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Avoiding omnishambles: the digital customer challenge


04 November 2016

Dr Nicola Millard

Blogs by author: Dr Nicola Millard, Head of Customer Insight and Futures, BT


Dr Nicola Millard has some important advice for organisations that don’t want their omnichannel strategy to become an omnishambles…

‘Omnichannel’ has been an obsession amongst many customer-facing organisations for a number of years now. Yet, despite all the talking, seamless customer experience across multiple devices and channels is rarely achieved.

Are we missing the point as we obsess unhealthily about channels? Critically, are customers as preoccupied as we are about channels?

We decided to raise this very question in our recent ‘Omnichannel Swap Shop’ research. During the study, we ran in-depth interviews with UK customers to understand how they go about activities such as shopping, banking and travel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when asked if they felt they were omnichannel, they often gave us a confused look — most of them didn’t think they were ‘omni’-anything.

Customers don’t think channel; they think about brands and they have goals. They go to a channel that suits them and the goal that they have. They may well start on the website, go into a store, check reviews on social media and then buy from the comfort of their sofa. Then they get worried that their purchase won’t get to them in one piece, so they email then tweet.

Put a smartphone in customers’ hands and they tend to use more, rather than fewer, channels. Customers combine various communication channels, choosing them based on their perception of risk, confidence, context and motivation. This doesn’t mean they stop using physical stores or banks; it means they use them in a slightly different way — occasionally substituting, but also enhancing them by the use of digital channels.

To get omnichannel strategies right, companies need to understand what is driving these customer behaviours. Our research revealed a few factors that need to be considered to differentiate a good omnichannel strategy from an omnishambles.

Understand which channels customers are using and why.

Depending on a situation, customers naturally tend to shift between channels. For them, the digital world has a number of advantages. As long as they are easy to use, digital channels put customers in control. They provide choice, accessibility regardless of time and location, and the customers are free to do things in their own time. Because it is easy to compare services and prices, users often think they are getting better offers online.

Aside from the accessibility of the channel, it seems that channel choices are strongly dictated by the motivational ‘mode’ that the customer is in. If they are in a positive mode, or ‘visionary’, they are a customer more willing to invest time and energy into researching options. Visionaries may use many channels to do this, may look for advice from other service users and be especially risk averse — parcel paranoia (i.e. the fear that your parcel will never get to you) is a particular problem with visionaries.

If things go wrong these customers can rapidly transform into a ‘customer-in-crisis’ — a negatively-motivated customer who tends to have very little patience with automation (unless it is extremely simple) and often wants to hand the problem over to customer service to have it solved. If it isn’t, it is very easy for a customer-in-crisis to rampage across social media.

Of course, it isn’t all about the extremes. Some tasks, like buying carrots or paying bills, are neutral. This is when ‘utilitarian’ behaviour kicks in. Utilitarians don’t always seek to be wowed by customer experience; they want things to be quick and easy, and will happily embrace digital channels that are able to facilitate this.

To make their omnichannel strategy work, you first need to establish what customers are trying to achieve. This is especially important when trying to direct customers towards lower cost channels, such as self-service. If people aren’t able to achieve their goals using these channels, any attempts to drive them there could result in them switching to higher cost channels or away from you completely.

Avoid silos by integrating digital channels into traditional environments.

Many corporate customer-experience strategies continue to make one mistake — they tend to silo communication channels. This means that what happens in physical spaces, like stores and bank branches, tends to stay there, with the same applying to digital channels.

There can also be silos within silos. For example, the social media team may not have access to the same systems as the telephony teams, and the contact centre agent might not have an email address. This results in ‘channel blindness’ which means that customers have to work hard as they migrate between channels.

Integrating digital channels into traditional physical environments is challenging. Many banks and retailers often deploy technologies in-store or in-branch that are driven by cost-cutting motives rather than a desire to improve channel integration and, ultimately, customer experience.

Make use of personalisation.

The growing connectivity and Internet of Things means that personalisation will become increasingly possible as much in physical spaces as digital ones. Location-based services, wearable devices, video and smartphones can be used to identify customers as they move across digital and physical spaces.

‘Clienteling’ technologies on smartphones and tablets are being deployed to help front line employees to access data on customers and solutions, enabling banks and insurance firms to create more personalised experiences. These technologies could also be used for live employee support in digital spaces by allowing remote customers to talk to a branch using video, webchat and social media.

Boundaries between the physical and the digital world are continuously blurring, and integrated technology can help financial firms to make the best of this. It is vital that financial services providers try and adopt the customer’s point of view in order to build solutions that improve client servicing. That could prove to be the differentiating factor, distinguishing an effective omnichannel strategy and an omnishambles.

To find out more, and to discover how BT can help you, take a look at our Cloud Contact web page.