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  • Natalie Mclellan

Omnichannel Experience: Letting Customers Lead the Way

In a digitally-enabled world the roles of traditional individual channels are being redefined.

As consumers, we expect to be able to interact with a brand of choice when, where, and however we want. We also insist the organisation ‘know’ us as individuals, delivering relevant and personalised products, services, and experiences within and across channels.

The simple, straightforward, and transactional just needs to get done, and more and more of us are choosing to do this online or via a mobile device. Digital channels are also increasingly our first port of call for product research, for everything from where to go on holiday to finding a good restaurant or replacing the dishwasher.

It’s the social channels we turn to when we want to check brands out – to hear from ordinary people like ourselves what they thought of a particular product, service, or experience or. They are also where we go to be heard when we have a complaint.

The physical channels – branches, stores, and field – provide us with an actual place to go to touch, feel, and trial a product. They are where the support of a human being is needed to hand-hold through more complex decisions like taking out a first mortgage, or to seek specialist face-to-face guidance and advice.

Also, when we can’t get what we need from digital or physical channels, we still rely on the telephone channel for such times when we’re struggling to navigate a website, having issues using a new app, or need help from a human being to fix a problem but don’t have a store or branch nearby.

When we talk about a true omnichannel Customer Experience, we mean all of these channel options being joined up, offering seamless interaction within and across them.

Omnichannel explained

If you were explaining omnichannel to someone who didn’t know the term, it might go something like this: “Say you’re browsing online for some new shoes. You’ve looked at a few and they’ve dropped in your ‘recently viewed’ box. Then you log off and run for a train before opening the app on your phone and carrying on looking at the shoes.

“It picks up exactly where you left off. The same items you already looked at are there. You may now see ‘if you liked those, you might like these’ options too. Then you click to buy, and it remembers lots of your details from your previous purchases, so you don’t have to put them all in again. Your new shoes arrive, but you’re not happy for some reason and you need to talk to someone. You call the customer centre. They arrange a return. You receive a returns label by email instantly and then a discount via your mobile app to encourage a future purchase.”

When put like that it sounds like a no-brainer. That’s because our expectations have been set high by the likes of Amazon, John Lewis, and Apple, who have been doing for a while and make the overall omnichannel experience look easy.

For example, it was John Lewis that embraced digital into their strategy very early on – adding online, mobile, and click-and-collect – but never forgetting the importance of their physical presence, the role of telephoning and the customer contact centre, along with incorporating the power of digital into their in-store experience. They pieced it all together to create a true omnichannel experience for customers.

It may sound straightforward, but the reality of delivering a seamless end-to-end omnichannel customer journey is by no means easy. It involves building a customer-centric, digitally enabled, and increasingly data-driven organisation.

For an established business, this comes with the challenge of dealing with product-centric organisational silos, inefficient processes, inaccessible data, and legacy IT systems. For start-ups meanwhile, whilst they have the advantage of setting out with a clean slate, at some point they need to scale, which brings its own set of complications.

So, when asked to be a judge in the Omnichannel Experience category at the 2017 UK Digital Experience Awards, I was genuinely excited to see how businesses across the board were shaping their omnichannel offering.

The contenders

The entries showed a wide and varied mix of digital innovations and organisation-wide business transformations.

As a traditional business, Severn Trent demonstrated how they established a people-centric approach to joining up their digital channel capability. Through the creation of a new integrated Digital and Social Media Team they brought together existing internal expertise to develop a new web site, enhanced self-service, social, webchat, and email interaction channels that enhanced the Customer Experience, and increased customer satisfaction ratings and digital contact volumes.

From retail financial services, we saw how Lloyds Banking Group had utilised technology devices already familiar to colleagues and customers – smartphones and tablets – to develop a suite of multi-channel ID&V (Identification and Verification) solutions to deliver a streamlined Customer Experience regardless of channel.

It’s a great example of ‘design and build once, use many times’ – they had consciously set out to build an ID&V solution that focused initially on the current account opening journey via online and/or branch, but with the intention of being rolled out to other channels and used on other customer journeys.

Meanwhile, from the newer businesses we saw omnichannel examples like Vizolution and O2’s collaborative solution that blended the standard call centre approach with digital. They have created a visual experience that uses screen sharing to show, share, and sign documents with the customer, giving agents the power to transform a call into a digital interaction.

Exciting new fintech, Divido brought to the table a fantastic example of a start-up spotting the opportunity to leverage digital technology to meet an unmet consumer need. With their cloud-based credit origination and loan servicing platform, they have rewritten the rule book to bring instant finance at the point of purchase for the customer.

Working on any device, in any channel, the data-driven, paperless application process creates an intuitive and frictionless journey for the customer and drives revenue growth for the retailer.

Jacada’s innovation enables organisations to deliver effortless customer self-service and agent-assisted interactions by implementing cutting-edge mobile, smart device, and web-based solutions.

Using a visual IVR approach to detect when a caller is making contact through their smartphone, the customer is diverted through an opt-in function, driving digital adoption to lower inbound call volumes by engaging customers with personalised, self-serve solutions. This creates the space for the role of the colleague to become that of problem solver, hand-holder, and brand engagement specialist.

The winner

It was Business Stream that won the award with their Digital Customer Experience programme (DCX). They demonstrated the best combination of application of innovative new digital solutions applied within an end-to-end business transformation.

Their DCX programme delivers channel choice, customer service performance consistency, and proactive encouragement of customer feedback through a number of initiatives introduced at touchpoints throughout the entire customer journey.

From dashboards that support greater performance transparency, and developing a new app for 24/7 customer interaction, to introducing automated SMS capability, digital virtual assistants, automated self-service payment functionality, and Work Force Management for effective call demand and resource forecasting – they pulled off deploying exciting new technological innovations with a holistic transformation of the business.

Key insights

It was clear through all the entries that omnichannel is very much a journey. With everyone having different starting points and emphases on how and where they are developing the components of their omnichannel jigsaw.

For me, the take-aways are that the journey to deliver joined-up, value-adding omnichannel experiences requires a commonly shared clear vision and a collaborative approach to changing the business as a whole system…at pace.

I have for many years been helping organisations develop the capability to enable interactions with their customers.

When I first started in the dotcom boom era it was simply about adding online for the first time, integrating with existing face-to-face and call centre channels, and creating the all-important but elusive single customer view.

It then evolved to working with organisations to develop the processes and culture that would facilitate a more customer-centric way of working across organisational silos and multiple, but very separate, channels.

Now, in the digital era, it’s become so much more. It’s still about adding and integrating new channels such as mobile, social, and apps, but more fundamentally it has now shifted to redefining the roles of channels based on a deeper understanding of how consumers want, and expect, to use the whole spectrum of channels available.

The bar is now being set around ‘knowing’ the customer – their attitudes, behaviours, and propensities to respond in certain ways – and to use this insight to deliver personalised experiences that differentiate the brand and optimise engagement, conversion, and retention rates.

This must be done at pace – testing and learning and being ready to reinvent in response to the latest source of disruption.

Based on the entries at the UK Digital Experience Awards, it seems that while the customer is leading the way, business is ready and willing to support them on the journey.

About Alchemy Insight

Alchemy Insight work with clients to create and embed a culture of innovation and the capability to change at pace and go on changing as a way of life. Helping them to understand their customer, imagine the future, and develop strategies that will enable their business to evolve, transform, and thrive in today and tomorrow’s digital world.

Published in Customer Experience Magazine, 30 January 2018

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