As new technologies emerge and gain adoption, explore new channels to engage your customers and take customer experience into the future.
Omnichannel is a business strategy. It aims to deliver a consistent, seamless, and effortless experience within — and across — the platforms that customers use to engage the brands they buy from every day. While this may surprise you, the concept of omnichannel is 20 years old.
In 2003, Best Buy first introduced the strategy to compete with Walmart’s electronics department by creating an approach aligning the in-store and online customer experience. At the time, Best Buy called it “assembled commerce.” It would not be until 2010 when IDC Retail Insights published a report on the importance of omnichannel that we would formally start to see the term used in business.
Since that time, and with the introduction of the smartphone affording consumers greater ease to engage with the brands they love, omnichannel has played a significant role in business. The importance of a successful omnichannel strategy is clear:
Yet with all of the emphasis on omnichannel as a strategy over the last 20 years, and the clear benefits of delivering on one, why do so many companies still struggle to execute well? Particularly given that consumers expect a consistent, seamless, and effortless experience across platforms, focusing on an omnichannel strategy is more important than ever.
While this may seem obvious, taking stock of the different ways your customers interact with you, understanding their preferred way to interact with your company depending on the journey, and expectations within their preferred way, is a critical first step. Specifically, customers may use different channels depending on whether they have a service inquiry or issue versus a purchase journey. And you likely have different types of customers, or personas, who leverage these interaction points differently.
Understanding your customers’ path to engage your brand, including their preferred way to engage, will help you identify gaps in your technology stack. For example, your customers might call into your contact center for issue resolution; however, their preferred method is to self-serve through an in-app or chatbot experience. Once you’ve identified potential gaps, invest in enabling technologies that will help your company meet your customers’ expectations. But how do you identify potential gaps? There are multiple signals your customers leave you.
While one signal is direct feedback via a quantitative survey, others may include captured insights from ethnographic research. Other sources could include capturing their digital behavior through session recordings, and mining transcribed contact center calls for sentiment and thematics. The important point here is to identify the sources you have access to today, where you have gaps in capturing customer signals, and developing a strategy for closing those gaps.
Investing in technology that helps your company listen to what customers are saying, and what customers are doing, is critical to delivering a best-in-class, omnichannel experience. This is not just about surveys. Specifically, invest in platforms that help your company track digital behavior and identify friction points. This technology should be artificial intelligence enabled, helping your company analyze disparate data sources across your organization, and deliver predictive insights about your customers; this could include propensity to churn or next-best conversation based on a customer’s unique activity. Finally, this capability should deliver these insights and actions directly to the teams who own the action; do not centralize the capability and insights in one team, with a view to disseminate in a monthly report (for example). This slows down your company’s ability to act in the moment, and in context.
Finally, any technology you invest in should be able to connect with multiple platforms out of the box, including your CRM platform. Customer data and insights should be integrated with your CRM to allow for greater personalization of the experience through the journey. This integration can help support efforts of multiple teams, including marketing, sales, support or service, and your executive leadership team.
Customers will interact in extended reality (XR) environments within the next several years, and this new channel will be for both personal and professional use. Companies today are onboarding new employees in fully immersive, digital environments. Amazon already offers augmented reality (AR) capabilities through an in-app experience, where you can look at the product you want to buy in the room where it will be. And while much has already been written about the Metaverse, make no mistake that your customers will expect you to have a presence there.
By the year 2030, expect customers to jump in and out of different environments — physical, digitally immersive (known as the metaverse), or augmented reality — when engaging with your brand. Let’s take a car technician who is working underneath a car as an example. This technician will contact a customer service agent in the metaverse for help on a specific part, switch to augmented reality to see the product they bought with live instructions to swap out the part in the car, and then go to the manufacturer’s app to order more parts. This will happen all while never moving from underneath the car.
So while omnichannel has been around for 20 years, companies need to start thinking about designing experiences that are built for interactions in the omniverse. With the advent of extended reality, or all real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by technology, customers will be jumping in and out of virtual, digital, and physical environments to engage with the companies they buy from.
Your customers will demand from you experiences that do not exist today. And your customers will become as familiar with engaging in the metaverse, as they would be engaging in your physical location, like a retail store or bank branch.
These new digital paradigms will also create opportunities to capture insights from customers. The amount of data that can be collected via new signal capture will be exponential relative to what can be captured today. To analyze all of this new data, companies will need to employ artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) across their organization. To prepare for this, understanding your current data architecture and how flexible it is to include new sources of data will be critical. In addition, companies should take stock in how they’re using AI and ML today and create governance around it to ensure consistency across the business.
Nearly every company will provide an extended reality experience to their customers at some point. Virtual stores, fully-immersive virtual events, and virtual reality training for the workforce are already available. Leading brands ranging from Chase Bank to Disney and H&M are investing in — or already have a presence in — these new platforms, including the metaverse. The possibilities across all verticals are endless, and new experiences will be delivered that, as consumers, we can’t quite fathom today.
The first step in preparing for this new reality, whether virtual or not, is to simply build a presence. Because things like the metaverse are so new, now is the time to take some calculated risks and experiment to see what your customers react to, and how your competitors react too. If you don’t take the risk now, someone may define your brand for you. Companies should equate this to the early days of the internet. You may not have invested in your company’s URL at the time, but someone else likely did, and it cost you down the road when your organization was ready to fully commit.
Establishing a presence and experimenting requires two things: strategy and talent. Set clear goals and objectives for what your company wants to achieve through this experimentation phase, the actions your company needs to take to achieve them, and the resources required to get there. In addition, because operating in extended reality is so new, identify talent in the marketplace now, and identify the training needed for existing employees to help you achieve your goals.