Today’s consumer is not a single person; it’s a household. This means creating a strategy to provide a unified consumer management experience and to service every consumer of the household.
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Omni-channel Best Practices
To successfully implement an omni-channel experience, brands and businesses need to ensure that the strategy:
- Provides a consistent message across multiple touchpoints.
- Provides an optimized experience to consumers regardless of the device they use.
- Leverages the cross channel presence to identify consumer needs and provides a personalized consumer engagement.
- Provides an experience that does not create consumer dissatisfaction.
- Delivers services while staying compliant to the needs of the business and regulations.
- Integrates analytics capability, leveraging consumer data to understand consumer behavior and the decision-making process.
Over the last five years, every industry has been talking about how to maximize consumer reach and provide a seamless consumer management experience. An experience, which is truly holistic and unified, provides the same information to consumers regardless of the channels they use to connect with the brand.
While voice contact is still one of the strongest service channels, the consumer management world evolved to include email and chat, followed by social media and mobile apps. A recent Gartner report shows that the consumer channel preference will shift more towards channels such as social media and digital self-help by 2018, with approximately 70% of interactions taking place through these digital channels.
According to a Big4 survey, reaching out to end consumers, reducing consumer effort, being proactive in servicing consumers, and providing a personalized consumer journey experience (for both sales and service) are four of the top six priorities for consumer packaged goods companies. But this is not just true for the CPG companies. More and more industry areas and players (leading and emerging) are focusing on these priorities to gain a larger mind-share of the consumers of today and in the future.
Banks are exploring multiple ways of using different consumer interaction platforms not just to address consumer concerns but also to enable transactions. On the telecom side, more and more companies are allowing consumers to register complaints or plan activations or deactivations through tweets. Every industry area has in some way tried to adapt multiple channels to achieve “THE” consumer experience.
It’s Not About a Person
To deliver the omni-channel consumer experience, it is very important to understand that today’s consumer is not a single person. It is a household, and therefore there is a strong need to have a total household consumer management strategy.
Let’s take a household with four members: Adam (husband), Jeanne (wife), Amanda (teenage daughter), Bill (school-age son). Each may be using products manufactured by the same company, whether it’s a shaving product for Adam, household goods for Jeanne, beauty products for Amanda or food products for Bill. As with their different needs, the channels that each uses to connect with your brand may also be different.
For example, Adam might be using his phone to communicate with your brand, while Jeanne prefers to check reviews on blogs and the company website before she makes a decision. Amanda and Bill use social media and mobile apps, respectively. This creates a strong need for a truly omni-channel strategy focused on providing a unified consumer management experience and a strategy to service every consumer of the household. (Fig. 1)
Channel options are growing, and the entire consumer engagement environment is becoming complex. Every year a new channel is added and the systems are not necessarily able to cope with the integration of communication across these different channels. This leads to silos, creating operational inefficiencies. More and more companies every day are working towards structuring their contact centers and systems to gain a single view of the consumer. But typically they miss a key point: how to provide a single view of the brand to the consumer.
One of the most important (and most missed) principles of creating an omni-channel experience for consumers is to allow consumers to continue their interaction/ transaction journey when they move from one interaction channel to the other. Most companies in their journey to build an omnichannel experience have adapted new channels one after the other, just to have the presence across different channels. However, as a result of this adaption approach, the communication breaks at various levels when consumers switch from one channel to another.
To successfully implement an omni-channel experience, it is important for brands and businesses to consider these elements:
1. Understand the consumer journey.
When adapting an omni-channel experience model, it is important to understand the focus. Are you trying to raise brand awareness by having your logo on every channel, or do you want to optimize the consumer journey?
Before deciding what channels to offer your consumers, it’s important to understand the end-to-end consumer journey, the decision-making cycle of the consumer in the buying process, the reason why consumers leave, and the pain areas at different steps of a consumer lifecycle with your brand.
Once you have the detailed view of the consumer journey, it will be easier to identify the required channels (based on consumer audience dynamics), align different consumer channels to address certain pain areas or challenges and also structure the seamless transfer between different channels to maintain the continuity of an interaction or transaction.
2. Consumer comfort comes first.
There are two critical aspects of this element: reducing consumer effort and optimizing the experience.
When it comes to reducing consumer effort, in today’s fast-paced world, the majority of consumers want to be in charge of managing the services they use including their transactions, troubleshooting and resolving a technical issue, buying a product, etc. As a result, they are more than ready to help themselves find an answer. Using self-help tools eliminates the need to be on hold or wait in a queue.
Talking to an interactive voice response system, punching the numbers at multiple levels, etc. provides a feeling of being in control. Consumers want to feel empowered to get an issue resolved at any point during their interaction or transaction journey and expect their experience to require minimal effort.
According to a Forester report, over half of U.S. online consumers will abandon their online purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their questions, and three-quarters say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service, up six points from 2012. Consumers are often frustrated with the effort that it takes to receive customer service.
For optimizing the experience, it’s important for businesses to understand that the consumer of today is different from the one of yesterday and will be different from the one of tomorrow. In each household, there can be multiple consumers purchasing from the same business, and they will use their preferred devices to engage with the brand.
Therefore, it’s important to understand which consumer age group will reach the brand through which channel and which device. This helps drive a better consumer experience by optimizing the channels to be comfortably accessible on any device of the consumer’s choice.
For instance, if a self-help channel or chat channel of a brand is not optimized to be viewed on a mobile device or tablet, it is bound to drive an unpleasant experience for the consumer and also impact the relationship between the consumer and the brand.
It’s important that the businesses streamline the process to deliver the right answer to a consumer query at the right time in the journey. Reduced effort for service is a win-win. Consumers are satisfied as service is efficiently delivered when needed and on first contact. Businesses are satisfied as this helps them control their servicing costs.
3. Be proactive.
As new channels emerge, consumers expect that the servicing brand will provide proactive information through all channels of communication, eliminating the need for the consumer to reach the brand and initiate a contact. For example, in the case of flight delays, the airline can provide updates through apps, social-media pages, website, voice call, etc.
Proactive service relies on customer context, channel, and device information and predictive intelligence frameworks to manage proactive communications. Proactive outbound communication helps reduce traffic from inbound calls, helps reduce costs, builds customer satisfaction and net promoter scores, with the increase in revenue. Being proactive is not just limited to the servicing part of the business, but can also be a huge success in sales scenarios, by proactively reaching out to consumers when they are looking at information on the website and offering services through chat or co-browsing, etc.
4. Understand the power of knowledge.
In the process of developing an omni-channel consumer engagement experience, which helps in delivering a unified and standard message across all consumer interaction channels, the smart knowledge base capability plays a pivotal role. It is very important for businesses trying to deliver services through web self-service to provide agent-based communication channels (as the agents will access information through a centralized knowledge base, which will communicate at both the front end and back end levels).
Knowledge management is the nucleus of a successful omni-channel consumer management strategy, and, ironically, most of the companies that claim to be omni channel in their industries use traditional knowledge management systems that are difficult to locate, use, maintain and do not support contextual search.
Knowledge management, in combination with online self-help tools, can help reduce manual overhead and provide dynamic engagement solutions: interactive self-help models that use artificial intelligence, analytics, insights, etc., to automate the communication channels at different levels across channels.
5. Be tech savvy.
With new channels evolving so rapidly, businesses often end up adding multiple channels, but their inability to interact with multiple back-end systems that an agent uses restricts the optimization of an omni-channel environment and businesses keep using the channels and systems in silos.
To be successful in the deployment of an omnichannel consumer engagement model, it’s important for businesses to adapt technologies like system unifiers. These unifiers help capture the data from multiple agent systems and bring it together on one display area and can also feed the data back to the systems when the agent has updated the interaction in a system.
According to one industry report, between 2015 and 2018, more and more customer service organizations will either replace or enhance their existing CRM solutions with a combination of solutions such as cloud based, software as a solution (SaaS) and existing system capabilities.
Today the consumer owns the relationship they have with the brand. As the consumer manages the control of the interactions, it’s important for businesses to deliver differentiated service. Based on the size of the business and the size of the requirement, businesses will undertake several mid to large strategic projects to improve the placement of quality of service scores, voice of
customer, etc. To succeed in an omni-channel consumer experience deployment, the
business needs to be sure to:
- Understand the consumer.
Talk to consumers, survey consumers, understand how they want to be serviced, capture their feedback on level of service, ease of service, etc. This information can then be utilized to design new consumer journey maps, servicing methods, reducing consumer effort plans, etc.
- Assess your service delivery model.
Conduct periodic checks on your service delivery process, systems, support processes, etc. Use this data to identify the changes required for developing a robust omni-channel consumer management model.
- Identify improvement opportunities.
Evaluate the operational process and systems assessment data, mapped with the consumer dynamics and feedback to identify the quick wins and long-term strategic opportunities that can help scale and build new arenas of consumer management or self-help.