers to specific tasks customers need to complete as part of their interaction with the brand. Many companies can offer a seamless experience during the beginning stages of the customer journey, but what about later on?
Remember that story I told you at the beginning of the article about my car-crash of an experience shopping for shoes online?
The pitfall in that scenario was that the omnichannel strategy was only applied to the beginning stages of the customer journey. When I needed to engage in a further exchange with the brand post-sale, the ‘omnichannel’ experience didn’t extend as far as it needed to in order to keep me satisfied as a customer.
To deliver a fully omnichannel experience in this scenario, the assistant should have been able to process a refund for me in store, ending my customer journey neatly. Behind the scenes, the logistics would be arranged to get the shoes back to the warehouse.
There are some brands who are able to deliver this spectacularly well. An example of a brand which bridges the gap between offline and online in a great way in the retail sector is fashion retailer Oasis:
7. Implement omnichannel support services
Offering customers high quality support and assistance when they need it is crucial for developing an omnichannel customer experience strategy.
As customers interact with your brand across different channels throughout the buying journey, it is important that you provide an omnichannel customer support strategy to run alongside it.
To create an omnichannel customer experience, customers should be able to communicate directly with an agent on the channel they are currently interacting with. Live web chat is a popular contact channel for companies and customers to use, as it enables instant communication as the customer journeys through the website.
A benefit of live web chat on websites and other online channels is that it doesn’t require the customer to leave the website environment if they need to ask a question. This way, the customer can receive a tailored, in-depth response to their query without disrupting their online experience with the brand.
It’s important for companies to be as agile as possible to be able to keep up with emerging trends which constantly reshape customer journeys. Technology is embedded within our daily lives, and the level of integration will only increase into the future.
Customers expect brands to be in tune with their need for instant gratification, and a strategy which worked well for a company even 5 years ago may now be completely outdated. In order to remain relevant in intense market competition, brands must work towards creating omnichannel strategies to deliver the best experiences for their customers, now and in the future.
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