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GUEST COMMENT Content, convenience and customer service: three keys to omni-channel success

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Since Amazon first started trading, ecommerce has changed almost beyond recognition. A new generation of customers uses multiple touchpoints to find, buy, rate and return products. Despite ever changing customer expectations and price and search battles in the new commerce environment, there is still money left on the table: With the customer experience in focus, it’s time to think beyond the online shop, design a targeted customer journey and consider how print catalogues, point of sale (POS) kiosks and other offline channels can be integrated into one consistent omni-channel commerce strategy that excites and engages customers.

For any business selling omnichannel, the combination of touch points supported depends on who the target audience is, what products and services are being sold and what the organisation’s business model is. Today there are endless options, from the traditional print catalogue and call centre to online shops, POS kiosks and mobile apps. And, whether through QR codes, NFC tags or image recognition applications, nearly every touchpoint can be connected to mobile devices. German mail order company Otto for example has reinvented its print catalogue. The catalogue makes use of QR codes, which transfer the respective product from the physical to the virtual page.

But, whatever the combination of touchpoints, there are three key areas that should always be considered first: convenience, content, and customer service. Getting these three Cs right is key to successfully engaging with the customer and driving sales.

Convenience matters most. Shopping needs to be simple, quick, and fun. User-friendly sites, easy navigation, localised information, intuitive ordering tools, targeted promotion tools and modern checkout processes are the ingredients that convert casual browsers into happy buyers. Changing consumer needs now mean that buyers value those retailers who can support cross-channel services, such as ‘click and collect’ or ‘buy online, return in-store’.

Not only is the return of orders in-store an increasingly popular part of customer service. The consistent, two-way linking of online shop and physical store also allows for attractive customer experiences. Integrated shipping capabilities, such as ‘ship-to-store’, allow the shopper to buy online at home and pick his purchase up at a nearby store. A simple inventory check can bridge the gap between web shop and physical store. The customer can decide freely whether and how he buys.

There are many ways to make it easy for the customer to switch from one channel to the other. German specialty sportswear retailer Runners Point for example has digitised its physical stores by adding easy to use touchscreen terminals so shoppers can access and browse the online shop while in store. This means they have access to the complete available product range of over 3,000 different products and can order items that are not available in the store for delivery to the store or their home – at no extra cost. Giving customers access to the online store helps improve customer satisfaction, conversion rates and overall sales.

The second big consideration is content. Content needs to always relate to the customer, who wants to drill down into detailed product information to ‘touch’, ‘feel’ or ‘experience’ the product. This need doesn’t stop at extensive product information, photos from every angle and close-up images. Including product ratings and reviews is important, but customers want to also read the stories behind the products and be inspired. If it answers their questions and relates to a real customer’s problem, then the content will draw interest and create demand.

Editorial content such as magazines and blogs can be a great way to establish a stronger connection with the customer. The same goes for useful tools that help customers choose the right product or plan how they will use their purchase. German sports equipment retailer SportScheck for example offers a tour planning mobile app for hikers. Similarly, Runners Point offers its customers useful running tips by sports experts alongside extensive product information, and a virtual buying guide that helps them choose the trainers that are right for them. Retailers who can impress through the content they are offering will be able to build long-lasting relationships with their customers.

Finally, the third of the three Cs: customer service. Outstanding customer service can help differentiate a retailer from its competition, and increase customer retention. Again, it is worth considering what today’s customers now expect as the standard: multiple shipping and payment options, simple return processes, and a choice of contact points such as the call centre, chat, email, as well as web-enabled self-service.

Anything that goes beyond the customers’ expectations offers clearly noticeable added value, and customers will remember this. The retailer presents itself as a modern, interesting and, above all, strong brand, for example by offering free shipping, next-day or weekend deliveries, shorter delivery times or a better refund policy. Customers are likely to choose this shop over its competitors.

However, it is important that the customer service is consistent across all channels. A customer may buy online, then phone the call centre to modify an order, authorise a return or manage his customer profile details. All of these requirements need to be reliably supported. In addition, a new generation of customers expects to be able to communicate over new channels such as Skype or Facebook. Some of the most forward-looking retailers already support these channels. Collecting customer feedback will help organisations to improve the quality of their customer service.

Understanding what the customer wants and being able to deliver on it is, of course, the holy grail of commerce. But, delivering on the expectations will be difficult if the right processes aren’t in place, supported by the right technology. There are a few key prerequisites for any omni-channel implementation, such as consolidating product, customer and inventory data, integrating all touchpoints and channels on the same platform, and making sure call centre and sales representatives have the tools and devices that empower them to wow their customers.

Omnichannel initiatives are already a major focus for many organisations and this trend will continue in 2014: Where retailers facilitate an integrated customer experience, shopping via multiple devices, anywhere, anytime becomes a reality.

Drazena Ivicic is senior manager global product marketing, Intershop

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