For better or worse, technology has infiltrated most aspects of our lives, and as a result, the way in which we research, select and buy products and services has changed dramatically. What used to be a one- or two-stage customer journey can now span days, channels and locations, potentially mixing digital, print and in-store experiences.
On this page, we look at what how an omnichannel approach can be the secret to delivering a seamless customer experience across channels and devices, and why that’s so important for your business? We’ll look at the building blocks of an omnichannel strategy and address how each contributes to a strategy that is more than the sum of its parts.
What is Omnichannel?
‘Omnichannel’ involves using all your available channels – digital, print, physical – to create one unified experience for your customer, no matter how, when or where they interact with your brand, and across all stages of the customer journey.
Your customer can be on a desktop or mobile device, on a website or in an app, chatting via online chat or chatbot, or in a physical store and the experience would be recognisably harmonious: one organisation, a single brand.
One of the key elements of an omnichannel strategy is seamless transitions between channels, so a customer can pick up where they left off if they change channel. Other key considerations are consistency in values, tone, branding and structure across all online and offline communications, as well as optimisation of design and content per channel.
An omnichannel strategy offers companies huge potential to create a smooth, enjoyable experience that reinforces and enhances brand awareness and overall customer experience.
How Is Omnichannel Different to Multichannel?
While they sound similar, and are sometimes confused, the difference between omnichannel and multichannel marketing is an important one to establish.
Multichannel is simply about using multiple channels to reach, or be found by, your customers. For example, your physical store, website, social media channels, print advertising etc.
With a purely multichannel approach, each channel is typically managed in isolation, e.g. the in-store experience, the website experience, the Instagram experience, etc., each with its own strategy, goals, objectives etc. As a result, customers tend to view these as separate, but related, arms of the same company.
But the problem with this kind of strategy is that it overlooks the fact that customers typically use multiple touchpoints before making a purchase. This can lead to a fragmented approach that increases friction along the buyer journey.
Omnichannel on the other hand, is all about putting the customer and customer experience at the centre of all stages of the buying process, and beyond.
In fact, taking an omnichannel approach to marketing, selling, and serving your customers is the ultimate way to attract, engage and delight customers in a holistic and sustainable way that improves the whole customer experience from the very first interaction.
Why Omnichannel Is so Important For Your Business
According to research carried out by Google, 90% of users who own multiple devices switch between screens to complete tasks, using an average of three different device combinations every day. In a fast-paced world, multiple demands on our attention and time mean that our path to making a final purchase or completing a task may start or end at any time of the day or night, in any location and on any of our multiple devices.
Device Usage and Understanding Why Customers Switch
We know that customers switch regularly between devices and channels, but to gain an insight into their wishes and needs it can help to understand some of the drivers behind those moves. This can allow companies to design streamlined transitions that enhance, rather than interrupt the customer experience.
Some tasks might be more suited to another channel, for example, your online chat about a complex complaint might be better handled over the phone. At other moments, it might be the user’s activity that makes it impossible to continue on one channel or device, for example, needing to move from a desktop device in the office to a mobile device on the train ride home from work.
Because customer journeys have the tendency to be non-linear, and involve a series of touchpoints or handoffs between channels that can differ considerably by customer type, companies need to analyse and understand what their customers want in order to develop an effective strategy.
For more about this, discover why omnichannel is important for your business.
How Omnichannel Brings Benefits for Customers and Opportunities for Companies
Putting the customer at the heart of your strategy may sound like a nice idea, but how do you know if it’s really worth it?
Studies consistently show that companies that are successful in implementing a customer experience strategy achieve not only increased customer satisfaction rates and reduced customer churn, but that this directly translates to increased revenues.
In the graph below, you can see the difference a great customer experience can mean in terms of ROI. By analysing the cumulative total stock returns for two portfolios, Watermark Consulting shows that customer experience leaders clearly outperform the market, compared to those who do not put customer experience at the heart of their business model.
From research by marketing automation platform Omnisend, companies who create a more omnichannel experience earn a 90% higher customer retention rate than single-channel marketers.
Omnichannel Building Blocks for a Strong Foundation
We’ve seen some of the benefits of having a seamless customer experience, but what are the key elements of the omnichannel approach that, when carefully integrated, bring about those benefits?
Here we take you through five of the building blocks:
- Convenience: While not every customer is obsessed with speed, convenience and overall ease of doing business is a key element that any omnichannel strategy needs to take into account.
- Consistency: Customers expect to interact with one brand with a unified voice and approach to customer experience, not isolated channels of the same brand. Content should not be the same across all channels, but values, tone, branding and structure and design should be consistent and recognisable.
- Relevance: We want to feel like companies know us and understand our pain points and needs. To be able to offer relevant, personalised content, companies often need to gather data. And more and more often, customers are willing to exchange privacy for contextualised interactions that make their life easier.
- Empowerment: With a customer-centric approach comes better employee engagement, and as a result, increased revenues.
- Agility: In a constantly evolving digital and sales landscape, companies need to be ready to adapt. Top performing companies make sure they have the speed and adaptability to spot opportunities and change tactics when needed.
Keep on reading to learn more about these 5 omnichannel building blocks.
How to Develop Your Omnichannel Strategy
It’s important to remember that building a successful omnichannel strategy is specific to each company, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. You don’t necessarily need to be equally active on all fronts, but instead, deliberately select the most appropriate channels, content and messaging for your business and for your customers so that you can be exactly where they expect you to be.
Here are the three first steps to building your omnichannel strategy:
- Understand your customers: The starting point for any element of your business strategy is a deep understanding of your customers and their needs, and for an omnichannel strategy this is more important than ever. Use personas to help you identify the values, motivations, needs, wishes, frustrations, and dreams of your ideal customers, as well as how they are likely to be engaging with your brand.
- Prioritise the channels your customers are using: Not all channels are relevant for every business – for example, LinkedIn is more relevant for B2B, Instagram more for B2C – so only focus on those channels that really matter. Data analytics can reveal a lot about how customers are discovering your site, and can give you valuable insights into how to optimise your approach for the most important channels.
- Identify touchpoints and potential handoffs by mapping the customer journey: Once you understand your customers better, you can start to identify the customer journeys that are the most important. With customer journeys being less linear than in the past, the handoffs between digital and non-digital channels can vary significantly between customers and by customer type. Make sure to align your content to the various stages of the customer journeys so that your customers feel that you really care about their needs.
For a more in-depth look at each of these steps, read our article on how to develop an omnichannel strategy.
In an age when the customer journey is more complex than ever – thanks to a multitude of devices and channels, and our increasingly high expectations around customer experience – having a comprehensive omnichannel strategy can increase customer satisfaction rates, reduce customer churn and increase revenues.
Companies that retain single channel or classic multi-channel strategies risk losing out to companies who put the customer well and truly at the centre of their approach. Employee engagement is also at stake: companies who excel at customer experience boast more engaged employees, which in turn correlates with increased revenues. So customer-centric omnichannel strategies seem to be a win-win across the board.
However, with no ‘on-size-fits-all’ omnichannel strategy, companies need to tailor their strategy to their specific product or service and customer base, while keeping in mind the main steps to follow as well as the overarching themes of convenience, consistency relevance, empowerment and agility.