August 10, 2021

Capturing the Omnichannel Customer Experience

If you Google the tired buzzword “omnichannel,” you’ll see that marketers have been talking about the death of omni since at least 2015. The reality is, the term has long been ill-defined and misunderstood to the point it’s lost all meaning. It’s not about being on every channel—it’s about blending them together to create consistent, seamless journeys.

Under its proper definition, omnichannel isn’t dead—it’s just getting started. Omnichannel CX can boost sales, increase customer retention, and strengthen relationships with customers—but it’s hard to pull off. Here’s what you need to know:

What is an Omnichannel Customer Experience?

Omnichannel is a strategy that enables customers to interact with an organization anytime, anywhere, and on any device. The goal is to create unity across all channels your customers use—essentially, making everything work together as one big channel.

To understand omnichannel CX, it helps to consider it in context with multichannel experiences. Like omnichannel, multichannel is defined as a strategy spanning multiple channels. Where the two differ boils down to integration.

Multichannel starts with the company, and then expands outward to others that don’t necessarily work together.

To simplify, it helps to think about this difference in terms of “all vs. some.” Omni is about finding the customer wherever they are, while multi offers different ways to access your product.

Multichannel focuses on getting information to the customer, while omnichannel focuses on the customer, placing them at the center of the business.

Say an established retailer starts with a chain of brick-and-mortar stores. As customers move online, the chain builds an e-commerce site and later joins social media, develops an app, and adds more support channels. However, each channel exists in a vacuum and provides a separate experience.

Omnichannel implies that the experience is consistent across all platforms. Think website, mobile app, social feeds, as well as direct conversations and in-person interactions.

Omnichannel CX is also personalized. Done right, it adapts to customer needs in real-time and allows conversations to pick up where they left off—even if the customer changes channel or device.

At the same time, thinking in terms of “omnichannel vs. multichannel” isn’t quite right. Omni doesn’t replace multichannel; it builds on what came before. You might think of multichannel as the foundation—a collection of channels/touchpoints.

Whereas omnichannel is all about consistency—in branding, voice, positioning, and so on—and across each user’s personal buying experience. Omni is less concerned with having the most channels. Instead, it’s about driving continuous improvements by identifying and filling gaps.

Why Omnichannel CX is Critical for Business

Omnichannel allows customers to engage with and buy from brands however they see fit.

Empowering customers with choice goes a long way in boosting retention rates. In fact, a WorldSync report found that the brands that deliver the best omnichannel experiences retain nearly 90% of their customers.

One HBR study found that consumers who used more channels were more valuable than their single-channel counterparts—spending, on average, 10% online and 4% more in-store.

According to Qualtrics, 66% of customers prefer to choose their own journey. The challenge, however, is, those journeys rarely follow a linear path—and they include a LOT of touchpoints. Per the report, the average e-commerce transaction involves 5.5 touchpoints. It also notes it’s not uncommon for transactions to involve 20+ touches, depending on the length of the sales cycle, costs, etc.

According to 3Pillar Global’s Kathryn Rosaaen, “some transactions are linear and one-dimensional, with a single decision-maker, timeframe, and buying process. As humans, we make many of these transactions every day—when we go to the grocery store or order from Amazon. So, it’s natural to assume that all transactions are that straightforward. However, high-value, complex transactions like home improvement or anything in the B2B space span multiple days, devices, and decision-makers.”

Here’s an example from one of our retail clients in the home decor space:

  • Product discovery starts on Day 1 with casual browsing—often from a tablet or smartphone. Think scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram for inspiration.
  • On Day 2, the customer might text a customer service rep—then a day later, receive a package of swatches—kick-starting the evaluation stage.
  • During this stage, the customer might also visit the store to check out items in person. Associates can automatically see customer preferences and interaction history and use that information to guide them further.
    The customer might go home, talk it over with their partner, and, together, make a decision and place the order (conversion).
  • A week later, the customer might get an in-home visit from an associate—armed with their iPad and PoS system—to set up the new furniture (implementation) and perhaps suggest complementary products like throw pillows, curtains, etc. to complete the look.

As you can see, even something as “simple” as buying a new couch can turn into a complex journey—much different than, say, ordering more paper towels online.

In the home decor example, the retailer was able to convert the customer by making each part of the journey as seamless as possible.

Put differently, this process involves a ton of behind-the-scenes orchestration, much like a lead conductor at a symphony. Each touchpoint—like each musician—has its own part to create a singular experience for the audience.

Creating an Omnichannel Customer Experience

First of all, nailing omnichannel CX requires a more complex approach to building products than many organizations are used to. If it’s your first time out, you’re not only up against the challenges of technical and user complexity, you’re also dealing with team complexity.

Kathryn says, “If I were a first-timer, I’d start small and keep things simple and methodic, focusing on maybe, two experiences initially. I’d then build in specific retros for teams, so they can determine what we need to do better to get to three, four experiences, and so on.”

Start slowly, rather than throwing your team into the deep end and hoping they know how to swim.

Start with the Big Picture

While we did just talk about starting “small,” it’s important to understand that successful omnichannel customer experiences hinge on your ability to align all activities with the big picture.

It’s critical that you approach omnichannel CX from a holistic perspective, even if you only address one device/platform initially. Ensure you’re asking the right questions so that omnichannel is built into the foundation from the start.

Begin by gaining an understanding of the overall customer experience. Then from there, define what you’re hoping to achieve. Ask yourself:

  • What are your goals?
  • What platforms are involved?
  • Are you adding more channels to the mix, or is the focus on unifying existing ones? (It might be both)
  • Is your organization prepared for the shift to omnichannel? Do you have a strong data strategy, actionable insights, and the infrastructure to support the new strategy?

Again, focus on knitting together two experiences well before introducing more channels.

Conduct In-depth Persona Research

At 3Pillar Global, we like to apply something known as the NIHITO (nothing important happens in the office) approach. The idea is, you won’t learn much about your customers if you rely exclusively on analytics and CRM records—you need to talk to real people.

Conduct customer interviews, run usability tests, pore over behavioral analytics.

Here, the goal is understanding your audience—on a deep level. It allows you to capture as much data as possible about your existing users and potential customers and how they experience your brand and its products.

You’re looking at what channels people use, how they use them and trying to gauge the impact each touchpoint has on business outcomes.

Map the Journey and ID Critical Touchpoints

Kathryn Rosaaen raises another important point. “Practically speaking, you’re going to need a journey map that covers the overall experience—across products and channels, as well as a journey map for each product in your catalog.”

She advises companies to set aside at least 3x the amount of time you’d typically spend on journey mapping and to put focus on the emotions and mindset of the customer at each stage in the buying process.

Include jumping-off points. Which areas are you most likely to lose the customer? Is this at checkout or during the onboarding process)?

Look for touchpoints with the greatest impact on CX. What channels/communication methods do customers prefer? How does that change between touchpoints?

Bottom line: it’s crucial to get this right the first time. Spending some extra time here will pay off later in the process as things become more complicated.

Omnichannel Customer Experiences are Enabled by Data, People, and Technology

Per Gartner, many organizations believe the best way to serve their customers is to provide service across more channels. Analysts urge organizations to zoom out and consider their investments from a high-level view.

Consider costs, benefits, limitations, adoption rates, etc., before trying to be everywhere.
Ask yourself:

  • What channels are already part of your experience?
  • What’s missing?
  • How do customers prefer to interact with your brand?
  • What tools will you use to engage on those channels? Chatbots? Live chat? Mixed reality? Improved self-service options?
  • How will you capture and analyze data/prevent silos/route insights to the right person?
  • Consider what can be automated. How will automations enhance the customer experience?

Think about your team here, too. When you have different teams, you’re going to need someone to orchestrate all activities—as well as the tools, systems, and processes that maintain consistency without human intervention.

What can you do to automate the parts of the journey that don’t depend on human interactions? How will you ensure your team not only has access to the right information but is capable of leveraging insights to produce the desired outcome?

Final Thoughts

Finally, customer journeys are constantly changing. New needs emerge, more channels enter the mix, and innovative brands continue to raise the standard for how we define “good omnichannel CX.”

Teams must move fast, following an Agile approach to continuously capture, analyze, and act on feedback to close gaps and eliminate friction.

Whether you’re looking to make the leap from multichannel to omnichannel, create seamless cross-channel customer experiences, or put data to work, 3Pillar experts can help. Contact us today to learn more about our process.

Special thanks to these members of FORCE, 3Pillar’s expert network, for their contributions to this article.

LinkedIn Angel Almada

LinkedIn Kathryn Rosaaen

FORCE is 3Pillar Global’s Thought Leadership Team comprised of technologists and industry experts offering their knowledge on important trends and topics in digital product development.