Retail IT spending is expected to surpass $190 billion in 2015, driven by trends such as omnichannel integration. In this era of technical innovation, consumers want all touch points with a brand to be interconnected for a seamless shopping experience whether online, in store or on a mobile device. To respond to this need and provide consumers with the exceptional shopping experience they desire, forward-looking retailers are implementing far reaching omnichannel strategies in 2015.
So what do retailers need to consider when they set out to not only provide their products and services across various channels, but to actually design and build out meaningful customer journey experiences that flow smoothly from one channel to another, a true ominchannel approach?
The growing capabilities of mobile devices has resulted in a fundamental technology shift that emphasizes User Experience (UX) design as paramount over feature/function capabilities. Technologists are now obsessed with how you navigate your device, not just the feature stack available in them. Long after Microsoft’s Zune musical device died despite the impressive list of functionality it offered, Apple’s various music devices continue to soar in popularity. What is fascinating about their success, and too often missed, is how their design involves a compromise of what you can do in favor of how you do it.
There is a business analogy here: do a short list of things (read features) incredibly well versus a long list poorly executed (read difficult to navigate). Omnichannel experiences that transcend and then bring together online, chat, mobile, call center and brick and mortar experiences offer up this challenge. What retailers need to solve for in bringing these channels together is an understanding of and a commitment to the few things that customers will love that the retailer can then differentiate itself in providing. Pursuing the long list of current customer demands and executing with mediocrity on them all is the fool’s game.
In building effective customer journeys that transition across channels, a second obvious oversight often occurs: staying in touch and in tune with the customer throughout the shopping experience. Brands that pursue an understanding of how satisfied customers are with their overall journey versus isolated and disjointed surveys within each channel are bound to win, as they align their own interests with that of their consumer. In tandem with experience oriented technology, organizations need a culture shift — they must commit to listening to customers and understanding how they feel about their overall journey experience versus creating separate processes, measures and often competing goals at each touch point.
Technology is rapidly shifting but today’s customers pursue value, not just price, as they always have done. Trust in a company and a belief in how a company values its customers will always significantly impact purchase decisions. When customers feel valued, they buy more, stay longer, are more likely to make repeat purchases, and they advocate on the brands behalf.
If executed correctly, omnichannel can be a powerful tool for building customer relationships. Since most retailers are in the omnichannel development stage — 83% of retail chief executive officers report that their current supply chains are "not optimal" for meeting omnichannel's demands — there is a huge opportunity to innovate, differentiate and pull ahead of your competition. To do so, get close to the customer as they journey and devise omnichannel strategies that simplify and elevate the customer experience.
Retailers must be open to experimentation with what model of omnichannel works best for their customer base. During initial phases of discovery, it’s essential to get customer feedback at each stage of the journey, not just at the end. The critical point here is not that the customer should only be asked for their feedback at the end of the journey but rather that the brand stays with the customer and solicits feedback throughout. Like a CRM system that recognizes a customer when they land in a new channel, feedback mechanisms need to respect and build on a “welcome back” approach that acknowledges to the customer their previous feedback and builds on it for each phase of their journey.
The potential of a fully optimized and rich omnichannel customer experience is massive. In its highest form, it would connect all communication and commerce channels, the supply chain, customer feedback and service, operations, finance and contact centers. Information would be shared across all parts of the business, allowing not only a more comprehensive understanding of customers’ behaviors and needs but an immediate capability to respond in the moment to it. Customers could obtain more information, have better access, get greater convenience and have a more valued experience than ever before. Brands would have better data, more frequent customer interactions, more targeted and effective communications, and most importantly, more targeted and effective services to offer up that truly differentiate. More meaningful brand interactions lead to better sales.
If done well, the new frontier of a customer-focused omnichannel experience presents unprecedented opportunities for brands to create and nurture deeper and multifaceted relationships with their customers. Retailers’ abilities to understand and engage with customers throughout their journey at a level unimaginable 20 years ago transforms customer relationship management into an opportunity for true omnichannel experience management.
Gary Edwards, PhD, has led worldwide and domestic research on customer & employee behavior for more than 20 years. He oversees the marketing insights department and sales organization at InMoment with a focus on influencing client strategy and customer relations. Over the past 10 years, Edwards has worked with the leadership of numerous multi-unit enterprises to develop, implement, and maintain customer experience programs. From leadership positions overseeing sales, marketing, client strategy, account management, marketing science, and retail insights, Edwards has consistently solved business challenges with research and technology solutions. He is a trusted advisor and consultant to senior executives of the world’s largest and most successful brands in the food service, retail, petro convenience, and financial services sectors. His thought leadership and insights into consumer behavior make him a frequent and sought-after public speaker on customer experience management.