The term Omni-channel has become one of the most overused, yet misunderstood words in recent years, second only to Big Data. Seemingly every brand aspires to achieve it. And somehow nearly every software vendor claims they can offer it. So where's the disconnect?
According to the new research report, "The State of the Customer Journey 2014," a true definition to the term has finally emerged. This new definition is different from multi-channel and even from cross-channel. Keeping in mind that consumers don't want "omni-channel," they want their needs to be met and met on their terms. According to the research, the term is best defined by three S's: Seamless, Synchronous, and Symbiotic.
The first interesting discovery was that to consumers, omni-channel means much more than bringing together digital channels. Only 29% of consumers prefer to communicate with companies strictly through online/digital touch points, proving that traditional touch points remain crucial to the customer journey.
60% of consumers now expect a seamless experience as they move across your brand's digital touch points, but this is no huge surprise. However, it is now just slightly less than the 54% that expect a seamless experience across both your digital and physical touch points. This means not web, mobile app and social experience, but also the traditional touch points including the in-store experience, call center experience, and more.
All too often, marketers have been focusing upon digital alone as "omni-channel" and considering it a job done. Consumers are warning us to "get it together," wherever they are. We need to make it seamless across digital touch points, to physical/traditional ones and back again, with an institutional memory of the customer.
To make matters more complicated, individuals are now active on multiple touch points, all at the very same time. They are not just moving "across" our touch points one by one (i.e. "cross-channel"). Consumers expect all touch points to be connected - and connected in real-time. As the section above illustrates, this is regardless of whether the touch points are physical or digital. In fact, 69% of marketing executives believe that simultaneous use of multiple touch points by consumers is driving a strong need for real-time company connectivity.
The findings underscore that consumers expect brands to get it together. As brands, we don't just have to get it right on one place or channel, we have to get it right everywhere, with each channel working together. As an example, a backlash is now brewing, with 50% of consumers stating they find it frustrating when the only way they can get a quick response from a company is to complain on a social network. Just a short while ago, it used to be that getting it right on social media was the perfect end-game. However, now, consumers see Social as self-serving, and a way to quiet consumers of their negative experiences.
Possibly the most interesting finding around this "symbiotic" nature of omni-channel, was that while consumers declared they desire a consistent experience, they did not actually mean "the same" experience. To illustrate, 55% of consumers stated frustrations in downloading a mobile app that offers no functional difference from the mobile web site. In this example, consumers understand that brands are using these apps often to collect more and more personal data. So what's in it for the customer? Consumers today are now voicing that this comes at a price; they expect some added value from having downloaded the mobile app. They are seeking an experience that delivers value, benefit and true utility, which is often quite specific to that channel.
Why is this such a Big Challenge for Marketers?
If you look at the Marketer's ecosystem - you'll find campaign based infrastructure, rather than individually focus infrastructure. You'll also find old technology vendors, mixed in with new systems, some physical channels and some digital, and each most often provided by completely different vendors. So of course, nothing was designed to work together, much less in real-time.
· A mix of old/new, physical/digital touch points and systems
· Touch-points and data wasn't designed to be interoperable
· Managed by different teams, provided by different vendors
· No time to start all over again again
· Brands are struggling
Businesses simply don't have the time, money or patience to rip out all their infrastructure and start again - and neither do their customers. It is no longer an option to just sit on the sidelines.
A New Approach for New Challenges
This is why the new emerging "customer engagement hub" (CEH) approach is such a game changer. CEH is the newest category of CRM application to appear on Gartner's bellwether Hype Cycle reports for 2014.
This cloud-based approach, allows brands to quickly make the move to seamless, synchronous, symbiotic interactions in just a couple months by leaving their data, CRM and channel infrastructure where it is - without anything to rip and replace. In fact, 53% of marketing executives stated they would now like to implement an "engagement hub" that connects an individual's customer data at every touch point to support a seamless experience.
Omni-channel = Seamless, synchronous, symbiotic. With this pointed new definition in hand, we as brands can finally have a common ground of discourse. Good luck on your own journey to a new omni-channel reality.