If there is one guiding principle for businesses, it is: Give the customers what they want. (How many ice cream shops could stay in business if the only flavor offered was plain vanilla?) What customers want today is a multi-channel experience. They have grown increasingly tech-savvy and more comfortable with using everything from desktops to kiosks in order to research products they are considering, to communicate with companies, and to make purchases. Companies that give them want they want will thrive, and those that do not will falter.
Creating a great Omni-channel customer experience, however, is far more than merely enabling access through a variety of devices. It is a cohesive plan to guide each customer throughout his or her purchase journey. Although not every enterprise needs to create an identical multi-channel experience, there are certain important characteristics that all successful Omni-channel models share.
Customers expect certain things from your company. No matter how they choose to interact with you, they want their expectations met. If they are accustomed to finding a "contact us" link on your desktop website, for example, they might have a negative reaction to finding the link missing on your mobile site. If they found 50 different white shirts when using your in-store kiosk, they may wonder why there are only 15 found on your website. If your reputation includes being on the cutting edge of technology, they may be upset that your mobile app takes a long time to load.
Every time your customers experience an inconsistency between channels, such as your failure to meet the standards you have set on another channel, your reputation suffers. Therefore, ensure that customers have a consistent experience regardless of the channel they choose to use.
On a typical day, your customer may begin the day by using a desktop computer to visit your website to see if you carry a particular product. While on break, he uses his tablet to make sure that you have the product in stock. On the commute home, he accesses your site through his smartphone to verify your location and hours. Arriving at your store, he stops by the kiosk to swipe his loyalty card and check reviews posted by customers who purchased the product he is planning to buy. At any point during his purchase journey, if the customer could not choose the method he wanted to use, your relationship with him would suffer. He would not be happy, for example, to find that he could only check product availability from his desktop or only find your business hours on your traditional website and not on his phone. Therefore, a true multi-channel must provide the means for customers to interact via whatever channel they prefer.
3. Channel Neutrality
Just as you need to provide customers with choices, you also need to make sure that the experience does not favor one channel over another. To give you an example, suppose you decided to offer a discount to mobile users. You can push the offer to them, and all they need to do to get the discount is flash their smartphones. If you do not offer desktop users the opportunity to print a coupon for the same discount, they may feel slighted. A similar issue could arise if you allow desktop users to place online orders, but you do not accept orders from mobile users. From features to campaigns, you must maintain channel neutrality to avoid alienating certain users.
4. Context Optimization
Channel-neutrality does not mean that you cannot optimize certain interactions to suit the context. For example, filling out a credit application is a lengthy process that can be difficult to complete on a smartphone. Restricting this task to a desktop, laptop, or tablet makes more sense. On the other hand, checking an account balance should be available on any device.
5. Seamless Integration
It is common for a customer to begin a task on one channel and complete it on another. For example, a customer might use her smartphone to begin shopping while she is on her lunch break. She places several items in her cart, but she realizes that she needs to check a size before she completes her purchase. When she gets home, she verifies the size and uses her desktop to access your site. She wants to be able to pick up where she left off; she does not want to have to start shopping "from scratch." Her items should still be in her cart, and she should still be able to see the same sidebar showing the items she looked at in her previous session. Everything should flow seamlessly between channels to deliver the best experience.
Giving your customers a great multichannel experience is crucial. Expend the effort to make sure that when users go from smartphone to desktop to kiosk to tablet, they are not confused by contradictory messages or inconsistencies. Be channel-neutral but optimize for context. Make sure that the entire experience flows seamlessly between channels. In other words, give your customers what they want, which is a great experience every time they interact with your company.