Every company needs a multichannel champ in the lead

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Thriving in retail has never been simple, and difficulties here are growing in number. The recent rush of new technologies and rising global competition, for example, seem to have turned the merely complicated into the nearly impossible.

Today's retailers face competing drives to win lucrative new markets while holding any ground they've already won. They also must deliver short- and long-term return on investment while satisfying increasing numbers of technology-savvy customers who expect relevant, dynamic and accurate information in all channels.

The multichannel imperative

These trends have retailers scrambling to maximize the value of every customer and every interaction - in stores, online, in the mail and on the phone. This is no small feat. So, smart retail executives first seek ways to align their people, processes and technology to obtain a comprehensive and centralized view of their customers that can deliver the information to guide business decisions accurately.

Second, they strive for successes in-market by synchronizing functions and roles in their organizations to expand their multichannel marketing, sales and service capabilities. And third, they are moving toward "contact optimization" to determine which segments and customers should get which communications, when and through which channels.

Enter the chief multichannel officer

To navigate this chaotic landscape successfully, retail executives require new strategies, processes and tools. Most importantly, they require a champion - somebody within the C-suite with responsibility for multichannel performance and the influence to support changes in culture as well as processes.

This champion, whose role might be described as the chief multichannel officer, will be most effective when he or she has a new charter that extends across all channels and beyond the marketing department to enable coordination of all customer dialogue and all points of interaction; expanded knowledge of all core business functions to understand and leverage the critical dependencies and dynamics between them; a detailed roadmap for navigating the current retail landscape, and for systematically integrating all the components of the customer experience; continuous business intelligence, quantitative and qualitative, to rationalize and prioritize all the multichannel customer opportunities; multichannel dashboards to report on key, relevant metrics of online, offline and cross-channel performance; and investment tools to optimize allocations of budget and resources against key customer segments, marketing media and even company brands and merchandise.

In retail, "multichannel" is about more than marketing. Today, those retailers who adopt a multichannel culture, and designate a multichannel champion to drive it, will almost certainly find themselves in a stronger position to leverage new technologies that enhance the customer experience, to expand market share and presence, and to improve bottom-line results. n

Kelly Mahoney is the senior vice president of strategy and business development for Harte-Hanks Inc., Langhorne, PA. Reach her at kelly_mahoney@harte-hanks.com.

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