The Omni-Channel Experience: Definition and 5 Examples

The internet and the multiple devices and platforms that connect to it has transformed the way we shop. It should also influence the way we market. “What?” you say, “But I already have a website, an app, live chat, an online store, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, an Instagram account, a presence on Pinterest, and more! What now?” The answer lies in the omni-channel experience. Let’s look at how that works and explore how companies have implemented it successfully.

What is the Omni-Channel Experience?

We can define the omni-channel experience as a seamless integration of all online, telecoms and brick and mortar platforms that includes physical and online experience across all physical locations, communications platforms, and devices. It targets the customer, and it gives relevance that generic marketing initiatives will never match.

If you’re already using multiple platforms, that doesn’t mean that you have a seamless omnichannel experience. Instead, you are using multi-channel marketing. Your customers could easily be receiving fragmented rather than unified information, and it doesn’t necessarily target their needs and wants.

From a customer perspective, a client may have communicated or interacted with your business in several different ways. He or she doesn’t want to see the same information over and over again, or worse yet, conflicting information that leaves more questions than answers. The contact a company has with clients, regardless of platform, should integrate in such a way that being in contact with your firm through multiple avenues adds value to the individual experience.

How Does That Work in Practice?

Trying to implement an omni-channel model and getting it right are two different things. There have been dismal failures, and there’s no denying that getting omni-channel marketing wrong can hurt your business more than it helps it.

However, if your business can achieve the high-road with the omni-channel customer experience, it could achieve great success. Let’s examine some of the case histories that have turned omni-channel marketing into the buzzword of the moment. Is it here to stay? Read on and judge for yourself.

Food and Beverages: Starbucks

The Starbucks loyalty card and its accompanying app are featured in multiple articles intended for both consumers and marketers. What makes it so popular? The answer is the omni-channel experience. A Starbucks loyalty card can be recharged using the app, the Starbucks website, or in the physical store itself. But the line of communication between app and card doesn’t end there.

No matter which channel you choose to use when interacting with Starbucks, your personal information will be present and up-to-date, even if you only made a transaction seconds ago. To the client, it’s a personalized, seamless interaction that picks up where they left off, even if the previous interaction used another channel.

Retail Outlets: Sephora

Sephora may be a cosmetics company, but it sets an example for almost any retailer who’d like to succeed in creating an omni-channel customer experience. Its “My Beauty Bag” feature works equally well on mobile and PC, allowing clients to look at past purchases as well as wish lists they may have compiled while browsing online. And if they want to reorder a specific product, they can re-order using any platform or device they prefer.

If you’ve ever walked into a store and forgot an item you wanted to get before deciding to do without it, you’ll know how this feature is helping to boost Sephora’s sales. And, of course, it’s all linked to the rewards program, motivating customers to use Sephora’s products, track progress, and buy even more.

Medical Services: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC)

With something in the region of 80,000 employees working from more than thirty hospitals and six hundred clinics, integrating medical information and giving patients the answers they’re seeking when they make inquiries may seem like an impossible task.

To solve the problem, UPMC turned to the omni-channel experience, developing a system that would improve the overall patient experience. It is able to integrate information across channels and data platforms and has received acclaim as a way to improve the patient experience in medical settings.

Banking: Omni-Channel is the “New Norm”

Although shopping may be fun and medical attention a necessity, people seldom get more serious about service than when you’re talking about their money. Banking Technology reports that omni-channel financial services are the “new norm.”

Consumers are looking for information and offers that apply to them, and banks are increasingly using information from physical transactions, card swipes, and website and app interactions to provide relevant, personalized information to their clients.

What if a client switches from mobile to PC halfway through completing an interaction or decides he or she would prefer to do business on a face-to-face-basis? The idea is to allow them to pick up exactly where they left off even if they change channels before completing a process.

Looking for a real-life example? Bank of America is working hard on its omni-channel experience and has been hailed as one of the leading banks in this regard.

Government: Countless Calls for an Omni-Channel Experience from Insiders and Consumers

Governments are notoriously slow in their adoption of new technologies. But even the staidest of internal government publications are starting to talk about the omni-channel experience. It’s a huge shift for an area where the adoption of functional websites is still a relatively new feature.

However, governments, and particularly local governments, are starting to realize that today’s consumer wants to do business on their terms. Although a few people may still prefer queuing for the cashier or being sent from pillar to post with an inquiry, most people want faster satisfaction.

European governments, particularly in the UK and Italy are already streamlining their websites to incorporate simplicity and mobile-friendliness, and the use of apps is on the rise too. We see countless reports, presentations, and articles on the omni-channel experience from government sources.

Omni-Channel is Not a Panacea

While this may sound like omni-channel is the panacea that consumers want, and every sector is trying to implement, it does come with a few caveats. Forbes reported on the pitfalls that lie in wait for companies seeking to leverage the omni-channel advantage. Chief among these has been focusing on channel integration without knowing what real customers want and delivering it.

So, what does it take to avoid these stumbling-blocks and getting the customer experience right? There’s lots of work to do before you pour your efforts into the omni-channel experience. First and foremost, you have to find out what, exactly, do the customers want from their interaction with you. That means a lot of market research and analytics work. Understanding consumer behavior is the first step towards influencing it.

Next, you need to draw up a roadmap of your digital strategy, implement it, evaluate it, and go back to the drawing-board if need be. We’ve listed some of the ways in which the omni-channel experience is successful, but we could just as easily have pointed to failures. These all have one thing in common. Overlooking customer needs and thinking the omni-channel experience is going to be some kind of profit-enhancing panacea is a big mistake.

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About the author - Amit Kothari

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