Reaching the Unreachable Omnichannel Star

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
For many brands, creating a seamless and consistent experience all customers have come to expect has become both the ultimate challenge and end goal. Here are three success stories to inspire and motivate omnichannel improvement.

"Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars." Radio legend Casey Kasem's iconic catchphrase offers much inspiration, but for many companies, the underlying message may often seem daunting. For those looking to create and maintain an omnichannel customer strategy, marketers must simultaneously aspire to develop a seamless experience, while remaining grounded and in touch with consumer behaviors and preferences.

Over the last decade, emerging contact channels have blossomed into vital avenues for customer interaction and data collection. But, as most businesses will agree, cultivating an omnichannel engagement strategy typically sounds easier in theory. For many brands, creating the consistent experience all customers have come to expect has become both the ultimate challenge and end goal.

"In the past, communication channels were siloed," says Mark Capps, executive director of Hacker Group. "Marketing was generally divided between above the line-branding and broadcasting-and below the line-direct marketing and sales promotion-and the channels used were divided the same way. But now, it's no longer smart to start with what tactics you choose. It's about starting with the consumer and how they want to, or don't want to, engage with your brand. A business can't think about channels in isolation. It's not just about synergy; it's about customer expectations. Your communication strategy has to be in alignment with how the customer uses each channel, not how you'd prefer they use them."

According to one recent study by Aspect, it's nearly impossible to deny that the lack of an omnichannel presence has the power to discourage customer loyalty and brand advocacy:

  • Eighty-nine percent of those consumers polled are annoyed when they have to repeat their issue to multiple customer service representatives.
  • While 91 percent say that when they contact customer service about the same issue, they should be able to pick up where they last left off, yet only 39 percent have been able to do so.
  • Of the 94 percent that agree customer service should have the most up-to-date information on them no matter the care channel, only 47 percent say the data customer service typically has on record rarely seems to help resolve their issue.

Yet, while companies have in-depth capabilities to analyze survey data and customer preferences executing an omnichannel approach comes down to integrating the necessary strategies and technologies that will aid the company's efforts to generate a holistic view of the customer and share that data across channels and departments to establish consistency throughout the organization. Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all guide for companies as they look to launch their transition, as such components must be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Deb Woods, vice president of Teradata Product Marketing for Customer Interaction Management, believes there are four key elements companies must focus on when integrating the necessary technologies for executing their emerging omnichannel engagement strategy:

  1. Understand who and where your customers are sharing information.
  2. Choose a solution that can capture relevant data about consumer interest, spend habits, and social attributes.
  3. Ensure your solution can bring data together and analyze appropriate insights to help predict which customers and offers are most likely to be successful.
  4. Make sure your tool can deliver the right offer through the right channel in real time.

But, despite all the advice from thought leaders and experts on the Web, success stories often offer the greatest lessons for companies looking to forge their own omnichannel path. Here are just three brands that are leading by example:

Meredith Embraces New Channels

While Meredith once connected with customers solely through monthly subscriptions, the publishing company discovered that, along with the proliferation of contact channels, came the need to expand both its circulation and its view of the typical customer. Mobile devices and social media have led many magazines to move their publications to the Web, with mobile applications and online subscriptions gaining great momentum over the past few years. But, for an industry that once relied on print and direct mail alone, creating an omnichannel approach meant getting to know consumers all over again.

"Aside from ensuring that our creative material and the associated offers are appropriate to the channel over which they are being delivered, we have had to build out our understanding of our consumers to understand the channels over which they prefer to be contacted and how we can reach them on those channels," says Krystal Maher, senior systems engineer. "Historically, we were entirely a direct mail company for whom the 'household' was the organizing principle for contact. Now we are building in ways to think about both households and individuals."

Through observations and analytics, Meredith can determine channel preferences on an individual basis, allowing the company to send targeted messaging and offers. Because Meredith's consumers are changing, the company continues to work on developing the most effective channel for each consumer in order to improve response rates, for the greatest challenge remains building an understanding of those consumers for whom marketers only had direct mail interaction in the past. Though still a work in progress, as is the case with omnichannel strategies across industries, Meredith continues to measure success based upon said response rates, as such metrics are dependent upon reaching consumers via the correct channel for them.

Smarthome Understands the Current Market

Consumer shopping and purchase patterns continue to demonstrate the extent of technology's impact on the average customer experience. For Smarthome, the evolving consumer landscape marked the need to shift attention from its catalog presence, incorporating online, mobile, and in-store strategies to connect with customers across touchpoints and overcome the increasingly competitive marketplace.

"Increased consumer interest in energy efficiency and security solutions have driven significant growth in the home automation market, attracting both new customers and new competitors," says Scott Holder, vice president of marketing. "Smarthome embraced an omnichannel approach early on in order to be available wherever and whenever prospective customers were shopping. That doesn't mean we try to be everywhere. It just doesn't make sense to try and be all things to all people, but rather we focus on the products and prospects where we're best positioned to win."

Smarthome understands that, while developing an omnichannel presence means being where their customers are, they recognize that not all channels are pertinent. Therefore, the company chooses to devote the bulk of its attention on improving the channels that resonate most. By embracing these newfound behaviors and analyzing which products attract the greatest response, Smarthome has established itself as an agile competitor that constantly reevaluates its strategy in order to remain focused on key touchpoints, as customers are quick to move onto the next big thing. The company's ongoing commitment to monitoring and profiling competitor assortments and price points allows marketers to stay on top of emerging trends so the business can respond quickly and proactively across channels with consistent, real-time messaging that keeps customers engaged and loyal.

George's Music Blends Varied Experiences

For George's Music, creating an omnichannel experience meant looking beyond the direct competition to explore what leaders throughout the retail industry were doing to boost communication. Using Apple as an example, George's Music decided that the ideal way to improve communication techniques would be to blend channels in-store, making its online and retail entities complementary, not competitive. Thus, the company incorporated television touchscreen technology to enhance the brick-and-mortar experience by encouraging consumers to fulfill the online research phase of the purchase process in-store and complete the remainder of their journey in one place.

"When building this omnichannel strategy, we chose to look at what success would look like at the end and work backwards," says George Hines, president. "We envisioned what the environment would be like in stores, ultimately integrating touchscreen technologies in order to bring the Internet into the store. Customers often research or buy online, but will visit the store to showroom. At that point, many will go back online to make their purchase. We were looking to reinvent the retail engagement experience, blending both the online and retail side to encourage more in-store purchases."

The company also implemented dashboards that allow employees to bring in channel information, pulling data in different ways for different areas of the business, enabling the various departments to see pertinent activity clearly and holistically. Overall, George's Music operates under the concept that, when customers aren't happy, the company can use the opportunity to learn and improve, thereby emphasizing the importance of behavior analysis and actionable insight.

No matter the company's approach, omnichannel may not mean every channel. To succeed, marketers must analyze and assess the channels they currently frequent in order to develop a targeted engagement strategy that offers relevance and promotes loyalty. Each brand must recognize that not every channel may be appropriate for its audience, allowing them to focus attention on those channels that truly resonate. Only then will companies be able to assume the position to bring all customer data to action.