The Internet today is a very different place than it was a few years ago, and as capabilities and features have increased, so have customer expectations and a company’s ability to meet them. Today it is possible to not only provide your customers opportunities on multiple platforms, but you are able to effectively predict where they are in the sales cycle and offer them appropriately timed information and incentives.
This all-encompassing customer experience is being referred to as an “omni-channel” experience and it is a natural evolutionary step in the ever-increasing development of marketing techniques that embrace the multiple device lifestyle so common among consumers today.
In the Beginning, There was “Multi-Channel”
It has been clear for a long time that customers find a business through multiple channels. Some might see a print ad or a billboard while others find a website or drive by a store. If a company fails to recognize that their customers can come from many different sources, they are leaving lots of potential relationships on the table. Businesses have been multi-channel for a long time, but in the last few years, the number of channels available have increased dramatically as social networking and mobile devices have become the norm.
As analytical data on customer behavior has become more and more plentiful, it is evident that consumers use multiple channels for their shopping and that the more channels they find, the more they develop a familiarity with your product or service and, ultimately, a loyalty to your brand.
Cross-Channel: Unifying the Message
Today, customers of every business are demanding more personal, customized Web experiences, especially on mobile devices. By the end of 2015, the number of smartphone users surpassed three billion worldwide and they are changing the way people think about communication, engagement and commerce. Nearly all smartphone owners expect stores and businesses of all kinds to provide important services via apps, and they use those criteria in deciding where to shop.
It is critically important that a company’s message, pricing, product information and other details be consistent no matter how a customer is interacting with the brand. Cross-channel marketing means that you are marketing with a consistent identity across every channel, whether your webpage is viewed from a desktop, laptop, or mobile device, a mobile app, or even in-store screens and kiosks, and your message, look and feel are consistent and easily recognized. Your customer also should be able to start their shopping experience on their mobile device and continue it right where they left off if they switch to their laptop or desktop. But today, more and more, we are seeing the beginning of an even richer customer experience.
Omni-Channel: Shift to the Customer’s Point of View
Every action that is performed in the digital world leaves behind fragments of the actions taken and traces of data that together present the start of an understanding of your customer’s experience. By gathering those fragments through the myriad of analytical data available today, marketing professionals gain snapshots, moments of understanding of what motivates and satisfies customers. By combining those snapshots, marketers can contextualize the motion of the user, making it possible for the brand to better interact with and serve the user and to anticipate need and desire.
In addition to consistent functionality throughout all channels, an omni-channel experience includes more. For example, a fast-food customer can examine menus from any device, make selections, apply coupons, have their order ready when they arrive or get it delivered, apply coupons, have access to an order history, and get email confirmation and an email receipt. They can start their experience on any device, get interrupted, and continue on any other device. And there will be dynamic follow-through by asking the customer to review their experience and comment on how the process could be improved, inviting them to join the social media outlets of the brand, and sending coupons and offers in the future timed to current events or specific targeting data obtained from the customer – with permission, of course.
The omni-channel experience also means that customers leave choices in a virtual shopping cart, they are reminded and maybe even sent a coupon as an incentive to complete the purchase.
Customers who use multiple channels are very valuable to a business. A 2015 study showed that shoppers who buy in-store and online are the most valuable kind of customer, having a 30 percent higher lifetime value than those who shop using only one channel.
Starting and Supporting an Omni-Channel Experience
To create a successful, dynamic, and nimble omni-channel marketing experience requires an organizational structure that has departments closely collaborating. Your online and in-store marketing teams, product teams, merchandising teams, and customer service teams must work closely together to develop consistent, complementary experiences. And of course, close coordination with IT departments is crucial.
To develop a successful omni-channel program, here are some ideas for getting started:
- Understand your customer – Research, gather data and perform tests. Really understand your customers’ needs and wants and their preferred pathways to your door.
- Gather data – Get your analytics program going and understand what elements there are to be measured. Don’t think you need them all. Choose carefully the data sets that you need.
- Segment your customer base – Understand the many different desires your customers have and the many ways they want to interact with your brand and products.
- Create the content for each path that each type of customer could take to get to you.
- Get your social media channels going and make them consistent.
- Come up with a strategy for returns – An important part of an omni-channel experience for today’s customers is being able to return items. Integrate the return process into your plan.
- Whether you are a product or a service, have a crystal-clear view of your inventory.
- Create a robust CRM system not only to track and contain data, but to provide an exceptional customer service experience.
Evolving toward an omni-channel experience can change the face of your organization and help you create the dynamic, satisfying experience that today’s technology driven customer expects.