Welcome to the omnichannel world. These days, the pressure is on for every business to provide an omnichannel customer experience.
Is your business keeping up?
There’s a good chance you’ve already worked hard to be present for your customers where they are most active, online and in person. Perhaps you’ve met your customers on social media, you’ve built an engaging website, your business lobby is warm and welcoming, and you have real humans answering the phone. But you might still be missing something.
Connection is the core of what we mean when we talk about an omnichannel customer experience.
You know how to connect with your customers. You might even have a clear idea of what your customers want. But do your business tools and processes connect with each other enough to create a seamless customer experience?
What does an “omnichannel customer experience” really mean?
Let’s start with definitions. Omnichannel means your customers are everywhere at the same time. Think of yourself as a customer and reflect for a moment: How many digital and in-person platforms have you used today alone? It’s probably more than you realize.
An omnichannel customer experience means that your customer touchpoints (i.e. your website, social media pages, in-person experiences, and telephone experiences) all not only exist, but connect to create a seamless journey for your customers and potential customers.
Humans are omnichannel. We interact with the world on multiple platforms all at once. The better those platforms interact with one another, the happier and more connected we feel.
Creating an omnichannel approach to meeting your customers digitally and in-person starts with having a vision for what that might look like for your particular business. From there, the next step is making your omnichannel vision a reality, by using the right technologies to make all of your customer touchpoints seamlessly interconnected.
In an omnichannel customer experience, all of the platforms your customers use to interact with your business (social media, webpage, telephone, live chat, in-person, etc.) are aligned and synchronized. Your customers can hop from one channel to another without having to build that connection all over again.
Every business uses multiple channels to meet and engage with potential customers. Today, you would be hard-pressed to find a company that doesn’t have a website, social media pages, an email address, and a telephone number. These are all touchpoints or places that your customers can get in touch with your business. Most businesses are multichannel, meaning they have all these different ways to interact with customers.
What’s the difference between multichannel and omnichannel?
The difference between multichannel and omnichannel is how touchpoints connect to one another. In a multichannel environment, a customer may not have a seamless, consistent experience if they switch channels. They have multiple channels through which to reach your business, but perhaps those channels don’t “talk” to each other. In omnichannel customer service, channels share information and coordinate to ensure a continuous, harmonious, convenient experience.
Let’s say, for example, a customer is shopping on a website for a product. The customer notices a buy-one, get-one sale on the product, but they have to sign up for a rewards program to get the BOGO price.
In a truly omnichannel customer experience, when the customer leaves their shopping cart to sign up for the rewards program, they return from filling out the online form to an updated shopping cart. In the background, technologies seamlessly updated their cart with the sale price, making it easier for the customer to complete a purchase.
Essentially, multiple touchpoints talked to each other. The customer left one touchpoint (their shopping cart) to interact with the business at a different touchpoint (the online form). Perhaps they even left the website to check their email inbox for a confirmation email. When they returned to their cart, omnichannel processes made it easier for them to click “buy now,”—the business instantly fulfilled its promise of providing a coupon code.
That’s just one example of an omnichannel customer experience.
What omnichannel looks like for your business depends on who you serve and what you offer.
Maybe it looks like…
- consistently responsive service online, over the phone, and in person
- lightning-fast lead qualification and conversion
- seamless patient intake and scheduling
- conversations that transition smoothly between phone and chat
- 24/7 availability for your clients and prospects
So, where should you begin? To develop an omnichannel customer experience for your business, you need to understand who your customers are and where they interact with you the most.
But first, you need to know why omnichannel experiences matter to the people you serve.
Why are omnichannel customer experiences important?
Not every customer interacts with your business in the same way. Giving your customers choices for how they interact with your business fosters loyalty and may even encourage your customers to spend more money with your business.
How your customers want to interact varies based on their needs. Making those interactions connected seamlessly means integrating your business with technology, processes, and people who all understand your vision and goal for your customers’ experience.
For instance, when a customer interacts with your business online, they should be able to initiate a phone call with a professional who sees and understands what the customer was looking for online. Optimizing the connection between website, live chat, and phone calls—without your customer explaining themselves three times—creates a better customer journey.
By building an omnichannel customer experience, you’ll give your customers and potential customers easy and intuitive customer journeys, no matter which platform they choose to start those journeys. You’ll need to invest in the right tools. Adapting technology and processes that create connections between your digital and live channels enables you to grow your business while staying in touch with your customers and what they care about.
How can your business deliver omnichannel customer experiences?
Before you create an omnichannel customer experience, determine whether it’s the right move for your organization. Not all businesses require an omnichannel approach to create positive customer experiences. A boutique law firm or highly specialized business-to-business service company, for instance, may only have a few clients to interact with on two or three channels.
Additionally, you need to time it right—trying to go all-in on an omnichannel strategy too quickly can lead to customers bouncing around between channels and dealing with disjointed customer service.
For most businesses, however, there’s much to gain from delivering omnichannel customer experiences. And it might be easier than you think. Although making changes to your customer engagement strategy can sound overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be.
To build an omnichannel customer experience, you’ll need to look at your technology, processes, and people through an omnichannel lens. It begins and ends with your customers and the various places they want to interact with your business (that is, your touchpoints). Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Start with your customers.
The core of your customer engagement strategy is your customer. If you’re not already doing so, start collecting data on your customers at every interaction. Consider: What do your customers want? Some customers want faster service and the flexibility to interact with you digitally. Others may prefer to interact with your business on a much more personal level and speak with a human being when they call or initiate a live chat. Part of your omnichannel strategy should include looking at your various customers and their pain points, to identify customer needs.
Step 2: Design the omnichannel journey.
Once you’ve looked closely at your customers and identified the customer needs you want to address, you can build your customers’ omnichannel journey.
Whether you are trying to synchronize the experience of your physical office with a digital app, or connect your customer to the correct department when they initiate a conversation online, think about the possible stops your customers might make from start to finish. For instance:
- A client researching a product might start on your website.
- Next, they may follow you on social media or subscribe to your mailing list.
- Before making a final purchase decision, they might call you to ask about product availability.
- After their purchase, they may contact you through chat inquiring about your returns and exchange policies.
An omnichannel experience integrates those various communication channels so that your customer has a unified journey throughout.
Mapping out this journey will help you determine what technology and personnel support your company needs to integrate your digital and live channels.
Step 3: Select your omnichannel tools.
Omnichannel tools include technology that integrates your web and live channels, tools that collect customer data (and make it available to your customer service agents), and platforms staffed by highly skilled and trained customer engagement professionals.
To choose the right omnichannel customer experience tools…
- Identify what tools your business already has. What technology and services do you use to serve your customers? Are you using the full capabilities of those tools, and taking advantage of their integrations with other tools?
- Fill your gaps. Looking at your existing tools and the map of your customer journey, determine what you need to add to create a seamless experience on the channels where your customers are active.
- Get to know your new tools. Beyond simply investing in new tools, take the time to learn how to use and get the most value out of them.
- Train your team and create buy-in. Ensure that your entire team knows how to use the tools they need to use to serve customers, and that they feel comfortable using those tools.
Watch out for siloes. Make sure everyone who acts on behalf of your business understands and believes in your vision of a customer-centric omnichannel journey. Keeping your team members focused on the bigger picture rather than hyper-focused on the small roles they play in that customer’s journey will keep all of your various team members and departments looking toward your overarching customer service goals.
Step 4: Test, monitor, and improve your approach over time.
When looking to create an omnichannel customer experience, it can be overwhelming to consider the infrastructure needed to integrate all of your various channels. And with more digital and in-person channels coming on the scene every year, it can be a lot to keep up with. You don’t need to feel like you have to integrate them all at once.
By getting to know your customers through collecting data and surveying customer experiences, you should have an idea of the few digital and live channels you want to focus on at first.
Implement your plan to integrate your priority touchpoints. Then, track and monitor how well you’re doing. Collect customer data and survey your customers’ experiences to continue to meet your customers’ needs. Over time, you can add (and integrate) more digital or live channels, especially if you see your customers’ needs evolving.
What does a successful omnichannel customer experience look like?
If you’re curious about what an omnichannel approach looks like in the real world, consider the ways these companies interact with their customers digitally and in-person:
Starbucks: Customers can use their Starbucks rewards program across all digital and in-person platforms, including web, mobile, phone, and in-store. Customers can quickly reload their Starbucks cards while waiting in line for their turn to order. Starbucks customers can order, pay, and redeem points all using the same integrated platform. Starbucks will even put your (correctly spelled) name on your drink without asking when you order using their mobile app.
Best Buy: As a large electronics and appliance store, Best Buy knows that an in-person showroom is just as crucial for its customers as the real-time updated digital inventory through their mobile app. Best Buy allows customers to know their inventory counts for products in real-time through both the mobile app and the digital price cards in front of their in-person products.
Note that Best Buy didn’t adapt its entire omnichannel strategy all at once. The company first focused on the customer experiences in-store and digitally with their real-time inventory availability. As they monitored their progress and adapted to their customer’s demands, they added more to their mobile app to make things possible, like preloading credit card information and allowing customers to create favorite lists. Today, using the Best Buy app, you can review and buy products, call Best Buy (or even your local store), chat or call for tech support, set repair appointments for your products, apply for or pay your Best Buy credit card bill, and a lot more.
As buyer behaviors changed, Best Buy evolved its omnichannel strategy to meet customer needs.
Again, remember that these retailers didn’t become omnichannel legends overnight. The same holds true for your business. Your omnichannel vision will take time and effort to implement. Begin with your customer and their needs and utilize tools and strategies to help you make the customer journey, wherever it begins and ends, a seamless and positive experience for your customers.
Delight your customers everywhere they interact with your business.
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I mean, why keep something like that to just one channel?
Learn about optimizing customer experience in our guide: Happy customers, efficient businesses.