Omnichannel Is Not Rocket Science

The term omnichannel has been around for some time now. In fact, in a recent conversation with an old colleague, I was chided for using the word and was informed that omnichannel was a “legacy” term. Even so, interest in the concept continues to rise as companies grapple with the reality of getting omnichannel right. To add to the confusion, there are many definitions of the term and even a few accepted spellings: omnichannel, OmniChannel, omni-channel, & omni channel. Despite the inconsistencies, omnichannel is in fact straightforward in concept and is far from rocket science.

Omnichannel Search Trends (Source: Google Trends https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=omnichannel,omni-channel,omni%20channel)

So What is Omnichannel?

Before talking about omnichannel, let’s talk briefly about channels. Channels are communication mediums via which you might have contact with a customer. Communication can be in the form of actual conversations, digital “trails” of activity such as web page visits, or any source of inbound or interactive feedback that you can get from your customer. A traditional example of a channel is a physical, brick and mortar store. Newer examples include email, social media, mobile apps, and SMS/text messaging. In today’s world, there are many types of channels with more coming every day.

Today’s Primary Communication Channels

With an understanding of channels, we can now dive into defining omnichannel.

Conceptually, omnichannel is all about meeting your customer in the channel where they want to meet, providing the best possible experience during that meeting, and ensuring that you are taking copious “notes” to ensure the next meeting is even better even if that meeting occurs in another channel. Sounds simple. Conceptually it is.

Expanding upon the general channels outlined above, you can now start to think about more specific use cases and types of interactions.

Example Interactions

Why Should I Care About Omnichannel?

Before we move on, it is important to stop and ask why this matters. Two answers: 1) The majority of your customers already use multiple channels and 2) the more channels customers use, the more valuable they are to your bottom line. A recent study by the Harvard Business Review supports this with some compelling data. They found that 73% of a major U.S. retailer’s customers used multiple channels in their purchasing journey and those same customers spent an average of 4% more on every shopping occasion in the store and 10% more online than single-channel customers. The study also found that every additional channel used equaled more dollars added to the bottom line citing an example of customers spending 9% more in store when they who used 4+ channels.

The point is clear: Understanding and executing an omnichannel strategy is vital to servicing your customer and to your own bottom line.

What Omnichannel IS NOT

As important as it is to understand omnichannel is to understand what is not.

1. Omnichannel is NOT multi-channel or cross-channel. Quite simply, multi-channel and cross-channel are terms that start down the path of omnichannel, which is good, but they don’t go all the way.

Comparison of Single Channel, Multi-Channel, Cross Channel, and Omnichannel

2. Omnichannel is NOT only a marketing concept… although the line is often very blurry. Customers today expect their interactions with companies to be seamless and connected every time including non-marketing interactions such as customer service calls and order fulfillment.

3. Omnichannel is NOT only applicable to retail. Customers in all industries now expect consistent brand experience across all channel activity. Customers expect to receive the same experience and message across different channels and devices involved with the brand.

4. Omnichannel is NOT one size fits all. Executing well on omnichannel is not the same from one organization to another. Not all channels are needed for every organization and the importance of each channel will vary.

So Omnichannel is not the Same for Everyone?

Simple answer: no. It is important to understand that not every channel is used by every business and certainly not every channel works the same for every business. There is no “silver bullet.”

For example, if your customer prefers the phone, then your organization must be prepared to provide a great experience there. If your customers are, like me, of the “phone-as-a-last-option” type, then you must be prepared to optimize the other channel(s) those customers prefer to use. Almost as important as a good experience in preferred channel, though, is ensuring that your organization “remembers” the details of that interaction so you can use it in the other channels.

What’s an Example of a Company that does it Right?

Showing that omnichannel is not retail only, one of my favorite examples is Bank of America. Think about it: how often do you really go into the bank these days? For most people, the answer is not very often. Almost 100% of the time, my interactions with BofA are via their mobile app, via the web, or via an ATM. As you might imagine, a bank like BofA absolutely MUST handle all of these interactions in a near real-time integrated way. Can you imagine if BofA siloed itself by channel? What if I went to an ATM, made a huge withdrawal, and then walked right inside the bank and asked for that same amount again? The problems abound.

As you can imagine, Bank of America has had to overcome many challenges to get to where they are.

What’s Hard About Omnichannel?

As we have established, the concept of omnichannel is not hard. Many things about getting omnichannel right are hard, though.

Difficulty #1: Getting omnichannel right inherently means playing outside of your own departmental sandbox.

Why Difficult? The reality is, people don’t like others to play in their sandbox. This can often cause conflict that gets in the way of progress.

Suggested Organizational Approach: Be upfront about it, create an Omnichannel group within your organization whose sole job is to think and work across the sandboxes working collaboratively to focus on the customer, helping to break down silos to help drive solutions for all.

Difficulty #2: Companies assume they know their key channels and, therefore, keep the status quo and don’t innovate.

Why Difficult? Tribal knowledge and historical failures in certain channels can often stifle creativity and hide unknown issues. For example, thinking “we tried that a while back, it doesn’t work” could result in sub optimization of that channel or ignoring a channel entirely.

Suggested Organizational Approach: Bet small, bet often, don’t count out any options. Does your organization think a specific channel is dead? Spend a small amount of money trying it out again, measuring results to confirm or deny your assumption. Keep trying, things change.

Difficulty #3: Not connecting the dots.

Why Difficult? Onmichannel does not inherently mean CRM, but often the biggest mistake an organization will make is having no CRM system. Remember, a customer account record is not the same as a customer record. For example, a customer account record doesn’t often contain information about a customer’s web activity, but an integrated CRM should. Don’t you think your sales team would want to know their customer just visited a specific product page?

Suggested Organizational Approach: As a starting point, take a step back and look across your systems. Ask the question: can we map a customer’s journey with us? Then, the follow-up question: can we map that journey using one integrated system? If the answer is no, a CRM system is likely your missing piece.

I Get it. So Where do I Start?

The journey from a single channel all the way to omnichannel is not an easy one, but it is reasonably straightforward. The companies that are most successful in making this transformation focus on a steady, pragmatic approach to the journey.

With the concepts outlined in this article in mind, here is a simple approach to get started:

1. Assess — Take a step back and assess the customer experience and your organization across people, process, and technology. Can you connect the dots? What is missing? What silos do you have? What do you want to try?

2. Test — Try things out, but be sure you can measure. What worked? What didn’t? Is there value for the customer or the company?

3. Roll Out — Based on your findings, identify people, process, and technology adjustments that will make a difference. Put them out there and keep measuring.

4. Iterate (and Keep Iterating) — Don’t stop trying. If something doesn’t work once, that doesn’t mean it won’t work later.

Is omnichannel rocket science? Naw. Just remember, there is no “silver bullet.” Using the simple approach above, your organization can discover the right mix for you and your customers, unlocking the value a true omnichannel approach provides.


Interested in learning more about omnichannel strategy, technology, and implementation? Follow me on Medium or check out Slalom Phoenix.
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