Back in the day, before anyone knew the term “omnichannel customer experience,” when you wanted to check your bank account balance, you had to … go to the bank. Or call customer service.
Then along came ATMs. And bank websites and mobile apps. Now, your financial information proliferates seemingly everywhere, at the touch of a button, with the numbers the same every place you check.
It’s all seamless – or should be.
The concept is known as omnichannel customer experience. Experts define it as the process of businesses interacting with customers in the same way, and providing the same customer experience, across multiple channels: online; in a brick-and-mortar store or branch; by phone.
Omnichannel is sometimes confused with multichannel customer experience, which is also company/consumer interaction on more than one channel. The difference is that in the multichannel approach, each channel is separate and independent from the other.
Omnichannel customer experience was once considered the proverbial next big thing among companies. Now, it’s here in force.
In fact, consulting firm McKinsey & Company calls it “a requirement for survival,” especially with the evolution of post-pandemic shopping habits and the tendency of most younger consumers to not “even think in terms of traditional channel boundaries.”
In an age when virtually everyone is online in some form, some of America’s best-known brands have won plaudits for providing an omnichannel experience.
Starbucks, for example, is known for a customer loyalty program that provides free drinks as points accrue. Customers can reload their Starbucks cards in-store, via mobile device, or through the company’s website and app, with their rewards points updated on each platform.
At Neiman Marcus, the company’s app connects customers to customer service representatives through all sorts of channels: calls, emails, text messages, and FaceTime. Shoppers can check their points and view personalized product recommendations.
And Amazon is known for its extraordinary dedication to overall customer service. In the omnichannel sphere, Amazon provides customers with a seamless experience through third-party sellers, a sole, relatively simple returns process, and the same account in different countries and across sub-brands.
Let’s explore omnichannel customer experience in a little more depth.
What are the benefits of omnichannel customer experience for customers?
- As noted above, it’s seamless. Customers can interact with brands in one channel and continue the conversation on another channel without having to start over.
- It gives customers more choice: they can communicate with a company across the integrated channel of their choosing.
- It’s just easier. Engaging with customer service representatives across multiple channels is smoother – and relieves the customer of the annoying obligation to repeatedly find the right person to talk to and repeat information they have already shared.
- Omnichannel customer experience upholds perhaps the most basic tenant of good customer experience: It’s about the CUSTOMER. We like that here at The Experience Maker.
Now let’s turn to the experience providers.
How do businesses benefit from omnichannel customer experience?
- For one thing, interacting with customers across multiple channels requires companies to think broadly and conceptually. Different units such as marketing, sales, and customer support must be aligned to provide that seamless customer experience.
- Companies can collect better and richer data about their customers across the various communications channels, allowing them to improve customer experience even more – and sell more goods and services.
- Omnichannel customer experience allows brands to reach modern consumers where they live, which for many people these days is most definitely not in a brick-and-mortar store.
- All of this is likely to increase customer engagement and customer retention: happy consumers with better experiences may come back – and spend more.
And, it turns out, they do! In a study of more than 46,000 customers conducted with a major U.S. retailer, Harvard Business Review compared single-channel customers to omnichannel customers – those who used everything from smartphone apps to in-store digital tools, and made purchases online and picked up in-store or bought in the store and had their purchases shipped.
The results showed that omnichannel customers spent an average of four percent more in stores – and 10 percent more online.
So what’s the catch? Are there any downsides to omnichannel customer service or reasons for brands to be cautious about trying it?
Not really. Putting a successful omnichannel approach in place can be challenging, requiring mobile-friendly platforms and full teams of managers, developers, customer support staff, and other personnel.
And some studies have shown that a haphazard, rushed approach can result in a flawed system that doesn’t create value.
But on the whole, omnichannel customer experience seems to offer what we like to see most: a positive, happier experience for customers and companies alike.