Advances In Omnichannel Customer Service

Most retailers want to steep the any-channel customer journey with seamless service experiences, regardless of the touch point. But just how important is omnichannel customer service to the bottom line, and how are top performers approaching it? 

Companies that adopt omnichannel customer care strategies, compared to firms that don’t, achieve 91% greater year-over-year increases in client retention rates, according to Aberdeen Group. These organizations also enjoy superior financial results in key measures such as customer profitability and lifetime value.

The Aberdeen report, titled: Omnichannel Customer Care, also indicated that Best-in-Class performers that engage customers seamlessly across multiple channels and modalities achieve an “8.5% average year-over-year improvement in first contact resolution rates” and a “7.5% average year-over-year improvement (decrease) in average cost per customer contact.”

These Best-in-Class firms experience “drastic improvements in increasing annual company revenue and reducing customers care costs,” the report noted, “measures regularly used by the C-suite to assess organizational performance.”

Centralized Data Brings Efficiencies To Omnichannel Strategies

One of the key differentiators that can set top performers apart is using customer data to maintain the context of prior cross-channel interactions across future ones, thus establishing a single brand image and experience.

“If you’re maintaining multiple data systems that deliver significantly different brand experiences in stores, from call centers or online, for example, consumers will have trouble identifying themselves as active cross-channel participants in your brand,” said Brion Reusche, Industry Principle, Retail, at Junction Solutions, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “On the other hand, with a centralized information hub providing one source of truth, retailers can deliver a consistent service experience, regardless of channel. After all, seamless omnichannel service is all about how the customer views it, not the retailer.”

Eckler’s, an automotive restoration parts and accessories retailer, is among the companies using the Junction Solutions platform, specifically “to streamline our systems to a unified multichannel platform [that will] help us attain a single, clear view of all our channels,” said Matt Jordan, CEO at Eckler’s. This single view will lead to “even higher levels of performance and service for our customers,” as well as more effective customer engagement and improved one-to-one marketing.

Retailers such as Eckler’s that pursue true omnichannel, single-brand experiences are recognizing that “without a central commerce hub, the cost of doing business in this multichannel world increases dramatically,” Reusche said. “Where omnichannel customer care used to differentiate, today it is a consumer expectation. Retailers not providing and promoting excellent multichannel customer care will not obtain the wallet share they’re targeting.” 

Retailers Have A Long Way To Go To Achieve Customer Service Excellence

While most retailers acknowledge the need for superior omnichannel customer service, few are achieving it at high levels. Justsix out of 100 retailers benchmarked by the e-tailing group received an Annual Customer Service Excellence Award for 2013. Awards were based on results of the retail consultancy’s 16th Annual Mystery Shopping Study, conducted during Q4 2013.

L.L. Bean and Sunglass Hut were among the six high achievers. Providing superior customer service “is absolutely critical in today’s complex retail environment, and can exist as a fantastic brand differentiator,” said Mac McKeever, a senior representative in the L.L. Bean Department of Public Affairs, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. Because L.L. Bean customer interactions take many forms, including in stores and on social media, chats, the web and phone, “it’s imperative that we ensure continuous and consistent customer service delivery across all channels and customer touch points. Retailers able to do this will differentiate themselves and develop greater customer affinity and loyalty over time.”

Fabio d’Angelantonio, President at Luxottica Retail Sun & Luxury, which includes the Sunglass Hut brand, also spoke to Retail TouchPoints about customer service excellence: “When you have more than 2,000 stores worldwide, stellar customer service is essential and has become a key differentiator of the Sunglass Hut experience. We want our customers to have the same consistent experience, whether in-store in New York, Sydney or London, or across the Sunglass Hut digital channels.” With a huge assortment of sunglass brands available, Sunglass Hut “has a great opportunity to get the most out of omnichannel to meet our customers’ needs: We’re constantly exploring new opportunities, how omnichannel can enhance customer relationships, and ways to infuse and simplify the category with new experiences.”

To deliver on the customer service imperative, retailers must consider each different communications touch point. “Consumers choose varying forms of communication when interacting with retailers,” according to the e-tailing group study. “Each communication channel has its strengths and shoppers choose accordingly.” For example, the 2013 report showed that while many consumers are willing to wait for email responses (provided in less than 21 hours), shoppers with a greater sense of urgency “don’t mind crawling through call center hoops” to receive a faster response (4.65 minutes). The average time for a chat response rose in 2013 (to 9.66 minutes), “due to a handful of retailers that took too long to launch the chat,” along with others who had inefficient customer service representatives manning those interactions.

“Service must be at the philosophical core of any successful retailer,” said Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group. “A review of existing self-service experiences and continual monitoring of delivery, communication touch points and an emphasis on building a customer-centric shopping experience should top every retailer’s 2014 to-do list.”

Consumers Call For Big Changes To Service Techniques

Forward-thinking retailers are working to improve omnichannel customer care, according to an Aspect Software survey of 2,201 Americans who required customer service. The survey found that:

  • 94% of respondents said customer service agents should be able to access consumers’ most up-to-date information, no matter the care channel;
  • 91% want customer care agents to be more informed about current promotions, regardless of channel;
  • 90% said they expect customer service consistency and continuity — such as picking up with a same-issue discussion where they last left off but just 39% receive it;
  • 89% are annoyed by the “repeating-myself” syndrome that plagues many care experiences;
  • 80% said brands need to make big changes in how they provide customer service; and
  • 47% said the information customer service has on them rarely helps resolve their issues.

“Access and utilization of customer data, regardless of channel,” the survey concluded, “is key to addressing the challenge of providing an omnichannel experience.”

The “O” Word

Leading retailers are setting the pace for others when it comes to customer service. Just as Walmart redefined the standard for efficient and effective operations in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, has raised it over the past decade for customer service, according to Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner at Retail Systems Research (RSR). Retail Winners recognize stellar customer service as the single biggest determiner of success today. Most retailers are racing to deploy all their human, store and technology assets to improve customer service and re-engage disaffected consumers.”

In her comments to Retail TouchPoints, Rosenblum said she intentionally omitted the word “omnichannel” which she refers to as the “O” word “because customers don’t think about channels: They just think about the service they’re receiving.”

Marketers at Indochino, an eTailer of custom men’s suits, also avoid the “O” word: Staff members don’t use it because “our customers don’t care about ‘omnichannel’ they just want a good experience,” said Kyle Vucko, Co-Founder and CEO at Indochino. “That means a seamless experience across the board, and that’s what we try to deliver.”

To help improve customer service, Indochino introduced the Traveling Tailor pop-up stores. This approach “creates face-to-face interactions with customers which allow us to learn more about them and from them, in order to improve our experience across channels,” Vucko said. “In fact, we have moved our focus from ‘channel strategy’ to ‘experience-first.’ This move has enabled us to create a seamless ecosystem that resonates with our customers because it’s based on their needs. ‘Experience-first,’ a concept we preach internally, represents one of the biggest customer service advances in the industry: The need to think like a customer.”


In today’s emphatically “O-word” environment, retailers must embrace customer care by fusing customer data systems to create one source of truth and a single-brand experience, with service at the core. Aggressive cross-channel retailers that modify and advance their customer service strategies  and drive decisions based on “customers,” not “channels”  can outpace their peers and attain Best-in-Class status.

CASE STUDY: Simon Pearce Scales Up To Improve Omnichannel Operations

Simon Pearce, a specialty manufacturer and retailer of high-end pottery and glassware sold through five main retail channels, had outgrown its legacy solution and needed a solution that would unify the enterprise on one platform, provide real-time visibility and access to reporting data and automate manual processes.

The glassware and pottery retailer operates eight retail stores, a catalog and an online store. The company runs an award-winning restaurant with one of its retail stores attached on the Ottauquechee River in Vermont. Simon Pearce also has a wholesale business, working with more than 500 partners to resell their merchandise through retailers such as Neiman Marcus.

With a unique and diverse operation, Simon Pearce faced several obstacles with its legacy system. A primary challenge impacting productivity was the pervasiveness of manual processes in many areas of the operation. To implement a new system, the retailer partnered with Microsoft Dynamics® AX for Retail, Microsoft Dynamics for Retail POS and JunctionMCR. Functionality within JunctionMCR included enhanced sales order entry, customer service functionality and cross-channel gift registry, gift card and credit card management.

The solution delivered seven key benefits:

  1. Cross-channel order entry and fulfillment management
  2. Cross-channel gift registry management and thank you functionality
  3. Cross-channel credit and gift card management
  4. Streamlined and automated order fulfillment and management processes
  5. Visibility and access to real-time customer order and registry data
  6. Visibility across the enterprise and its sales channels
  7. Ability to pull reporting data that is accurate and accessible, across multiple departments

Previously, Simon Pearce had more than 20 disparate systems, built on a Unix-based platform that limited its productivity and growth. When the retailer’s platform vendor discontinued its technology, Simon Pearce had an opportunity to evaluate best-of-breed solutions that would support its critical business priorities. By selecting Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail and Junction Solutions’ JunctionMCR, the retailer was able to unify its enterprise, provide visibility and access to data across departments, and automate time-consuming, manual processes. The project was completed in an aggressive 6½-month timeframe to enable the solution to go live before the busy holiday season.

The new solution addressed a number of key priorities:

√ Elimination of Manual Processes

The warehouse, on average, processes 200 packages a day. During the height of the busy season, this increases to 700-800 packages per day. With the legacy system, warehouse staff had to hand key the seven-digit order number into the shipping manager for each order. This time-consuming process impacted productivity and also didn’t provide any address validation.

“When you ship something incorrectly in our business, that can have major ramifications for customer satisfaction,” said Bill Heston, Director of Information at Simon Pearce. “Because it is a premium product, if we don’t get it right for the customer, we don’t get a second chance. We have to get it right every time.”

The Need for Connected, Enterprise-Wide Experiences

Simon Pearce needed a solution that could provide a connected experience, from the register to the warehouse, so that the retail staff, customer service and warehouse staff could see the same information and optimize order turn time. “Having a system where you can capture this data at the register and it is fed to the warehouse in a way that is understandable, clear and standardized so there’s no guesswork is going to be critical to meet our customer’s high expectations,” said Heston.

√ Integration of Disconnected, Disparate Systems

As Simon Pearce evaluated potential solutions, it became clear that certain requirements were essential to helping them address key business objectives. It was important that the new solution bring as much of the company onto one system as possible without going through a lot of custom programming. Initially this included all of the retail channels and the restaurant business. However, the restaurant was eventually backed out of the implementation.

√ Scalability For Growth And Mobile

Simon Pearce was also looking for a solution that was scalable. It would fit their business today and allow for growth and higher transaction volume over time. It was also important that there was access and visibility into real-time reporting data across the enterprise. In addition to business process improvement and automation, Simon Pearce wanted to have the flexibility to expand into mobile retail. It was important to have a platform that would enable the retailer to take advantage of this and other emerging technologies over time, in a streamlined way.

Automation For The Present, Flexibility For The Future

In the legacy system, every order placed on the web, even though the order was imported into the legacy system, had to be edited and modified by a human being. Now, 95% of all web orders go into Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail without anyone having to touch them at all, saving Simon Pearce a significant amount of time formerly spent doing manual data entry.

Also, as part of the implementation, Simon Pearce migrated to a credit card formatted gift card. Previously, paper gift certificate redemption was a highly manual process to track across the channels. Now, with these new gift cards, customers can redeem them in the restaurant, as well as any of Simon Pearce’s sales channels seamlessly without a lot of manual effort on the part of the company.

“We wanted to have something we could really build upon. We think that is what Microsoft Dynamics AX and Junction Solutions will allow us to do,” said Heston. “It puts us in a strong position to build forward over time. The world is changing so fast, you don’t know what direction you’ll need to move in. Flexibility is key. The solution allows us to move with a fast-paced marketplace.”

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