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Is Omni-Channel the Unicorn of Modern CX?

Editor’s note: This is a chapter from the ebook, Unlock the Value of CX. You can download the entire book here.

Customers Expect More

Delivering omni-channel experiences has been a hot topic in the CX industry for a number of years. The reason that we keep talking about it is that very few have actually achieved omni-channel delivery. Another important reason that we continue
to talk about omni-channel experiences is because it’s what customers expect. They want the organizations that they choose to know them as a customer, including product and channel usage and preferences. Is the reason that we keep talking about (and striving for) omni-channel experiences because they are not obtainable? Is an omni-channel approach the unicorn of modern customer experience?

In this chapter, we discuss what is needed to deliver on an omni-channel experience and the barriers that keep companies from delivering on this objective.

What is Omni-Channel?

The promise of omni-channel is simple: to provide the customer with a single, consistent, and seamless experience. It’s about putting the customer at the center of the experience. What does this mean specifically?

  • Blurring Channels – Companies must deliver the same experiences regardless of channel or touch-point. Customers should be able to complete the same tasks, obtain the same information, and experience the same outcomes regardless of their path. The key to delivering exceptional customer service precisely as a company intends it to be begins with having well-defined, communicated, and reinforced customer experience standards. In the omni-channel world, those standards must be translated, communicated, and applied consistently across each channel and across each brand to prevent widely varying experiences from channel to channel and brand to brand. A great example of an omni-channel experience that is difficult for some organizations to achieve relates to account opening. How companies ensure that new customers start off on the right foot with the organization and are welcomed regardless of the channel used is optimizing the omni-channel capabilities of a company.
  • Knowing Customers – This relates to knowing how and when customers interact with the company. It is much more than just tracking experiences, it’s about integrating experiences across channels. Recently, a friend shared an experience when he dialed a call center. The representative that answered his call already knew what question he would have because of his recent activity on his online account. Omni-channel is much more than just knowing your customer in terms of profile and product ownership, it is about engaging in a relevant dialogue based on profile, product ownership, and usage.
  • Using Preferences – Because an omni-channel approach ensures that companies really know their customers, interacting with customers based on preferences is key.

Omni-Channel Roadblocks

Unfortunately, achieving the goal of seamless omni-channel experiences is not always simple. There are a lot of things that keep companies from delivering on an omni-channel customer experience. Some of the biggest roadblocks include:

  1. No Definition – Companies, especially those that have been very channel-focused or those that are organizationally siloed, have a hard time even defining what omni-channel would mean for their organizations. Therefore, no definition leads to no action.
  2. Systems Constraints – Technology can both enable and hinder omni-channel approaches. Companies that leverage multiple systems to track interactions and experiences can have a hard time actually achieving omni-channel execution. Integration and consistency among all systems are critical. For some companies, this can be a multi-million dollar investment.
  3. Complexity – For businesses that have complicated offerings or are hampered by a regulatory environment, the ability to completely deliver on an omni-channel experience may not be possible. For example, within the financial services sector, it may not be possible for banks to allow customers to open certain types of accounts through digital channels.

Beyond addressing the roadblocks that plague an omni-channel approach, creating a healthy omni-channel strategy also requires an integrated process for ongoing measurement and monitoring to make it successful.

Omni-Channel Research: Comprehensive and Connected

Like technology infrastructure, much of customer experience measurement is still approached from a siloed perspective.
By definition, an omni-channel experience requires creating continuity across all aspects of the customer experience. Effectively measuring the customer experience using an omni- channel approach requires that we mimic this continuity and breadth with a unified research strategy.

It’s essential to design omni-channel research broadly as a comprehensive, relationship-oriented research effort. The approach starts with understanding experiences across all channels that the customer utilizes and the interrelationship among channel experiences. Channel interactions are a critical part of the customer experience, but there are other components that blend with channel experiences to form the customer relationship. It’s imperative to measure these other critical aspects of the customer experience and understand the interplay among them to truly understand the broad customer experience.

An omni-channel approach begins with the basics, but takes a broader look at experience with four tenets in mind:

1. Measure the Experience Not Just Within Channels, But Across Channels

Most organizations spend the majority of their customer experience measurement resources on deep, single-channel transactional research.

While transactional research is essential and provides critical information to the front-line to help improve channel operations, this focused view does not evaluate the consistency and seamlessness of the experience. To measure the omni-channel experience holistically, we recommend a relationship-oriented research approach to explore not just the customer experience
in a single channel, but the consistency of their experiences across channels. This approach ensures understanding of how experiences at a store location, on the phone, or online work together to impact a customer’s satisfaction and engender loyalty.

A graph showing touchpoint drivers of customer impression

2. Take a Broad Perspective by Looking Beyond Just Channel Experiences

Understanding how well channels work together to foster loyal and profitable customers is the first step, but that alone is not enough. Our research has shown that evaluating the customer experience solely from the channel perspective leaves vital portions of customer loyalty unexplained. It is only when we introduce the concepts of how well channels work together and how they interact with products that the loyalty equation comes into focus. Customer loyalty is driven by a customer’s broad perspective, including not just channel experiences, but also product experiences, marketing communications, moments of truth, and much more. To complicate matters more, customer opinions are also impacted by factors outside of the company’s control—such as traditional and social media communications, competitive moves, and new players in the marketplace.

Omni-channel research includes measuring different constructs to explore the breadth of factors customers use to form their opinions of a brand:

  • The Customer Journey: Understand the motivations for purchasing, the consideration process, emotions, and how the customer arrives at the point where they purchase.
  • Channel Experiences and Preferences: Evaluate customer satisfaction with interactions at various touch-points, identify and measure the drivers of channel satisfaction, and determine how well the channels work together to form a seamless experience.
  • Products and Services: Evaluate satisfaction with the products and services to explore the relationship between product and channel.
    • Impactful Experiences: Explore the effects of various impactful experiences or “moments of truth” such as problem incidence and handling, poor product quality, fraud, and policy changes on satisfaction and loyalty.
    • Sales Interactions: Assess the sales process, from the advisory conversation to product selection and cross-sell efforts.
    • Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations: Evaluate the exposure of customers to various forms of marketing and communications and determine their impact on the perceptions of the company.
    • External Factors: Highlight the impacts of traditional media, customer-driven social media content, and other aspects that could impact brand perceptions that are outside of an organization’s control.

3. Bring Together the Depth of Channel Transactional Research with the Breadth of Omni-Channel Research for a Fuller Picture and Refined Design

While insight from an omni-channel relationship study provides organizations with broad perspective, we believe the ideal approach integrates omni-channel insights with those derived from existing channel transactional studies. This approach combines the broad learning across channels and experiences with channel-specific deep insights. Bringing these pieces together offers several key benefits:

  • A holistic view of the drivers of satisfaction and loyalty from both the organization and competitive perspective
  • Understanding competitive strengths and weaknesses and having the depth of knowledge to develop strategies and coaching efforts that leverage strengths and mitigate weaknesses
  • Creating a scorecard combining the results of the omni-channel and individual channel studies
  • The ability to develop common metrics for tracking across studies

A six sided star showing what makes facets of customer experience make up omni-channel

4. Voice of the Customer (VoC) comes in a lot of shapes and sizes. Consider all VoC sources when building out a holistic, omni-channel measurement system

Customers provide feedback of their experiences in a lot of different ways—both solicited and unsolicited. There may be some sources of VoC that are best captured through sources outside of traditional relationship and transactional measurement, such as social media or review websites. Companies should broaden their horizons to include all different types of VoC sources to gauge how well they are delivering on omni-channel experiences. Some important data sources are:

  • Social media
  • Online review sites
  • Comments and complaints gathered outside of the measurement programs
  • Front-line employees’ notes from interactions with customers (could be in-person or call center experiences)
  • Web analytics and usage data

Use the Building Blocks You Already Have

Organizations can achieve an omni-channel approach through design, system and data integration, and through a customer-centric focus. While not many organizations have truly achieved omni-channel, most do have the right building blocks to make it happen. Having an integrated VoC program is a critical piece on the path to finding that omni-channel CX unicorn.