“Omnichannel anticipates that customers may interact with one or several channels before completing their purchase as they progress in their buying journey. The customer’s transition in between channels must be fluid.”
The buzzword, ‘Omnichannel’ broke onto the scene when businesses realized that customers explored several interaction nodes before completing a transaction. For instance, customers interacted with the business through social media, toyed with the product in-store, made a purchase online and finally have it delivered.
In order to create a seamless journey across purchasing channels, businesses need to collect customer information, track their shopping progress and nurture them towards a resolution. During that process, the business must ensure that customer perceptions and expectations 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 shopping experience.
An Omnichannel Predicament
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. I also get to pick up a few worthwhile 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, stock was available at my neighborhood store (over 1000 units). 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.
(Expectation ≠ Reality) = Frustration
Now, this may get chalked as a system stock versus physical stock mismatch. But, it reality, it impacts customers a lot more than you think. Errors like these ultimately chip away at customer experience.
This outcome may have been acceptable a decade ago and accounted for as a discrepancy. Today, customers expect much more. They are prone to frustration quicker and easier. Failure to earn and 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?
Omnichannel 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. Just so you know, this wasn’t the first time it occurred.
Businesses need to set up regular internal and external customer experience audits to find holes in the value-chain. Every employee should play the ‘customer’. Businesses must constantly review, learn and improve so that consistency and accuracy prevail.