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Creating Consumer Connections: The Omni-Channel Bath

Posted by Vince Cavasin at 9:17 PM

20090904232906!Baigneurs_a_Asnieres.jpgIn my last post I discussed how specific channels blend and morph in the omni-channel world. But when they do, what do they create?

Much has been written in an attempt to define the concept of omni-channel: Some descriptions focus on customers using multiple channels at once; some focus on integrating cross-channel data to get a seamless view of customer behavior which can then be analyzed to improve messaging and conversion. Like my description of channels morphing like wax in a lavalamp, these are necessary components of "omniness". But none of them singularly define it.

I think the main ingredient our definitions are missing is immersiveness.

You can wash your hands at the sink; you can take a shower and wash your various body parts. Those are two clearly distinct washing experiences -- but if you've used a sink, stepping into a shower is pretty easy to grasp. However, climbing into a tub is a significantly different tactile experience that involves a whole new way of interacting with the same medium (water).

In the tub, the spigot becomes irrelevant to the washing experience -- the water completely surrounds you. In the omni-channel world, individual channels will cease to be relevant -- the brand will completely surround us.

Brands that want to succeed in leaving behind the sinks of multi-channel and the showers of cross-channel must do the following:

  • Nurture customer Fanatics who want to be immersed in the brand -- customers who derive as much value from associating themselves with the brand as they derive from using the company's products or services.
  • Create a brand identity that is consistent across all customer interactions but that leverages each interaction moment to its fullest potential. Focus on interaction moments rather than channels because remember, in the omni-channel  world, the channel becomes irrelevant (think about Google Glasses).
  • Throw out the old customer llifecycle. In the omni-channel world, the concept of Awareness>Engagement>Transaction>Fulfillment>Retention lifecycle phases is replaced by a continuum that ranges from Nonfanatic to Fanatic. Focus your efforts on converting the former into the latter and the rest will take care of itself.

In order to make your channels "omni" -- and therefore irrelevant -- you must understand them intimately, leverage them brilliantly, and evolve them constantly, as I touched on in my last post. You must also, of course, do the very hard work of getting the technology and organizational infrastructure right:

  • Develop unified and comprehensive views of all data from all channels: customer (Nonfanatic and Fanatic alike), product, inventory, digital assets, baskets, orders. Expose these views appropriately to customers.
  • Develop the real-time analytical capabilities required to constantly improve your understanding of customer behavior and sentiment in order to continuously improve the customer experience at every interaction (thereby converting more and more Nonfanatics into Fanatics).
  • Break down organizational walls -- for example, between IT and business, or marketing and commerce -- to create an organization that is as seamless and integrated as the omni-channel experience you are trying to create.

I assert that no company is fully omni-channel yet, and the above advice is a tall order even for those that are pioneering in the space. I have my own list of these, but I'm curious to learn what you think; is omni-channel just another incremental step in the ways customers interact with companies -- or something more like the revolution I describe above? In either case, what are today's most omni-channel companies? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Image: Georges-Pierre Seurat, Baigneurs a Asnieres (public domain)

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