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GUEST COMMENT Omnichannel? Not quite

Ecommerce: power hungry

The received wisdom for retailers is that they have to be available and responsive on every channel. You should be so sophisticated, goes the refrain, that people can do anything with you on any medium, even picking up on one what they’ve left off in another.

Maybe that’s the aspiration, but the truth is markedly different. Most retail brands are a light-year away from being omnichannel because customers invariably can’t use every channel for every aspect of the purchasing relationship. Yes, they might buy via the website, but can they use another channel, like your app to rearrange the home delivery? You might tell them about special offers by text, but can they also reply via SMS to complain about a faulty product?

As a result, customers get frustrated by the mental energy and arithmetic they have to carry out when choosing a channel to perform a given task. They have to ask themselves what each one is capable of, and which one has the best likelihood of success. If they have to get in touch with a retailer urgently because the new washing machine has broken, can they use the app, send an email, text, or will they have to call maybe even use Twitter? Who knows. Often it’s a lot of work to find out.

Find the mental model

Not only is this a nightmare for customers to navigate, but a retailer that’s trying (and failing) to be all channels to all people is actually in danger of fragmenting the mental model its customers have of exactly where their relationship “lives”.

A number of brands have made that mental model completely clear. Monzo Bank is solely based around its mobile app. It’s where you go to carry out all your financial and banking tasks. Similarly, the website is well known to be the place you go for anything and everything to do with government services. A customer’s relationship with these services is crystal clear. The relationship “lives” in one clear space, where anything you need to do can be done.

Most retailers, however, are stuck somewhere in the middle. It used to be the high street store that customers used for all their interactions, but the advent of websites, apps and emails has left those businesses with a wealth of possible customer contact points and a lack of clarity over which ones they should be focusing on. The pure e-commerce retailers have it slightly easier, but even they often have email, apps and contact centres as well as their websites, often with each having a confusing set of separate capabilities.

It goes both ways

To be brutally honest, the marketing agencies of the world may have had a role to play here, in encouraging retailers to ‘become omnichannel’ so that they can ‘build a relationship at every touch point’. Unless its carefully choreographed, that drive may actually end up harming the customer experience in the long run, as consumers are left floundering over which method they should use to get in touch with a retailer – particularly when each channel has its own unique set of features and capabilities.

And perhaps it’s that distinction that should be the focus of attention. How a retailer talks to customers, and how those customers choose to manage their relationship with the brand, are two very separate things. On the one hand, retailers need to be able to reach out across a wide range of channels – text, email, app, website and so on – but then give their customers a choice of which one to use to reply.

Those that want to truly offer an all-encompassing experience need to drive their customers towards one or two locations – maybe their app, maybe their website, maybe their stores – where they have a fully-featured capability that allows them to manage every aspect of the retail relationship: everything from buying to returns to deliveries to complaints.

They should be asking themselves if they’re actually contributing to a more fragmented customer experience, and where the ‘mental home’ for their customer relationship actually sits. Offering an experience based on what those people want and expect, even subconsciously, will be a better recipe for success than trying to be everything to everyone.

Author: Rob Curran, head of customer experience at digital agency Wunderman UK

Image credit: Fotolia

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