By Shubhi Agarwal
Consumers are present and interacting across multiple touchpoints with brands and expect similar engagement across all these channels. With a strong omnichannel strategy in place, brands today can offer customers more value, personalised communication and 24/7 availability on customer service. This translates to superior customer experience management, optimal brand performance, customer retention and lasting brand loyalty.
Customers today have continually evolving needs and expectations – and what trends today could be history a few months down the line! A brand’s success is time-bound and also bound by relevance, especially when trying to establish a steadfast relationship with customers. Therefore, the key to actual success is being able to offer continued value, differentiated offerings and superior customer service.
Pre-pandemic, several consumers already employed a mix of offline and online channels for multiple activities from shopping to banking. However, the closure of brick and mortar stores during the pandemic drove even more customers online. According to Statista research, global e-commerce sales rose by an average of 6% across online platforms from January to March 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
Post Pandemic customers especially expect efficient, 24/7 service, personalised communication and ease of navigation when switching between multiple channels like phone, email, WhatsApp, and social media. For brands that operate across multiple online and offline channels, keeping track of customer journeys, quick responsiveness across channels, executing impactful strategies on multiple different platforms to better meet customer expectations becomes a challenge. This is where having an omnichannel presence becomes relevant.
Multichannel VS omnichannel presence
An omnichannel strategy is different from a multichannel strategy because while multichannel means that a brand is present on different channels, each of these channels are operated in silos, leading to an inconsistent customer experience. An omnichannel strategy, however, unifies all these channels, both offline and online, so that the customer has a seamless experience, while switching between multiple devices and platforms, every single time.
According to industry research, 67% of customers use multiple digital channels to complete a single transaction. This also means that businesses that aren’t offering multichannel engagement are providing a substandard experience for these customers. Consumers tend to disengage with brands that are not available on their preferred digital channels.
On the other hand, an omni-channel approach focuses on unifying all a brand’s touchpoints digitally; this includes brick-and-mortar stores , social media channels , websites, email portals, and mobile interactions. It is ensuring quality and consistent communication and engagement across all these channels, anytime, anywhere. This enables customers to move seamlessly between these channels without encountering any dead ends.
Benefits of having an omnichannel presence
Having an omnichannel strategy in place has multiple benefits. For customers, a brand that provides a seamless experience across channels will always be preferred to one that doesn’t. Customers will keep going back to brands which offer convenience, ease of use, consistent communication and efficient and personalised service. This boosts brand loyalty and helps a brand turn customers into brand ambassadors and advocates who will promote the brand publicly.
In this environment, an omnichannel strategy helps to build lasting customer relationships by constant communication in real-time and catering to individual requirements, based on past shopping behaviour. Omnichannel benefits for brands also extend to gaining contextual customer insights, easier measurement of brand metrics and performance on a unified platform, as well as deriving key consumer data and analytics to evolve new marketing strategies. This in turn helps to increase sales and improve turnover, besides improving customer retention and aiding in new customer acquisition through personalisation and a holistic customer experience. Market research suggests that businesses which use omnichannel marketing campaigns receive 91% greater year-over-year customer retention. Additionally, companies with strong omnichannel marketing engagement see a 9.5% year-over-year increase in revenue, compared to only 3.4% for businesses which don’t use omnichannel.
To cite an example, U.S. retailer Target enjoyed its best ever quarter in Q2 2020, with a sales increase of 24.3% and digital sales of 195%. It won market share from all of its physical competitors thanks to its omnichannel presence. Target discovered that multi-channel consumers spend four times as much as store-only consumers, and 10 times more than digital-only consumers. Through that period, more than three-quarters of their online sales were fulfilled by their stores.
The key requirements for a good omnichannel strategy
The backbone of a good omnichannel strategy is technology that supports and facilitates seamless customer experience management. Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), automation and chatbots go a long way in gaining a better understanding of a brand’s customer profile.
With constantly evolving use cases, these technologies help brands respond to customer queries in real-time and aid in social listening, with respect to what customers are saying about one brand and that brand’s performance compared to other brands. Moreover, brands can use these technologies for continuous brand engagement, sentiment analysis, gaining relevant customer data and analytics and actionable marketing insights. Subsequently, these insights help to meet customer expectations, in turn resulting in customer delight, retention, new customer acquisition and higher brand loyalty scores. These new-age technologies can also aid in helping to create differentiated brand strategies to succeed in a competitive marketplace, in a cost-effective manner. In a nutshell, technology is what helps streamline the omnichannel customer experience.
To cite an example, in the BFSI sector, a technology-led omnichannel presence has been especially beneficial during the pandemic when physical branch banking was not always possible. On top of this the queries around moratorium made things very difficult coupled with extremely high volume of queries on non-voice channels. Institutions like YES Bank, HDFC Bank, Axis Bank, IDFC Bank, etc. were able to handle the situation very well and have been able to offer customers a seamless omnichannel banking experience. According to IDC, bank spending on consumer-facing technologies for branches and online services is forecast to grow; increasing from $31 billion in 2020 to $40 billion in 2024.
Similarly, in the healthcare sector, the adoption of digital technologies has helped medical care professionals reach out to patients across offline and online channels, with telemedicine proliferating during the pandemic. Having an omnichannel strategy has aided in the provision of 24/7 remote healthcare across the length and breadth of the country through online engagement and information across platforms. It has also helped in the performance management of healthcare establishments, logistics coordination, as well as distribution of medical supplies through a mix of physical and e-commerce channels.
Best practices to ensure a seamless omnichannel experience
The starting point in a brand’s adoption of an omnichannel presence is identifying the right technology partner who can help fulfil the brand’s key goals and objectives. The next step is to align messaging, objectives and design across every channel in a unified manner. This needs to be deployed in a phase-wise, cost-effective manner. The omnichannel strategy also needs to include incorporating interactive and immersive technologies for better consumer experience like Consumer Data Platform, chatbots, increasing personalisation, creating memorable in-store experiences, as well as store digitisation, and enhancing social media engagement.
At the backend, brands need to adopt new technologies to support omnichannel marketing teams, invest in market research and consumer insights towards customer journey mapping brand metrics and brand performance, collect and analyse customer data, measure customer experiences based on social listening, employ audience segmentation based on various marketing cues and respond on each channel uniformly. Finally, brands need to also align different silos within the organisation to create an omnichannel culture.
From email to social media, and from websites to third-party messaging platforms, brands are set to increase their focus on digital efforts to drive customer acquisition and retention. Thus, going forward, brands need to ensure that every communication channel serves a viable purpose in the customer experience journey. Investing in the right technology helps derive relevant customer and market insights. Brands can build effective customer-centric strategies, measures the impact, and use the technology and insights to propel overall business growth and create a seamless omnichannel customer experience.
The author is COO of Locobuzz. Views expressed are personal.