The idea of developing an omnichannel strategy is popular amongst business and organisations, who recognise new technologies have resulted in dramatic shifts in the way individuals interact and use services. New customer behaviours are radically altering the way organisations communicate, reach out to these individuals, and ensure the services they provide are meeting expectations.
A clear example of this emerging behaviour is to be found in recent Google research, which revealed that 90% of multiple device owners switch between an average of three devices a day to complete a single task. With such clear evidence shifting user habits, it’s no longer a question of ‘do I need an omnichannel strategy?’ but a question of ‘how do I develop an effective omnichannel strategy?’
What is your omnichannel strategy trying to achieve?
Before you begin to develop, refine and implement an effective omnichannel strategy it’s vital that you understand exactly what you’re aiming to achieve with it. The omnichannel “philosophy” aims to move away from the perception of each channel (be it a brick-and-mortar premises, online gateway, or telephone-based channel) as an individual and independent component. Instead, it encourages the view of all of these channels as an interconnected whole, allowing users to switch between them without any obstruction.
The ultimate aim of an omnichannel strategy is to provide a seamless user experience, in which it doesn’t matter where the user journey begins or ends, or how many channels they move through. For a retailers, this may mean customers being sent a coupon by email, browsing and checking stock online, then redeeming the coupon in a physical store. For local government, it may mean fielding an enquiry via chatbot, escalating the issue to a human telephone operator, then resolving it using the relevant paper documents. These are just two simple examples of how an omnichannel approach can impact user experience, but they demonstrate the way omnichannel ideas could be used to benefit both an organisation and its users/customers.
Understand how individuals use the channels
The first step in developing a coherent and effective omnichannel strategy is understanding how individuals use an organisation’s existing channels. This involves asking a number of important questions;
- What do individuals use each channel for?
- How and when do users move between channels?
- What are users’ main issues and problems with each channel? What advantages do they recognise in each channel?
In order to do this, organisations will have to rely heavily on the analytical data at their disposal. The user journey from first point of contact to purchase or resolution will have to be monitored and broken down into its constituent parts to discover how individuals are using each channel. This information can be reinforced by a variety of other means, including user interviews, questionnaires and feedback forms. With all of the data combined, a clearer picture of how existing channels are used and interact will begin to emerge. Customer interaction points can be mapped and the way they relate can be explored. At the end of this process, those places where the system can be improved should also be apparent.
Target and define
Just as you map out your channels and explore how each is used and what is expected of them, it’s important to do the same for your customer and users. Analytical data can help you define particular users in increasingly accurate ways, separate them into more general groupings, and create accurate models that provide insight into their habits and behaviours. It will tell you what type of individual uses each channel, where they do so, and at what stage of the user journey they do so. This information will also help you to understand how users are switching between channels and suggest ways you can facilitate these movements in more efficient ways.
Defining your users and mapping their journey through your organisation also allows you to effectively target certain groups using relevant channels. For instance, those of university age are for more comfortable using digital automated services like chatbots. This makes them an incredibly useful channel for local government looking to interact with students in their area. Similarly, the data can also help reveal what specific types of users want from certain channels and prevent time, resources and finances being wasted on the things they don’t want.
Ensure all teams are on the same page
While an omnichannel strategy aims to provide a seamless user experience for those outside of an organisation, it won’t be able to do so unless you take an in-depth look at your own internal structure. A successful omnichannel approach requires all of the separate teams and departments that constitute your organisation to work on the same page. In other words, the seamless movement of users from one channel to another is dependent on the seamless flow of information between the component parts of an organisation.
This means the eradication of any boundaries between teams, the implementation of an efficient cross-department communication system, and greater collaboration in the workplace. If a particular team or department is isolated, it needs to be brought in from the cold and reintegrated into a organisational structure that emphasises co-operation. The social media team needs to be working closely with the marketing team, sales staff and analytics, and vice versa.
Take a look at your own technology
It’s also important to take a look at the current technology your organisation has in play and question whether it’s capable of being integrated into an omnichannel approach or even a single application or system. The idea of the omnichannel is relatively new and much of the technology, software and systems currently in use may not be compatible with each other nor benefit from being integrated into an omnichannel system. This means that organisations need to target specific pieces of technology that can be integrated effectively, recognise those that can’t, and develop a long-term plan for the replacement or adaptation of such tech.
Of equal importance, is ensuring that all channels, software, apps, and systems are providing analytical feedback. Responsive systems allow organisations to refine and improve those very same systems with the data they provide. This is essential, as an omnichannel strategy should never be thought of as a static and codified concept, but instead as a dynamic and ever-changing approach that responds to feedback, technological development, and shifting market realities. A successful omnichannel strategy will find itself in a constant state of improvement.
The perfect omnichannel strategy will differ depending on the specific circumstances of an organisation, it has a number of key concepts at its core. Primarily, it depends on organisations having a clear understanding of their users or customers, how they interact with existing channels, and what they expect of these channels. It also requires the intelligent application of analytical data and technology that is compatible with an omnichannel approach. However, perhaps most importantly, it depends on organisations recognising that it’s a fluid strategy that must change, adapt, and constantly improve itself, if it’s to be of any use.
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