Omni-channel swap shop.

The omni-channel swap shop.

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Nicola Millard & Tanya Alcock explain "omni-channel".

Consumers are generally not channel centric – they are goal centric.

“Omni-channel” is, at the time of writing, a bit of a buzzword. It’s all about enabling consumers to have a seamless experience whether they are using digital channels from a desktop, a smart phone or a tablet, a telephone or in a physical store/branch.

This paper is an update of research done back in 2008 called “The Multi-channel Swap Shop”. Of course, one massive change since 2008 has been the phenomenal growth of the digital domain – driven by smartphones, tablets and social media. This paper revisits that research to understand how (and if) the way that we use channels is changing.

To attempt to understand this complex channel waltz, we decided to do an in-depth study on a small sample of UK consumers. We asked them about different scenarios, such as shopping, banking and contacting local/central government and got them to talk about how and why they used their preferred channels of choice.

More channel choices tend to drive consumers towards the usage of more rather than fewer channels – and evidence is showing that smartphones accelerate these behaviours. This doesn’t mean that we stop using the high street, it just means that we use it in a slightly different way – occasionally substituting it but also enhancing it by the use of digital channels.

“Omni-channel” consumers are becoming more exploratory, seeking more variety than consumers who buy in a single channel and looking for an integrated and consistent experience between channels. They do not think of channels in isolation but combine them and make decisions based on their motivation, context and attitude towards channels. In short, consumers are not actually “omni-channel” at all – they are goal centric and more companies need to realise channels should facilitate, rather than drive, strategic decisions on customer experience.

Our interviews revealed a few factors that need to be considered when developing an omni-channel strategy:

  • Understand why customers choose the channels they do - This may sound obvious, but the key to deploying an effective omni-channel strategy is an understanding of why customers use the channels that they currently do.
  • Remove channel blindness - omni-channel consumers may rotate around channels but, for many organisations, the physical and digital strategies are still very distinct and separate.
  • Use effective signposting - Organisations need to ensure that customers are signposted while accessing services and using different channels. Clear direction across channels needs to be given, reassuring customers that they are heading in the right direction.
  • Create extraordinary physical experiences – With the growth of digital channels outpacing the growth of physical ones, both retailers and banks will need to give their customers more compelling reasons to go in to their stores and branches.
  • Allow front line employees to create branded personalised experiences - Employees are brand ambassadors, whether they are in store, in branch or in contact centre and can open up new opportunities if empowered.
  • Create compelling and personalised digital experiences - Digital experiences should always encourage two way engagement and shouldn’t be solitary or impersonal.

Further to the study's findings, the white paper explore's the following:

  1. Introduction and approach: are customers actually “omni-channel”?

Scanning Iphone“Omni-channel” is all about enabling consumers to have a seamless experience whether they are using digital channels from a desktop, a smart phone or a tablet, a telephone or in a physical store/ branch. Or all of them at the same time. And, yet, from a consumer perspective “omni-channel” actually means very little. We asked consumers whether they felt very “omni”, and they didn’t!

  1. Is the death of the high street greatly exaggerated?

Is the high street dead? Clearly not, but they have noticeably changed with some high streets thriving whilst others struggle to evolve to meet the demands of today’s consumers. New technologies, high street rents, the changing structure of family life and financial pressures caused by a long and deep recession have observably changed the way that we shop, possibly forever. Some significant players of the past are now struggling or have been consigned to history, as relative newcomers provide new choices, channels, experiences and value options.

  1. Acknowledging channel strengths and weaknesses.

According to our interviews, certain channels have inherent strengths and weaknesses, and our preferences of use depend on where we are in our decision cycle and what it is we are trying to achieve.Shopping with Ipad

  1. The channel choice conundrum – why people choose the channels they do.

So, although there seem to be certain biases towards certain channels for certain tasks or goals, there are a few other factors that seem to dictate channel choices. The important question that we wanted to answer wasn’t simply what channels consumers used, it was WHY they used them.

  1. Goals and motivational state.

Customer’s choice of channel will be influenced by context and the customer’s motivational and emotional state – i.e. what are they looking to achieve, how they feel about it and past experiences. We’ve categorised customers into 3 broad categories that can be used to create appropriate omni-channel customer experience.

  1. Attitude towards using the channel: the psychology of channel choice.

There are a number of psychological theories that have been developed to understand why we adopt certain technologies and channels in preference to others. Customer acceptance and adoption of digital channels are coloured by many things - expectations, emotional state and context as explored above. It is more complex than simple usability, in order to fulfil its function the technology/channel needs to be Useful, Usable and (hopefully then) Used. 

  1. External factors skewing behaviours – Christmas, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Of course, there are certain events during the year that tend to skew the motivational state of the consumer and influence behaviour. Christmas is the primary one.

  1. The omni-channel challenge: what should retailers and banks do next?

Ipad MirrorOmni-channel shoppers are more exploratory, seeking more variety than consumers who buy in a single channel and look for an integrated and consistent experience between channels. They do not think of channels in isolation but combine them and made decisions based on their motivation, context and attitude towards channels. In short, consumers are not channel centric – they are goal centric and more companies need to realise channels should facilitate, rather than drive, strategic decisions on customer experience.

Take a look at our new global report to learn more – The “omni-channel” swap shop.

Resources

White paper

The “omni-channel” swap shop.

PDF - 2 MB

A BT Global Services thought leadership white paper by Dr Nicola Millard and Dr Tanya Alcock.

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