Why Omnichannel Shouldn’t Mean Every Channel
The term "omnichannel" has been around for a few years, but as a successfully implemented reality, it still remains an aspiration for most. That said, 2014 will likely be a year when many B-to-C — and even a few B-to-B — companies will seriously benchmark their commitment to becoming omnichannel, either because of their competitors’ experiences or, ideally, for their own customers’ wants and expectations. One fundamental, often overlooked piece of the omnichannel journey is that successful omnichannel doesn't necessarily mean every channel. It's foremost predicated by being on the right and relevant channels.
Let's begin answering the underlying question — which channels are right and relevant — by defining omnichannel. Wikipedia defines omnichannel retailing as follows:
"Omni-Channel Retailing is the evolution of multi-channel, but is concentrated more on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available shopping channels, i.e. mobile internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog and so on. Retailers are meeting the new customer demands by deploying specialized supply chain strategy software."
Further searches online yield a few variations, but the essence remains the same. The basis of the constant thread of omnichannel is the ability for a consumer to start an engagement (e.g., shopping, buying or servicing transactions) with a business in one channel, continue it in another, and finish it in yet another, with each channel not only aware of the stage of the transaction the consumer is in, but also of the consumer's activity in the other channels. Of course, the two fundamental predecessors to the omnichannel experience are multichannel (i.e., the ability to transact in each enabled channel) and cross-channel (i.e., the ability to transact across channels). Omnichannel builds on these by adding the behavioral awareness dimension.
Customer Engagement Across Channels Starts With Mobile
Along with every other business decision, defining the optimal channel engagement model starts with the customer. Every business can improve customer engagement, but it first needs to understand its fundamental value proposition as a company, and second how customers expect to engage with it and others in the industry. In most cases, the mobile experience is the single best place to start.
Consider the smartphone not only in terms of where it is, but where it's going. No matter the type of business (e.g., restaurant, hard goods retailer, manufacturer, B-to-C or B-to-B), a smartphone can cover all the bases for customers — calling in an order, making a reservation, shopping for goods and services, checking order and shipping status, finding locations, making an online purchase, viewing marketing emails, depositing a check, filing a claim, click to call, click to chat, etc.
Retailers should engage with that in mind, since consumers often state that they can't live without their phones. It's not enough to just optimize a mobile site, however. Companies must consider how the mobile experience is integrated across other customer touchpoints and, more importantly, where those touchpoints are relevant.
Zappos is a perfect example of a highly successful e-commerce company that, without physical retail stores, focuses on the optimization of specific channels, such as browser, mobile and social, to build a loyal customer base and become a benchmark for customer service. This is reflected in its mobile experience, with a clean, simple layout, well-organized product information and click-to-call functionality.
Beyond Mobile, What's Needed to Be Omnichannel?
Assuming step one is to get their mobile act together, companies should consider the following:
- understand what channels are relevant to their business and to their customers — invest in generating that understanding;
- understand the appropriate engagement level with its customers in each of these channels — invest in generating that understanding;
- assure that you've rendered that experience to the fullest of customer expectation in each desired channel; and
- assure that each channel is aware should the customer have initiated activity (not just an explicit transaction) in another channel.
Creating the Winning, Right and Relevant Channel-Engagement Model
Amazon.com and Zappos aren't concerning themselves with brick-and-mortar stores because their brands don't require physical stores. A successful omnichannel business means creating a connected experience tailored directly to how consumers prefer to interact with the brand today and in the future. With a few simple steps, every business can become highly valued and appreciated as a customer-centric and connected, right, relevant omnichannel experienced company — and more profitable as a result. The point is to deliver the right functionality in the right channels and across those channels to create the best possible end-to-end experiences for customers.
Bob Barr is the managing director and senior vice president at Acquity Group, an Accenture Interactive company.