Customers no longer use a single channel to make a purchase decision. They may use a laptop to research a product, such as visiting social media sites or forums to see what others are saying about an item or a business. They might use their smartphone to find a brick-and-mortar store that sells the product locally. While visiting your store, they could use a kiosk to see if you have the item in stock or offer access to helpful information, such as assembly instructions or maintenance procedures. They may then go home and use their desktop to visit your website and place an order for either home delivery or to be picked up at your store.
However, your customers are going to expect seamless integration across every channel. For example, if they set up a "wish list" on your in-store kiosk, they want to be able to add or delete items on the list from their smartphone or home computer. If they place an order from their laptop, they want to access tracking information from the kiosk or their smartphone. Providing this friction-less experience requires the use of a variety of technologies, and getting them all to work together properly can be challenging. When done correctly, though, it can offer substantial benefits. Achieving this can be easier if you keep the following four keys in mind.
1. Prior Planning Prevents Potential Pitfalls
The first step is to stop, think and plan. Determine your specific goals, i.e., precisely what you want to accomplish. Follow the "what" with a "why" — why do you need to integrate your legacy data? Why do you need to eliminate data siloes to make information available to all users who need it? Take a holistic approach that encompasses your business goals as well as your technology needs.
2. Universal Integration is Sometimes Unnecessary
The next step is to determine exactly what needs to be integrated to provide customers with a seamless experience. Frequently, the tendency is to integrate everything, including sales histories dating back to "day one" or information for obsolete products that you no longer sell or support. Although you naturally want to integrate every piece of relevant data or every useful process, you may find it unnecessary, and in some cases, it may actually hinder your efforts to provide a seamless customer experience.
3. Be Business-Centric and Customer-Centric
Providing customers with an engaging, seamless experience is critical to your future success. However, you cannot forget to include the goals of your business — both short-term and long-term — in your planning. You will need cooperation, feedback and suggestions from every department, so it is important to nurture ongoing interdepartmental communication. Everyone needs to be "on the same page" if you want to avoid the risk of having different departments working at cross-purposes.
4. Involve the Right People
You might have a large technical staff possessing all of the skills that you will need to make seamless integration work, but the chances are you will need outside help. To give you an example, when Gartner conducted a study on digital commerce, it found that a typical site averaged 15 distinct integration points. Add in designing and maintaining the site itself as well as optimizing it for mobile. The odds are that you are going to need to engage the services of one or more vendors to handle at least some of the work. Whether you are partnering with a vendor or assigning all work in-house, you need to make sure that you have the best-qualified, most-experienced people involved in your initiatives.
Providing your customers with a seamless experience is a critical part of allowing your company to compete in today's business environment. However, you should also keep in mind that it is more of a journey than a destination. Options will continue to increase as technology (or the market) changes, so you should plan on future updates and additional integrations. As such, considering the ever-increasing expectations your customers have, a seamless experience is well worth your effort.