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Omnichannel: The new buzzword in CX


In the field of Customer Relationship Management, having various channels to reach out to the customer and providing a seamless CX has become more significant than ever is deciding the success of an organization. As part of the various CX projects that we do, 'Omnichannel' is becoming a buzz word and nearly everyone seems to be talking about it but majority of the folks seem to confuse between the two.

To most of us, Omnichannel would mean providing various channels to the customer to interact with the organization. For e.g. IVR, mobile, web, Agents, physical stores, virtual stores, webmail, snailmail etc. These essentially are just channels that a company is providing for the customer and would fit the definition of 'Multi-Channel' (having multiple channels to interact with the customer) rather than Omnichannel. Without going into a textbook definition of Omnichannel, I feel it goes much beyond the channel and looks to integrate all the channels available to a consumer so that he/she can seamlessly move from one channel to another without compromising the experience or the ability.

To illustrate the ideas behind the two, consider a customer who is trying to buy a smartphone through a marketplace. Suppose he/she goes onto the marketplace website and browses through a list of smartphones, selects one, adds the selection to the cart and tries to checkout. However, at the time of checkout he wants to get warranty details of the smartphone confirmed with a call center agent. So, he dials the customer care number, authenticates himself, the CSR agent gets a pop up on his Call center application with all the customer details and the interaction can begin. But, the CSR agent does not have details of what the customer's activity was on the website since both the website and call center are operating in silos. This would be an example of Multi-channel where the customer will have to start the entire transaction again, i.e. tell the CSR about the phone he intends to buy, provide details about the phone: configuration, price etc. that he is looking for.

Now, suppose in the same transaction above, both the website and the Call center application are in sync with each other and the customer activity on the website can be tracked and fed to the CSR guy. In this case, when the customer calls, the CSR already knows that a few minutes back, the customer was on the website, trying to buy a phone with all the specifications and stopped just short of making a payment. And instead of asking the customer as to what help is required, the CSR can start with 'Sir, I see that you were trying to buy a phone, is there something related to the purchase that I can help you with'. In this scenario, the customer moved on from one channel to another seamlessly without losing the experience or the details about the transactions and was able to continue on a different channel from where he left of on the initial channel.

So, even though the words omnichannel and multichannel tend to get used interchangeably but there is a lot of difference in between the two. Also, both achieve different objectives, require different thought processes and different strategies to implement. For e.g. Multichannel strategy looks at more customer acquisition by providing various avenues for the customer to connect, Omnichannel strives to retain customers by providing a seamless experience of interaction between the customer and the product by promoting a healthy interaction between the two. To use cliché terms, one looks at customer enablement while the other targets customer delight.

One of the major factors in the environment which has changed the way customers interact with the product is the advent of Smartphones. They have enabled customers to have every information that they need at the tip of their fingers, without effort thereby nearly eliminating information asymmetry. This in turn has necessitated a change in the way companies sell products to their customers i.e. moving over from Multi channel to Omnichannel marketing. Things like 'Showrooming' and 'webrooming' have changed the way a customer shops and in turn have necessitated a change in the way a company sells its products to the consumer. Showrooming is nothing but the behavior of a shopper where he visits a physical store to check a product before making a purchase online. This is very prominent in case of personal products (shoes, clothing etc.) where a customer wants a touch and feel of the product before making a purchase decision. Companies believing in Omnichannel are tapping into this behavior to enable the customer to close the deal in the store itself or providing avenues to ensure that a customer can move over to another channel (online in this case) without any loss of experience. To illustrate, one way to do this is to provide Wi-Fi in-store and make all promotions, product details available to the customer in store, using QR codes to seamlessly direct customers from one channel to another. A mall that I frequently visit has done this beautifully by providing free Wi-Fi and pushing all the offers, promotions directly to the mall visitor's smartphone.

Webrooming is nothing but the reverse of Showrooming where a customer browses the internet before heading over to a physical store to make a purchase. Here also, Omnichannel strategy would play a key role in keeping the customer acquisition costs less and ensuring that the customer touch points through various channels enable the customer in taking decisions resulting in increase in topline for the company.

Coming to implementation and where we as SI can help our customers, the key things we should always keep in mind are the main objective/need behind a customer's push towards a multichannel or an  Omnichannel strategy, figuring out the dynamics that impact the vertical in which the customer operates, the environment and the tools available to achieve the desired outcomes.

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