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When Omni-channel Breaks Down

Omni-Channel

Omni-channel anticipates that customers may interact with one or several channels before completing their purchase as they progress in their buying journey. The transition in between channels must be fluid for the customer.”

The buzzword, ‘Omni-channel’ broke onto the scene when businesses realized that customers explored various interaction nodes before completing a transaction.  Customers may interact with the business through social media, toy with them in-store, finally make a purchase online and have it delivered or picked up.

In order to create a seamless journey across purchasing channels, businesses need to collect customer information, track progress and nurture them towards a resolution. During that process, the business must ensure that customer perceptions and expectations are a match as often as possible. That means, what customers are exposed to on one channel should be prevalent on another (with concessions for valid constraints, promotional or strategic initiatives). With that in mind, I was recently taken aback when I encountered a breakdown in my buying experience.

Being a product guy, I’m in the habit of evaluating customer experience wherever I shop.  I look for improvements and ideas in making the journey comfortable and satisfying. Of course, I also get to pick up a few tips in the process.

With the impending cold-front expected to sweep through Houston, I decided to purchase a few outdoor faucet covers. In keeping with 80%+ of the populace, I began a quick online search before venturing out. The options, in order of proximity, included Home Depot, Walmart, Lowe’s and Ace hardware

Now, buying faucet covers is not rocket science and is certainly not an interesting shopping experience. My prerogative therefore was to get in and out with minimal  expense of effort and time.

According to the Home Depot website, limited stock was available at my neighborhood store. However, upon visiting the store, my expectation-to-reality gap looked something like the diagram below (with some exaggeration). Two customer associates and a sore neck later, I discovered that the product was in fact, not available in-store.

 

EXPECTATION

intended-buying-map-of-retail-store

REALITYbuying-journey-retail-store

 

(Expectation ≠ Reality) = Frustration 

 

This outcome may have been acceptable a decade ago and accounted for as a discrepancy in physical vs system stock. Today, customers expect much more. They are prone to frustration quicker and easier. Failure to earn/retain trust on one channel could set in motion a ripple effect on others. 

To maintain a consistent and fluid customer experience, businesses need to draw a parallel between information provided through their channels and reality on the ground. Think of an ad campaign for a new line of shoes that ends with “…Now in a store near you“. Only ‘now’ means two weeks later. How would customers react to such an experience?

Omni-channel is not just about connecting marketing, customer support, retail or e-commerce. It’s about the entire network and the customer’s journey in it. Every interaction, whether deliberate or accidental, purposeful or casual must pull the customer a step closer towards completing a goal while building loyalty into the relationship. You cannot build loyalty with bad experiences.

Businesses need to setup regular internal and external customer experience audits to find holes in the value-chain. Every employee needs to play ‘customer’.

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