Omnichannel marketing means different things to different marketers. But one common — and necessary — goal is to create a cohesive customer experience across channels.
Consider this: Eighty-seven percent of consumers polled by software development company Zendesk say that brands need to put more effort into providing a seamless experience. And 73% say that brands pay more attention to generating sales across channels than to providing an integrated customer experience.
Marketers, however, should pay attention to both. In-store analytics company RetailNext reports that two-thirds of customers recently polled have made a purchase involving multiple channels.
So despite consumer cynicism, and in light of the revenue opportunity omnichannel represents, an increasing number of marketers are working diligently to provide a connected customer experience across channels. The Digital Retail Study 2016 from eTail reveals that 71% of retailers polled are using data to improve personalization and predictive marketing, while 54% are coordinating user experiences across channels. That includes in-store, online, and mobile — all to ensure a seamless personalized shopping experience across channels.
Despite marketers’ best efforts, however, omnichannel marketing is complex and breaks in the chain are certain.
Fortunately, there are ways to strengthen that chain.
Here, 11 industry insiders spell out where omnichannel experiences often fall apart and how to fix those breaks — even how to prevent disruptions.
ERIKA JOLLY BROOKES
A single view of the customer journey is often where omnichannel experiences fall apart. Simply put, it’s critical for marketers to collect and unify data across many channels and then have the big data horsepower to crunch the data to gain a consumer view of their brand.
Founder and CEO, Engine Digital
Marketers should always start by putting the consumer, or user, at the center of their strategy. Focusing only on self-serving business objectives is a sure way to fail. Yes, an omnichannel strategy provides valuable data, customer profiles, and other insights. But this is a by-product of first delivering an exceptional experience. Omnichannel is an opportunity for brands to differentiate and be memorable or remarkable.
A seamless omnichannel experience needs to present something new to customers that they weren’t otherwise expecting. It should surprise them with a level of service they hadn’t assumed possible. Starbucks is a perfect example of this. Its mobile strategy clearly provides a huge upside to the brand, but more important, it improves the customer experience and rewards loyalty.
CTO and VP of product marketing, Pegasystems
Things fall apart when organizations can’t maintain coherence between channels, which creates inconsistent experiences for customers or, worse, loses customer requests in the gaps between channels.
As data and analytics continue to improve the way companies manage customer journeys, it’s key that organizations that use those tools provide a centralized decision hub that can coordinate efforts across all channels.
Having this centralized hub can ensure that customers get consistent treatments across all channels and that customer context is maintained as they move between channels.
That way, marketers aren’t continuing to place digital ads for a product a customer just bought in a store or aren’t forcing customers who start a service request on the Web to reexplain their situations when they get service reps on the phone.
CMO, Extreme Reach
With the ubiquity of video ads running across screens, on any device, the consumer experience should be seamless. Nine out of ten video ads originated on TV, which means that brands have invested a great deal of time, energy, and money to tell an emotionally charged story in 15, 30, or 60 seconds. But that story doesn’t play well if the video quality is lacking.
Marketers should make sure their ads running across all channels are served in pristine broadcast quality so that the viewer experience is consistently positive. If video assets are not delivered in the highest quality and the proper formats for every publisher, the viewer experience will break down — or worse, the video ad won’t even play.
The right technology working off the right starting point can make all the difference. A great story well told is only great marketing when the right people experience it — and are moved by it — because it’s powerfully beautiful.
Group product manager, Qubit
Omnichannel’s promise has not been realized yet. It’s a sound vision, but teams have since struggled to connect their data meaningfully. Technology has left businesses falling just short of the nirvana of the seamlessly integrated experience.
We’ll know we’ve cracked it as an industry when we stop focusing our thinking on channels and start with the customer. Consumers are transient in nature. They constantly change direction in ways that seem contradictory, but reflect the expectation economy we live in. Any underpinning technology needs to recognize — and respond to — those changes as they happen. Understanding customers, based on their behaviors and preferences, and then translating that into customer segments can help marketers turn data into action.
Marketers need to be able to engage customers no matter the channel, be it Google, Facebook, visiting a brand’s website or mobile app, or in store. By being able to define customer segments, even as they change dynamically, and by going from that insight to customer segment and to rapidly delivering the right experiences, marketers can move ever closer to an omnichannel reality.
Founder and president, Creative Profit Pros
Marketers sometimes focus on the beginning or middle of the customer experience. Omnichannel experiences, however, often fall apart at the worst possible time: the point of sale.
Recently, when booking a flight for a business meeting, I sifted through options for my airline ticket and finally selected what I needed. When I clicked the button to book, I was asked to log in if I had a frequent flyer number. As soon as I did, all of the information I had selected for travel was erased. I had to start over. It was annoying — a great way to annoy frequent flyers, your best customers.
Although my experience could have been a glitch, broken experiences like it are all too common. Worse, the customer who spends the most time in your circle is the one most susceptible to broken links in your chain.
At regularly scheduled and sometimes random intervals, marketers should go through their company’s entire customer experience. If it’s not something they have time to do themselves, they should hire someone to do it for them. Otherwise, their companies will lose sales and push annoyed customers toward the competition.
Director, marketing strategy, Acxiom Impact
Omnichannel typically falls apart at execution — at the bottom of the sales funnel, where it’s most important and complex. There are a lot of common issues, such as displaying incorrect prices or product images and providing irrelevant or untimely recommendations that don’t clearly match a buyer’s behavior or interests. It’s at this stage that strategy moves from touch and experience optimization to infrastructure and automation optimization.
To truly orchestrate an omnichannel experience successfully, marketers need to proactively partner with IT, CRM, ESPs, and other automation partners to better execute from the beginning. This unified team should focus on identifying the breaks in data sharing, tool integrations, and other automations touch by touch and tool by tool from the bottom of the funnel outward. This simple process focuses the team on both the technology and the customer experience. It’s also the perfect opportunity to evaluate the touch and data strategies to optimize relevancy.
VP of marketing and customer operations, Moxie
Marketers need to start by ensuring there is a unified customer-engagement strategy across multiple departments within their respective organization.
Customers’ shopping experiences span multiple departments and technologies within a company. However, companies often don’t have a unified strategy when it comes to interacting with their customers — even though they might be communicating with those customers across departments and channels. This can negatively impact the customer experience, creating a fragmented journey.
To prevent this disruption and create a cohesive omnichannel experience, companies will want to offer the same strategy and technologies on the same framework across multiple departments to break down disconnected silos. For example, companies can use the same chat technology to connect with customers pre- and post-purchase — whether it’s proactively for a sale or in response to a service-related question.
Today’s consumers are more mobile than ever before. Their desire is to interact with brands in a friction-free and seamless way on a mobile device or a desktop or physically in a store. If a company’s engagement model doesn’t support this, it can negatively impact customer experience.
To provide a cohesive omnichannel experience, companies should offer seamless communication options and knowledge. Organizations should also be sure that the mode of communication aligns with customer behavior and the utility of their devices. For instance, consumers like to be acknowledged when they enter a physical store and the same is true when they enter an online store. On mobile, however, consumers are multitasking and prefer to text or email rather than talk. Offering a toll-free number is not sufficient. Texting or emailing with customers on a mobile device is a more natural extension of how they’re using their devices.
Director of product marketing, Salesforce Marketing Cloud
Knocking down the silos between business units to deliver a unified and seamless omnichannel experience for customers has been a big marketing challenge.
As marketers plan out their omnichannel strategies, they need to learn to collaborate effectively across business units to create a single view of the customer and lead the charge in managing the overall customer experience. According to our recent State of Marketing report, high-performing marketers are reporting positive results from customer experience initiatives; those high performers are 34.4 times more likely than underperformers to say that they’re excellent at creating personalized omnichannel customer experiences across business units.
CMO, Harte Hanks
Omnichannel experiences often fall apart for two reasons: They lack a complete view of the customer and fail to take a customer-centric approach to marketing. Both can result in mixed messages and irrelevant interactions that erode customer engagement over time. Today’s informed consumers share huge amounts of information about themselves and expect brands to understand who they are. If the customer experience isn’t relevant and engaging, they simply move on.
The best way to avoid an omnichannel meltdown is with a single cohesive view of your customer. That requires breaking down data and organizational silos and working cross-functionally to ensure you are delivering a consistent customer journey across channels. At the least, you need to engage with customers on a relevant level that suggests you are paying attention to their buying signals. The classic example of a customer disconnect is sending someone a discount offer for something he or she already purchased — that is not an engaging meaningful customer experience. The good news is that there are many data technologies today for marketers to refine, append, and consolidate data, almost in real time, to avoid these situations.