Efficient Commerce is NOT Omni Channel Customer Engagement

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Omni Channel customer engagement has been a hot topic for the past several years. But despite all the buzz the real status of Omni Channel has been lagging at best. The question to ask is: Are organizations themselves integrated enough to be capable of initiating and delivering Omni Channel customer engagement initiatives?

Instead of looking at third party reports and statistics, we only need to look back at our own experience. As a customer, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many times has a retailer, bank or insurer followed up with me with the full context of my relationship with them?
  • How many times do I receive advice on what not to buy, and how to achieve what I’m trying to using their product?
  • Once I buy, how often do they positively reinforce my choice?
  • Are the thick paper catalogs I receive at home aligned with my what I’ve done or want to do, or are they just better designed coupons? Do I receive relevant coupons or offers by email?
  • Why doesn’t the contact center rep or the store associate know what I’ve browsed online?
  • How is it that everyone seems to be blind to my other identities as a person – athlete, social worker, dad, mom, business person, organic food buff, fashion pro, etc.?

Why have not even the basics of Omni Channel customer engagement been met?  Lets look at some reasons first and then examine a simple approach to achieving this important objective.

Mistaking Omni Channel engagement for analytics and promotions

A lot of what we read about digital technology – mobile, IOT, social, etc. – is centered around trying to reach customers at the right moment. Whether its location based alerts or smart signage, these are single channel promotional innovations disguised as digital engagement tools. Using a digital medium such as smart signage in the store doesn’t make it Omni Channel. Moreover, these initiatives don’t create long term customer engagement. All they try to do is target and sell.

In addition, privacy concerns arise from his approach. This was amply demonstrated by Target’s gaffe, the recent Facebook fiasco, the general mistrust of Google, nervousness about Amazon’s Alexa – in general spooking customers out by trying to know too much about them without engaging them in that conversation.

These are NOT examples of an Omni Channel strategy gone bad. Instead what these stories demonstrate is that Omni Channel engagement is lacking. These issues arise from trying to improve the uplift rates of campaigns through analytics and business logic gone awry.

Focusing on commerce, not engagement

Commerce is different from engagement. Features such as order online and pick up from store, mobile payment, retargeting, shopping cart campaigns etc. are all about commerce and conversion, not Omni Channel customer engagement. Taking a user transaction and providing better options to complete it are commerce enablers, not an Omni Channel customer engagement strategy. To move beyond the faceless commodity war that we’ve got used to fighting, it is important to differentiate between commerce enablers and customer engagement. What we need in addition to commerce competitiveness is to engage the customer so we create a relationship beyond the transaction. Commerce is often the last step.

We seem to be missing the entire run up to the commerce transaction, and also the run up to the next one. Think about it.

Focusing on digital features instead of supporting the journey

Digital transformation is closely linked with digital innovation. Survey after survey is reporting how organizations are faring in leveraging digital features. Charts are laid out with adoption and maturity statistics of an entire slew of innovative features. However, there are very few reports that map out a customer journey alongside how the features are integrated to support that journey. Moreover, doing even that would be supporting a commerce journey, and not really engaging the customers to bring them into the realm of commerce. We still rely on advertisements, coupons and promotions to bring customers in, and then try to provide a great commerce experience.

Fine…but how to focus on Omni-Channel Customer Engagement?

So commerce and customer engagement are 2 different sides of the coin. But how should we get started then on creating long term customer engagement and converting customers to be brand advocates? Here’s the approach:

  1. First, given the explosion of content, and the fact that the power of information asymmetry has weakened considerably, we need to think of customer journeys from the perspective of customer partnership. This means that customers journeys cannot just be thought of in terms of the traditional awareness-research-decision-purchase-support cycle. At all stages customers are looking for reinforcement and education, not just a one way sales dialog. As early as possible we need to anchor ourselves in the minds of our customers as someone who understands why customers are looking to transact, and then can help customers make the right decision. More than 50% of the customers would be glad if someone helped with the available options and would prefer to buy from the person / website who creates this relationship with them (other factors like price etc. being suitable of course).  This is also crucial because it helps on three critical fronts. First, it helps customers go through a phase of self selection improving retention and customer service costs. Second, it results in creating a platform that yields distinct customer segments allowing competition not on price and promotions, but on value (both physical or emotional). And finally, it results in a conscious evolution of products and offerings aligned with this positioning. This is a strategic decision because it defines all the marketing, operations and technology decisions. The self-service calculators, product how-to’s, customer reviews and other mechanisms on  many consumer websites are meant to solve this very problem by engaging the customer and creating stronger affinity to buy. These efforts would have greater success if they continued to keep the focus on the customer instead of jumping straight to sales. The content marketing revolution is enhancing this model tremendously.
  2. Often, the sum of parts is greater than the individual parts. A bank is more profitable when customers subscribe to multiple products. Similarly a retailer makes more profit when the shopping cart is more distributed. The customer engagement strategy must bring together products in a complimentary fashion, instead of clamoring for attention in isolation. Summer attires, back to school supplies, recipes and financial planning are some common ways for retailers and financial services to achieve this herculean task. Such an approach keeps the focus on the customer, instead of having to rely heavily on product wise outbound promotions with a focus on product features.
  3. Customers have requirements that are beyond what we are selling. These needs are often met by many different companies. Connecting these brands is a great way to embed ourselves in the underlying purpose of the customer, and create multiple entry points. the partnership of Horizon Blue Shield Blue Cross with LifeTime Fitness is a great example of rewarding exercise with reduced insurance premiums. A customer in a grocery supermarket may have been referred by a fitness center to buy organic food. Similarly a banking or mortgage transaction will lead to insurance needs…creating such digital ecosystems allows each business to create entries into other businesses, and vice versa.
  4. The right technology integration is important to enable this customer engagement platform. An enterprise is like a car. Many different parts come together in an interconnected way for the car to be able to run. Similarly, a technology architecture aligned with the customer engagement approach is very intuitively created once the focus is on educating and keeping the customer engagement during the run up to the transaction, the transaction itself and then the run up to the next transaction. The example of Retail Clienteling software solutions being sold by many technology vendors comes to mind. Such a concept allows us to have our channels be aware of each other, score the customer’s need based on constantly evolving qualification criteria, and empower the touch-points with the right analytics. We never have to worry about sending an embarrassing message because instead of a blind approach, we are now working with the customers to send them what they have consciously requested.

In summary, customer engagement must be thought of as a strong driver of, but distinct from commerce and brand awareness. In today’s environment, partnering with customers, educating them, presenting the full combined power of our products, and working with complimentary businesses to create mutual benefits, will go a long way. Finally, other than the right org design, technology is critical to support and drive these initiatives. Marketing technology and core technology choices must never be thought of in terms of products or a single do-it-all platforms. Instead its better to think of the approach in terms of simplifying and bringing together the different parts of the enterprise machinery, and aligning them to the customer engagement charter.

Let me know what you think. And do connect with me on Twitter @manishgrover. Image Credit : Pixabay

More Resources on This Topic

  1. Download the abridged e-version of my book Connected! here to learn more about building ecosystems and customer loyalty.
  2. Read the 5 Principles here – eliminate the need for external reinforcement to create strong customer engagement

 

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