Customer Experience

Towards the omni-channel

March 2019

Retail organisations are now using ‘omnichannel’ approaches to try and engage their customers in a seamless purchasing experience.

This means consumers should get a coherent and unified experience across all the different ways that they may come into contact with the company’s brand.  Sounds good (although there remains some healthy skepticism about how many companies actually achieve this), but if retail is attempting it, what can organisations that manufacture and service consumer products learn?

A changing customer experience

That the “Customer is King” is a maxim that I have heard ever since first starting my career at my family’s independent electrical retailer in South London.  But was it really true, back then?

Certainly, the customer came into the shop and would have a personal relationship with the staff, and when something went wrong, as it often did, the customer would arrange a personal visit with the engineer to call out to their home. That shop has long since closed, along with many other small retailers providing a personal service.

The customer is king!

They have been replaced by large out-of-town sheds and supermarkets, who in turn, are being replaced by online retailers.  Waves of technology are being enlisted to help the consumer cycle and ensure that brands stay profitable in today’s markets.  Retail is no longer the good old retail we used to know, it is now retail-tech.

Retail-Tech

The smart amongst the retail crowd have learned that diversification is key; whilst back in the day that meant product lines, it now also means it ways to access the market: hence, omnichannel tactics. These strategies are intended to seamlessly synchronise many forms of customer experience from brick-and-mortar store environments, to online sales, smartphone connectivity, and voice connections. The benefits mean you are able to access a wide and diverse set of clientele at any time, but the risk of an un-coordinated effort between internal departments means omnichannel, if not done well, can be more damaging than beneficial. Indeed, in the Omnichannel Compendium for Retailers 2017 (published by Periscope), 67% of retailers said their omnichannel approach was hindered due to lack of customer analytics across the channels.

Analytics products then come into play. Google had the forethought to capture data from its conception that it can now mine and use for trend analysis, but there is a whole host of companies like Viewsy (who can plot numbers of new and repeat customers, dwell time and paths customers take in store), Zoined Oy, Estimote and Cisco’s Meraki that can provide real-time location statistics to improve customer engagement and loyalty.

Order by phone

Adding to the mix the ongoing rise in Internet of Things (IOT), retail is becoming more and more about delivery and customer service than the product or the browsing experience. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods means that the online food market retail space is ever-expanding, and with the rise of ‘Dash’ devices, which mean you have only to push a plastic button when you are running out of certain products, brand loyalty and the lowest level of consumer interaction are key.

Consumer Products & Service

There’s little doubt that all the above is generating an increased, and different, set of customer expectations.  Going back to the start of my career, if people were happy with the washing machine they purchased, we’d have been patting ourselves on the back because we’d selected and sold them the right product.  These days, the product is just the tip of the iceberg.

Whilst the omnichannel approach might be overkill for the manufacturers of consumer products, they would do well to think about the wider experience that their customers receive, and all the different ways they touch the brand via:

  • Social media accounts
  • Review websites
  • Contact centres
  • Service engineers
  • Brand advertising (print, digital, events etc)
Social media in the real world

No doubt, most organisations are utilising all these channels and probably doing good work with each one. But that isn’t necessarily an omnichannel approach.  If we take Service Engineers as an example – how do you know that the messaging, brand values and information that they are offering to your customers is consistent with that being portrayed through all the other media?  It is very difficult to achieve, and possibly not ever something that can be guaranteed, but it is possible to maximise the chances.

How to achieve brand loyalty through service

Whilst innovative products are always welcome in the market – and indeed, something that consumers expect – the product, in itself, is unlikely to be enough to generate brand loyalty.  A few notable exceptions, such as the iPhone or Spotify, are far from being the rule.  

Increasingly, it’s service that makes customers more likely to offer repeat business and long-term relationships.

This is particularly true when you sell a commoditised product, such as household appliances, FMCG or even some technology products. Increasingly, manufacturers of these products are turning to service to differentiate themselves, with offers such as lifetime guarantees, 24-hour support or no-quibble returns. Additionally, high levels of after-sales service in aspects such as appointment-setting, communications and first-time fix can mark the brand out as one that’s worth going back to.

When described this way, it doesn’t sound so different to our independent electrical retailer in the high street, but that may well be the point.  Now that product innovation is taken for granted, service is what keeps customers loyal to your brand, and an omnichannel approach is one way that you can think about all the ways your service ethos is communicated to current and potential customers.

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