Designing An Omni-channel Experience? Start With The Customer

Omni-channel Experience Stampfeet

Competing for customers attention is not easy. Digital marketing means there are dozens of new ways to reach customers, which also means every other competitor, brand, media outlet, celebrity, author, blogger, vlogger and Twitter-happy politician is competing for your customers attention.

Restaurants, hotels and retailers have invested heavily in digital marketing, social media, apps and technology over the last ten years. Consequently, the marketing mix for consumer brands — especially those with digital and physical sales and service channels (e.g. restaurants and a food-delivery app) — can seem bewildering and fragmented.

Between online self-serve, apps and chatbots, brands are losing sight of the customer and customers are feeling disengaged and sidelined. Is innovation costing brands customers? Are we investing too much in innovation at the expense of the customer experience?

Design-centric companies, those that put the customer experience first, are more profitable than those that invest in technology and R&D, according to Gartner research.

How Brands Are Failing Customers

Brian Prentice, Research Vice President at Gartner said “Organisations that are more design-centric appear to be more innovative than the R&D dollars they spend. Apple for example, spends a fraction of R&D compared to Samsung, but their market capitalisation is higher and they seem to have a higher degree of customer satisfaction and loyalty than Samsung does.”

Brands that ignore customer preferences and engagement trends risk long-term damage.

Customers are more in charge of the buying process than ever before. Brands don’t control engagement, or even, in many cases, how/when customers first hear about them. Social media, bloggers and YouTube play an increasingly important role at the top of the search funnel.

Olive Huang, another research VP at Gartner says that designing a customer-centric experience “is really moving from how do I generate more leads through marketing, to how do I continuously engage the customer in their lifecycle. You then have customer experience becoming the competitive edge.”

Huang recognises, time and again, several issues repeating across multiple sectors: “Over-engineering is a big problem, and over pushing self-services is also a big problem. Using your customer as an R&D base to test new technology is also a big problem.”

It isn’t that customers don’t want self-serve, automated bots answering queries on Facebook, or well-designed apps; it’s that we — as customers — prefer interacting with people, not chatbots. Customers want digital options — they are useful within the context of customer service and making a purchasing decision, but compared to human interactions, we don’t rate them as highly.

Omni-channel Experience Stampfeet

Brands that continue to neglect personalisation for automation and mass communication will lose customers in favour of those that go the extra mile. Brands shouldn’t be using technology for the sake of it. Instead, you should only seek to implement a new system if it helps you use personal communications around each customer’s unique brand experience, e.g. reward those who visit/spend often, or encourage someone to come back with items you know they like if they’ve not made a purchase in the last 90 days.

Bridging the Digital — Physical Gap

Very few brands have a seamless omni-channel experience. More often than not, customers will experience one or two channels where they won’t get the same level of service. Many businesses are still working on seamless integration, either investing more in technology, training or improving processes.

However, there are some successful examples. In the UK, the national pub chain, Wetherspoons launched an Order & Pay app that means customers can — if they want — select a table, order food and drink, pay and have it delivered to the table. No more waiting to be served at the bar.

McDonald’s, which operates 1,270 restaurants in the UK — 70% are franchised — has also invested in new technology solutions and processes. Customers can order using self-serve kiosks, with dynamic menus that change during the day. In many restaurants, customers can now get table service, representing an innovative change in service standards for a fast-food company.

Takeaways

In both cases, staff, managers and business leaders have asked: How can we serve our customers better? None of this is technology for its own sake. Designing solutions around customer needs are always going to be the most effective way to gain and increase customer loyalty. Brands need to think less about technology and what it can do and more about how it solves particular customer pain points, such as making personalisation automatic, but also, more personal. Reward individual customers for their actions, instead of just firing out mass sales emails because it happens to be Thursday.