Today’s customer journey is not linear. The old tale of visiting a store, browsing what is in stock and paying at the counter has evolved into a more fluid narrative. Now, thanks to the omni-channel experience, customers are free to shop across devices, locations and times.
“The omni-channel experience is an integrated and frictionless approach to engaging and serving customers,” says Mayank Agrawal, co-founder and chief technology officer, DotcomWeavers. “It allows a harmonious journey across and between online and offline channels.”
In an omni-channel environment, one customer might start browsing on their phone, try on an item in-store and complete the sale on a desktop, while another may choose to buy products with the help of a sales representative via live chat. The point here is flexibility.
In 2018, restricting customer options risks losing them. Offering a true omni-channel experience encourages conversions and is one of the keys to growing a business. Additionally, omni-channel brands are typically more profitable than their single- and multi-channel competitors. Convenience and conversions go hand-in-hand.
Though seamless service is the goal, every organization is unique and must develop its own omni-channel strategy and infrastructure. Below are some guidelines to help determine where and how to start.
Before updating a business to offer an omni-channel experience, one needs to understand how customers prefer to shop. In this case, products are secondary because people already know what they want to buy. The goal is to be the best at providing customers with what they want.
Google Analytics is an ideal tool when it comes to understanding a website’s customer activity and behavior. Reading the available customer reviews and sending short surveys simplifies the data gathering process, and connecting with customers on social media allows for even more insight. Business owners with brick-and-mortar locations or opt-in call lists also have the option of speaking to customers directly.
Armed with this information, businesses can align technology and content across channels to give customers what they want.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to dictate where a customer will start shopping or how they will buy. The good news, however, is that this does not matter as long as an omni-channel experience is offered.
By looking at a business’ structure — from brick-and-mortar stores and websites, to apps, social media, SMS and email — it becomes possible to connect (or add) these channels so that they provide a journey that gives customers the freedom to shop and buy based on individualized preference.
Systems should be coordinated to work together depending on business size, type, current technology and future goals. Smaller companies may need to update their OMS (order management system), while larger businesses may need a complete ERP (enterprise resource planning) software overhaul.
Without a true omni-channel solution, companies do not have an efficient way to share and translate data from in-store purchases and online retention campaigns to marketing content and back again. Additionally, before an omni-channel experience can capture conversions, it must work for that particular business structure. Connecting channels is as much about improving business processes as it is about making customers happy.
Once the technology to support an omni-channel solution has been acquired, the focus should shift to personalizing the user experience (UX).
Start with simple conveniences. Ensure that product information (descriptions, images, stock quantities, prices, etc.) are consistent across platforms. What someone sees about a product on a website should match what appears on the app, as well as how it appears in-store.
Help customers make purchase decisions by allowing them to interact with products via unique digital content and physical experiences. Product images and videos will provide context, but offering virtual try-on tools or even at-home try-ons will make the shopping experience immersive and compelling.
Do not break the spell. Let customers choose where and when to buy. Offer mobile-optimized checkouts and options for buying over the phone, in beautiful retail locations and even on social media.
The customer journey does not end after checkout. Fast shipping, real-time tracking and 24/7 customer support are all a part of the omni-channel experience. After delivery, use CRM (customer relationship management) software to follow up with customers, foster a relationship, earn trust and generate new sales.
If a company is ready to create an omni-channel experience, everyone should be on board. Launching a true omni-channel solution requires a team effort and total buy-in from every department. This can be a challenge for siloed organizations, but do not worry — there is still time.
Just remember, the connected future belongs to businesses that invest in brilliant omni-channel experiences.