The Omni-channel Experience

Omni-channel environments where customers can shop online and offline at the same retailer are increasingly ubiquitous.” – Wharton University of Pennysylvania

Everything is changing at a rapid pace and this is the universal truth even for businesses. Customers want companies to get creative and innovative to provide them with what they want consistently. The fact is that since customer expectations are so fluid and constantly changing, companies can never be too sure of what customers expect. However, what is clear is that customers want an omni-channel experience and expect companies to provide them with service via all or at least via the channel that they are most comfortable with. The expectation is that a conversation or a connection established via one channel must be possible and consistent across other channels too. For example – if a customer calls and explains their problem and takes this conversation further via an email, the data from the call should be present such that a customer service agent is able to respond to the query without the customer having to explain themselves again. Customers are happy connecting via any channel and hence their expectation of receiving seamless and efficient service across all channels is not unreasonable.

An omni-channel experience and service is most definitely the customer’s choice and are unable to understand or be patient with companies that are unable to provide this or are inconsistent with service across channels. As a customer you would know how frustrating it is when you are interacting with a company via one channel and if you were to switch channels it is like beginning a new conversation. The expectation is that the company should have a hold over conversations from anywhere and be able to provide a consistent and effortless omni-channel experience.

We have discussed and it is a known fact that customer service was and now is even more a demanding role. With digitization and the spread of so many different channels of communication, it has become imperative that the customer service agents are able to manage and respond to customers via any channel and also have standardized information on the customer interaction history readily available across all of them. Now customers don’t even ask – they just assume that they will receive such service and the omni-channel experience will be more than just satisfactory.

Customers are constantly rushed and to improve business continually need updated information – they are in the here and now mode always. It is not surprising then for them to expect that the companies they do business with are also working in the same mode and have answers ready for them when and where they want. The expectation is the same irrespective of the size and industry of the company.

Most of the big companies – with deep pockets have also raised customer expectations and also the level of customer service. Their customers can reach out to them via social media, live chats, short message service and these are in addition to round the clock service via email and phone. This translates to raising the expectation levels of customers across and those who have not caught up with providing omni-channel experience run the risk of losing customers or stare into rising complaint levels and exorbitant costs of making things right for the customers. It seems so much easier and wiser to provide what the customers want – the omni-channel experience (among other things).

Like with all aspects of dealing with customers and customer service, providing the omni-channel experience is not easy or simple – the good news is that it is not impossible either. There is software available in the market today that can assist companies to keep a ‘watch’ on the online activities of their customers – in terms of which channel they prefer using more and what they do on each site. This allows companies to understand their customers better and provide more customized solutions to them. Smart companies provide this consistent and personalized service across channels such that their customers view them as one.  They train and coach their service agents to be adept at dealing with customers and their issues via any channel and continuous efforts are made to ensure that updated customer data is always readily available to all.

Customers need to remain connected and get the feeling that companies are making the effort to engage with them. Those companies that can provide such service – reports suggest that they experience 89% customer retention as opposed to a measly 33% for those who are not in line with what the customers want. High customer retention obviously translates to customer loyalty, profitability and high value for both customers and companies.

Consistently good omni-channel experience helps to grow the customer base, maintain a stronghold on the market and prove to potential customers that they can expect and will receive the best when they associate with the company.  Smart companies store customer data across all channels and ensure that their agents not only manage this data but also use it provide superior customer service. Through knowing what customers want, companies are able to direct customer queries instantly to the set of people proficient at dealing with the specific query and can collate regularly asked questions and oft repeated queries to ensure that answers are pro-actively provided so that they do not remain problems anymore.

The toughest problem that companies face when trying to provide omni-channel experience to customers is the integration of the software that is required for each of these channels.  Companies must consistently focus on doing so if they expect to give their customers, service that is worthy of being spoke about well and long. Successfully integrating these channels will also ensure consistency in the kind of response and the speed of response. Agreed that response times can and do vary, however a satisfactory omni-channel experience for customers means that they don’t feel or perceive the difference. The omni-channel experience must be for the customer – built and sustained as the customer wants it and not as per the convenience of the channel or the company.

Before providing the omni-channel experience to your customers, companies must ensure employee buy-in and engagement for this model. Customer service is tough as a function and many employees may be extremely uncomfortable in working in such a fast paced and seemingly complex set up. Every company has a cross-section of persons working with them and it is a given that some of them may be more at ease with speaking over the phone but not as comfortable while expressing themselves in written communication. Some may prefer responding to emails but would be decidedly uncomfortable in being a live chat agent given the speed and accuracy required almost instantly. It is vital for companies to manage and balance the skills and aptitude of their employees versus matching the requirements of their customers. It must be remembered that the employees are your first customers and they must be shown the same respect and understanding as they are expected to extend to customers.

There is need for every company to provide the omni-channel experience but how they manage and present it to customers would differ from company to company. It is not a short-term or one-off thing they provide to customers and hence they must be willing to commit to it and continually measure its success and progress and also ensure that their own employees are happy dealing with this multi-channel environment.

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