‘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.