In our digital era, delivering a seamless experience across multiple channels has become a competitive necessity.

But as many retailers scramble to develop omnichannel strategies to deliver exceptional experiences, the customer focus seems to be getting lost in the shuffle.

Confusing Retail Behavior

“Customers are channel blind—they just want a good retail experience,” states Craig Summers, Director UK of Manhattan Associates. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop retailers from holding on to fragmented, omnichannel strategies that are damaging consumer experiences.

“After a decade of omnichannel retailing, it should not be news to retailers that customers buy from a brand, not a channel. And yet, channel specific policies persist; policies that not only undermine the quality of the customer experience but actively jeopardise brand perception.”

Source: Small Busines.co.uk

One example of inconsistent omnichannel strategies includes online-only prices that differ from those in the brand’s brick and mortar store. Imagine a brand posting one price online, only to have a customer see that price and drop by the nearest store to make a purchase and discover that the price is actually 20% higher.

Thus begins a rather convoluted scenario in which the retailer magnanimously offers to price match its own website (but only after the difference is pointed out by the upset customer).

Another example of poor omnichannel practices includes customers receiving marketing emails promoting specific products at a fantastically low price only to click through to the brand’s website to find that every single promotional item is out of stock.

While retailers may create omnichannel strategies that appear to be customer-focused on the surface, the customer’s experience turns out to be completely the opposite. This demonstrates an inexcusable lack of respect for the customer that results in the retailer’s values being sabotaged by poorly executed brand interactions.

Confusing retail behavior undermines customer confidence and encourages them to make purchases based only on price, driving them away from the store and prompting them to compare prices with the competition. Additionally, it encourages other damaging behaviors such as ordering several items with the intention of returning most of them.

“Buying only on discount and increasing returns is devastating retail performance – and, to an extent, it is retailers’ inability to provide a consistent, end to end experience that is contributing to this behaviour.”

Source: Modern Retail

An inconsistent or fragmented retail experience devaluates the shopping experience—as well as the brand’s reputation—in the eyes of the customer. Without the customer’s loyalty and respect, they will simply increase behaviors that compromise retail profitability.

Rethinking Omnichannel With the Customer in Mind

So how can retailers meet the customers’ desire for a consistent brand experience regardless of channel? Consider the following quote from TechTarget:

“Companies miss the boat in building an omnichannel customer experience if they focus first on technology.”

TechTarget goes on to say that when companies focus too much on technology rather than the gaps in serving customers needs, they fail to address key organizational questions and issues that often form a foundation of poor customer service and subpar experiences.

While the many communication channels available today—including company websites, social media platforms, mobile devices, etc.—are becoming central to serving customers where they are, they’re also creating more complex company objectives.

“Part of the challenge is to tailor service and interactions to each channel,” says TechTarget. For example, some customers who use social media platforms to express dissatisfaction may require attention first on that platform, then in a follow-up email or phone call to prevent the complaint from escalating out of control. But other customers might prefer texting certain replies from a smartphone to avoid having to repeat this information should they call a contact center later on.

As you can see, it’s important for companies to create sound business strategies and marry them with technology to accommodate these kinds of scenarios and then analyze the information so they can continually improve customer experiences.

TechTarget suggests 4 points companies must consider when developing their omnichannel game plans:

1. Determine desired business outcomes

Companies need to clearly articulate why they want to buy technology to solve the problem. It’s imperative that they explore whether a technology investment has ROI—specifically ROI for customers. For example, will the technology increase revenue because it can offer services more efficiently or can expand market reach?

2. Decide on suitable levels of service to achieve both company and customer objectives

Not all customers contribute to a company’s intended outcomes in the same way, just as no two customers possess the same needs, desires, and motivations for engaging with a company. Furthermore, no two customers use a technology in the same way or for the same reasons.

Companies should develop customer experience strategies, whether digital or physical, for individuals. “Brands that succeed in digital experience tap into individual customer needs and motivations,” says TechTarget.

3. Increase knowledge of the customer journey

As companies build customer technology roadmaps and digital strategies, they need to better understand the customer journey across different channels. Because customer behaviors over different communication channels constantly evolve, digital strategies need to change along with customer behaviors.

For instance, why do customers often start their interactions on one channel and end up in another and then return to where they started? What did they experience and how did it compare with their expectations?

4. Examine capabilities needed to meet customer’s expectations and fulfill business objectives

At this stage, companies need to identify the products, channels, employee competencies, customer data and technologies that will help them attain their goals. To invest wisely, companies must reference their intended business outcomes, customer journey maps and moments of truth to determine the appropriate technology fit. They must also prioritize their investments in social technologies, mobility, payment and e-commerce platforms, etc. and modify them as necessary to build a synergistic customer experience architecture.

Conclusion

According to TechTarget, we live in the age of the customer, where companies face increasing challenges to serve customers where they are. To get the omnichannel experience right, it will require vigilance and a customer-focused approach.

Rushing to invest in technology won’t solve all of the problems that most companies will face along the way. Indeed, companies must first start by mapping out core business objectives and identify how shoppers interact through a variety of channels in order to meet both organizational and customer needs.

As Modern Retail points out, companies must remember that their success is not dependent on giving customers a strong omnichannel experience; it is about delivering a good retail experience. Every. Single. Time.

About Author

Sherene Funk

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and the eBook The Small retailer's Ultimate Guide to Increasing In-Store Sales. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime (but that doesn't stop her from collecting more). A graduate of Brigham Young University, she has published several humorous non-fiction articles and worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current position as a writer on modern retailing at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with other small business owners through informative articles that address their unique needs.


Also published on Medium.

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