Personalised sales channels are essential to omni-channel success

salesprospecting‘Omni-channel’ is not just an overused new buzzword but a necessity born out of the multiple choice of sales channels available to the consumer today, whether that be website, app, phone, catalogue or store. The fact that consumers criss-cross some or all these channels in one purchase journey implies that retailers need to ensure they present a consistent and complementary experience across all these channels. As opposed to multichannel, which is a ‘many-to-many’ approach, effective omni-channel means creating ‘one-to-one’ purchase experiences, personalising the sales channels to the profile and support need of each potential customer.

Recently I read a great article posted by Daniel Newman titled ‘Will Omni Channel Marketing Revolutionize The Buyer’s Journey?‘, in which he describes a true omni-channel experience he had when buying his daughter’s football boots. Recently, needing to equip our new London office, I had to make various purchases from different vendors, criss-crossing different channels along the research and purchase journey. Not all my experiences were that positive.

Here are two examples of purchase journeys I made, engaging with three of the largest brands in their respective markets and some simple suggestions that would have improved the experience and the probability of conversion:

Mobiles and broadband purchase (vendor: major mobile phone network)
Like many of us researching a purchase, I used my mobile (and commute) to discover the best plans & phone combination. When I got to the office I switched to my laptop to complete the order. During the checkout I realised that this mobile network provider might also be able to fulfil our broadband requirements. After looking at the broadband options on the website, I initiated the online chat functionality to get sales support, only to be told that they could only help me with mobile sales and not broadband, and that I should visit a high street store or call for help with that.

Suggestion: ensure your sales support staff are multi-skilled, there are no sales silos and/or that engagements can be seamlessly transferred between the various sales support teams. And don’t offer help if you cant provide any. Customer experience is too important and customer expectations are too high to be able to afford turning away business.

Laptops purchase (vendors: two of the largest online computer brands)
Buying three laptops for 3 very different people with different requirements was never going to be simple. I must have gone through a dozen simulated purchase journeys on both manufacturers’ websites, struggling with the plethora of configurations and choices. Surprisingly, even though my shopping basket was well in excess of £4,000, not once did either of them interact with me or offer any help, even though I was clearly struggling. Neither company followed up any of my visits with a friendly email reminder that they had the right computer for me and offering to help me complete the checkout process. Nor did they recognise my return visits and clear distress with a ‘Hi, how may we help you?’ Or ‘would you like to talk to an expert?’.

Suggestion: clearly you don’t want to offer 1:1 sales support when someone is buying a mouse mat, but online retailers need to differentiate their sales support approach according to the value profile of the customer. Personalised sales support can increase conversion three- or fourfold, so when someone is in distress and has the right value profile, offering chat (lower value) or a call-back service (high value) can dramatically increase revenue. If the customer abandons their purchase journey in the last steps of the checkout process, you know there is a purchase interest. Sending a friendly email offering to help complete the purchase journey is not intrusive, but simply good customer service. Lastly, how many times does a visitor need to return for an organisation to offer sales support? Well, the answer depends on the value profile and the probability of conversion and too few companies are focusing on this, trying to get away with an ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Conclusion: personalising sales channels to the profile and needs of the individual consumer increases revenue, not only through the soft benefit of improved customer experience (which increases loyalty, etc.) but through the hard fact that engaging with a customer in need dramatically increases conversion and reduces abandonment. Equally, offering support at the wrong time will increase cost-to-serve and reduce the customer experience. So one-size fits all sales support doesn’t work. Organisations need to personalise their sales channels to each customer in order to yield the true benefits of omni-channel sales.

 

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Increase conversion: how to capture the other 98%

The reality is that you will never convert 100% of the visitors to your site. Not even close. The majority of your website visitors are either just browsing with no intention to buy, not attracted by what you have to offer, or researching their purchase options. Or even more likely, arrived at your site by mistake.

But this hasn’t stopped the search for the Holy Grail of ecommerce: how to increase conversion.

There are those who argue it is about the look and feel, whilst just as many disagree vehemently and argue that if people want to buy a bad design wont stop them. There are those who claim successful ecommerce is about personalisation and surfacing products that fit the buyer’s profile, whilst others argue that personalisation (based on past purchases) is flawed as it assumes buyers never want to buy something totally ‘different’. Some say it is about the purchase journey and user experience, and so on…

Clearly they are all right to some extent and a balance of all these aspects is ideal. A nice design makes your (e-)shop a more attractive place to visit; personalisation helps people make easier choices but it is also essential to show them something new and different; simplifying and streamlining the purchase process is essential for shoppers to complete the purchase journey; and making your shop seamlessly available across all devices big and small  is a necessity if you want to compete.

BUT…the frustrating reality is that, having done all that, you will still struggle to increase conversion beyond the 2-3%.

To capture the other 98% you will have to focus on the customer! 

Isn’t that what we have just been doing?“, I hear you ask. No, you have been focusing on the ecommerce platform look, feel and functionality.

Here are a few suggestions on how to focus on the customer and really increase conversion:

Omni-channel approach with customer at the centre 
To increase conversion, first you have to stop forcing customers online, expecting and in some cases even obligating them to self-serve into a purchase. Many of us are happy to buy online without help, but many more of us need help (according to recent research over 70% of website visitors need some sort of help during their purchase process) and some of us will never convert online at all. So if you want to increase conversion and differentiate yourself, you will need to align and synchronise all your sales channels to create one shopping experience (across ecommerce platform, shops, call centre, etc.), allowing the customer to decide which channel suits them best and service them seamlessly from one channel to the other.

Understand the customer
Or as Malcolm Duckett put it in his article about conversion optimisation: relationship first, purchase second. He suggests “we need to react to the visitor each time they arrive while bearing in mind the history we have with them, rather than doggedly sticking to some pre-defined purchase process”. I couldn’t agree more. Real conversion increase will come once we understand the customer, and react to them, their behaviour and preference in real-time. Every day is different. Today I am happy to self-serve online, tomorrow I might need to speak to someone about my purchase options. Using real time intelligence to gain a deeper understanding of your customer ‘state of mind’, and tailor the purchase journey accordingly (both in terms of channel and product) will make a world of difference in conversion, customer experience and loyalty.

Provide assistance 
I am of the firm opinion that people will always prefer human interaction over robotic support. I also believe that this is why the high street will remain (even though it will look rather different), as physical shops provide human interaction as part of the shopping experience. Therefore, providing human interaction and support online is a great way to increase conversion and up-/cross-sell. Research shows that people are 25% more likely to convert after live chat, and 40% more likely to convert over the phone. Average order values on the phone are around 20% higher than online purchases. This is only natural. If you are in a store and the sales assistant provides you with the right assistance, suggesting complementary products (without being pushy!) you are more likely to buy.

…But get your timing right
In a previous post on this blog (Hi, can I help you?) I explain how important it is to provide support for your customers, but also how easy it is to get your timing wrong. No one enjoys being badgered by a sales assistant, and this is true online as well as offline. There is nothing more annoying to get a chat offer when you want to self-help, or to be asked to fill in a survey before you have even started considering to shop. However, when you do need help it is equally annoying if you have to search for it. Knowing who, when and how to offer help is the difference between increasing conversion and customer satisfaction and loosing the customer altogether.

If you would like more information on increasing conversion, how to include real time intelligence on your site and how to decide when you should (or should not) interact with your potential customers, feel free to get in touch and I can provide you with more information and try to steer you in the right direction.

Now…go and capture the other 98%!

To read Malcolm Duckett’s article on Conversion optimisation: is it really about the colour of the buy button? click here.

Ecommerce best practice

It is not often that I am genuinely impressed with an ecommerce website and the online purchase experience. Most of the time you are left thinking “wouldn’t it be great if the site had this…” or “why haven’t they made that easier…“. However, this week I was left impressed (see first point below). It made me reflect on my best ecommerce experiences and the features and functionalities that made it so great. Below I have started a list of examples of buying experiences, functionality, UX and look and feel. Feel free to ping me other examples and I will add them to the list.

Best overall experience: Naked Wines (www.nakedwines.com)NakedWine

Most of the mainstream wine sites look and feel dated and have terrible UX. Not Naked Wines. Apart from a simple, easy on the eye look and feel, it is the user-journey that impressed me. Rather than presenting you with the traditional ecom site layout, Naked Wines chooses to break the usability rules and ask you some questions first. The fact is the questions immediately and effectively transmit their ethos and concept. After completing the questionnaire, assuming you have answered them ‘correctly’, they present you with a gift for being an ‘Angel’ – a £82 discount on a pre-prepared selection of wines. I was sold hook, line and sinker. After completing the seamless checkout process, I was surprised to find my account with a £20 credit, which they offered as a gift for placing my first order. Second order pretty much guaranteed. Nice touch!

  • Fresh look and feel
  • Compelling, yet not forceful commercial approach
  • Great user-experience
  • Interesting content
  • Personalisation throughout
  • Differentiated approach to online wine sales

Best checkout feature: Amazon (www.amazon.co.uk – as if you didn’t know!)

AmazonIt probably makes many of you cringe to see such a giant in this list but the reality is Amazon has the best checkout feature, bar none: 1-click. This feature makes it just too easy to buy on Amazon, whether on site, on mobile or by app. Need something? Quick search on Amazon and 1-click (literally) and the product is on its way to you. I wish they had some stiff competition. Could you imagine what they would come up with if they did…

  • 1-Click checkout
  • Prime – loyalty service for which you have to pay (happily!)
  • Recommended items
  • User and purchase friendly app

Best shopping list feature: Tesco (www.tesco.com/groceries)Tesco

I have a pet hate: buying groceries online. I can never remember what I want, the brands that I prefer and invariably forget the most important items. Not any more. Tesco’s integration of their Clubcard in the online shopping experience means I can now see what I have previously bought in-store from my Clubcard history. Such an obvious feature but missing for a long time. I also think their ‘multi-search’ functionality is brilliant. Easy to use, it allows you to search for your entire shopping list in one go.

  • Clubcard offline shopping history
  • Multisearch
  • Clean design
  • Recipe ‘add ingredients to shopping cart’ functionality

Best look and feel: Made.com (www.made.com) Madecom

This was a close run between Made.com and Fab.com, and I suppose it is down to taste. I like Made.com because I favour the clean design. It really is (apart from apple.com)one of the few ecommerce sites which is not cluttered with products and promotions. Each individual product takes centre stage, with impressive photography. There is plenty of content to allow you to make an informed choice, but somehow it is still totally minimalist. Really like the functionality that allows visitors to ask questions about a product and the staff recommendations.

  • Clean, non-cluttered design
  • Beautiful photography
  • Plenty of well organised and prioritised product info
  • Easy checkout process with guest option

Best shopping app: Mr Porter (iPhone app)

MrPorterI don’t buy there often, but it is a great experience. The app is easy to use. The home screen is intuitive and offers a minimal choice of options, however, you are only ever one click away from your product list page, which has the most comprehensive filters you will ever find on a fashion app. Plenty of product images and Editor notes for almost every item make it the best shopping app experience for me.

  • Intuitive & easy to use
  • Great content & product imagery
  • Comprehensive product filtering

Best comparison app: Google Shopper (Android and iPhone)Google

Although you can’t buy directly on Google Shopper, I wanted to include it as it has saved me a fortune over the last few months. Before I buy anything, especially at airports where you are confronted with very enticing discounts (mainly on products you don’t need!) I quickly go on Google Shopper to compare prices. Within seconds you can see whether you are getting a good deal, or whether you can get it cheaper elsewhere. The great thing about this app is that it not only compares prices from online shops and the likes of eBay, but it also compares the prices from high street shops in your local area. It also allows you to save your searched item to a ‘shopping list’ meaning that you can refer back to see which impulse buy you managed to avoid….Great money saver!

  • Easy to use and extremely quick
  • Compares online and offline prices
  • Add to shopping list feature
  • Ability to view & buy without leaving app

I hope you like the list and, as mentioned above, if you want to share your favourite ecommerce site or feature(s), use the comment box below and I will add them to the list.

Hi, can I help you? – ecommerce bad practice

Last weekend I made the uncharacteristic decision to visit a shopping centre. In need of shirts, I quickly found a well-know chain of shirt-makers. Before I had put both feet inside the shop, I got the dreaded ‘Hi, can I help you?‘.

Now, I can accept that I probably looked lost and that the shop assistant was only trying to be friendly, but give me a chance. In fact, here is a question: is there anything more irritating than a completely irrelevant and wrongly timed ‘Hi, can I help you?‘ when you go shopping?

In fact there is. And it occurred to me about ten minutes later, when I had selected the shirt I wanted to try but couldn’t find the right size. Now ready for some help, I turned around half expecting the shop assistant to be hovering around only to find the shop completely void of shop assistants altogether. I waited for five minutes but saw no movement and decided it was time to leave…without my shirts.

It was at this stage I kicked myself for not having gone online to buy, but the reality is that most ecommerce shops are following their offline big brother’s bad example of non-existent customer service or irrelevant ‘Hi, how can I help you?‘s.

Most ecommerce shops have pretty dire customer service practices in fact. The majority don’t ask if they can help at all, forcing you to fend for yourself with only a ‘Help & FAQ‘ section to rely on. Only marginally better are those that offer a telephone number for you to to ring (in itself not very customer-friendly), which often means manically pressing numbers to get to the right help desk and then waiting, and waiting and…waiting.

And then there those that have made the jump to online chat and call back tools, but these are really the online equivalent of the badly timed and irrelevant ‘Hi, can I help you?‘. Popping-up whenever they please, they are never available when you need them.

Is it too much to ask to be treated as a customer rather just a transaction? Surely It doesn’t have to be this way.

The answer is intelligent interaction. By using real-time behavioural profiling and establishing the consumer’s ‘state of mind’, as well as their communication/channel preference, it is possible to engage with them when (and only when) they need you, and in a way that is most convenient for them. How radical!

The benefits of this approach include:

  1. Increased conversion – by engaging with them when they need you, you are more likely to complete a sale (as well as up-sell, cross-sell)
  2. Reduced abandonment – by helping them find what they need (or should be looking for) they are less likely to leave the shop
  3. Improved customer service – the right type of engagement makes the whole buying process quicker and easier
  4. Improved customer satisfaction – by being there for your customer only when they need you, reduces the uncomfortable feeling of being sold to and heightens their perception of you as a brand
  5. Reduced cost – and if the above wasn’t enough, intelligent interaction offers substantial ‘cost-to-serve’ savings, as it focuses your resources on those who need help, leaving the others to complete their purchases by themselves

The reality is that intelligent interaction is not new. In fact it was widely practised (and in some places still is!) by experienced shop keepers and assistants who knew perfectly when to engage with the customer and when to leave them alone. I suppose the high level of staff rotation, part-time staff and sheer size of the super-chains doesn’t allow for this kind of training. But there is no reason why we need to make the same mistake online!

Happy shopping!