Customer Experience Considerations for Omnichannel Environments

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by Arslan Ahmed

Gone are the days when consumers only visited retail outlets to shop. Even when customers do not feel comfortable ordering online, many now make it a point to browse online before visiting brick-and-mortar establishments to shop. In fact, their decision to visit a store could be heavily impacted by the digital touchpoints they encounter. Conversely, they may be in-store and searching for an item on the mobile site — take Ikea as an example, where rather than flocking to the oft-crowded in-store kiosks, one would be better off searching for an item in inventory on their phone. 

There are other ways in which people can access the various channels at their disposal today. However, the most important characteristic of the modern shopping experience is that it is increasingly customer-centered and all-encompassing. It is no longer restricted to one or two channels — hence, the term “omnichannel.” Today, big and small companies must consider all touchpoints that customers encounter on their purchase journeys which is made up of four stages. It first starts with the customers general interest of making a purchase followed by researching the possible alternatives in the market. The final stages include making the purchase and then advocacy and loyalty development. 

Treading the Line Between Experience Design and Delivery

Research by marketing experts published in Harvard Business Review reveals that wonderful customer experiences lie on a spectrum with design on one end and experience delivery on the other. While the instinct would be to play somewhere in the middle of the line, the gains are limited with the strategy to be equally focused on design and delivery. Some companies such as Walmart, Amazon, and McDonald’s focus more on delivering a seamless, no-fuss experience. In contrast, others such as Nordstrom, Trader Joe’s, and Ritz Carlton focus on creating experiences full of characteristics that make these brands memorable.

The research further led the experts to conclude that it makes sense for brands with high market shares in mass markets to be focused on seamless and hassle-free experience delivery. Convenience brands such as 7-Eleven and Dollarama — having smaller market shares than mass-market alternatives — have better opportunities to play more in the middle of the line but can still gain from creating seamless customer experiences rather than memorable ones. 

Boutique brands such as Aritzia, The Drake, and Deciem create welcoming, all-encompassing, unbroken experiences, injecting restriction only when it makes sense, like when high-end restaurants require reservations. Lastly, aspirational brands are those that become market exemplars while in competition with many brands that wish to create memorable experiences — think IKEA, Disney Resorts, and Lego. Focusing on investing in training employees creates an elevated environment in which consumers further become immersed in the experience.

Start from the End Goal and Move Backwards

Steve Jobs remarked, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology — not the other way around.” This is exemplified in Apple’s specialized Genius Bars. In a business environment where customer service interactions are exhibited in rote-learned interactions, Genius Bars elevate customer service to personalized, customer-focused, one-on-one value exchanges. 

The layout of Apple stores is modelled with the customer journey in mind. At the front are product display tables inviting consideration and selection, followed by a family zone where parents can leave their children to focus on shopping for accessories and getting support for their new purchases, and finally the Genius Bars stacked at the back of the stores. Take another example: Amazon. The end goal is fast delivery, based on which the company designs its operations and processes. 

Use Technology to Your Advantage

In omnichannel purchase environments, the role of technology — such as e-commerce and website-building platforms, digital experience (DX) platforms, and more — is irreplaceable to delivering excellent customer experiences. Rather than hold back, now is the time to embrace most of this technology as long as it aligns with the brand and customer expectations. Big data collection is the starting point, which is reliant on many digital and point-of-sale touchpoints, allowing companies to derive predictive and prescriptive insights to improve customer experiences. Moreover, customer relationship management and customer service technology streamline the performance of marketing and support functions. Furthermore, DX platforms — such as Crownpeak DXM and Salesforce Experience Cloud — personalize content and e-commerce choices for the consumers and allow for experimentation through A/B testing.

Measure Customer Experience and Listen to Feedback

An important component of designing customer experiences (CX) is measuring customer experiences and listening to customer feedback, without which the whole activity would be redundant. Net promoter scores (NPS) are understood as the crucial measure for gauging CX, developed around the question: “On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our company to someone else?” High scorers are taken to be the company’s ambassadors; those in the medium score range to be the population of indifferent buyers; and those who score at or below 60 percent are considered detractors. Often, for many companies, NPS is the only measure to ascertain their customer experience’s strength, which shouldn’t be the case. Voice-of-the-customer surveys should be implemented monthly or quarterly to gain insights from customers about critical components of the CX design and delivery as well as corresponding measures of customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores.

Create an Organization-wide Customer Experience Culture

To be truly customer-centric, the whole organization needs to be well-aligned to the customer experience policy or charter. A concerted effort from top-level management in different departments is needed to design the charter, listing how an organization’s CX goals can be met. Furthermore, the important point is to know who to hold accountable for service failures, as they will happen, even if rarely, so that the CX processes can be redesigned. Another crucial element of a customer experience culture is injecting empathy in employee relations, specifically, relations between superiors and subordinates to model the behaviour expected of everyone who represents the organization. //

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