Omnichannel is rapidly taking over the customer engagement conversation, but it's more than just a new label. Omnichannel, according to the Winterberry Group, is defined as “seeking to promote a long term, channel agnostic approach to managing and optimizing (customer) relationships.” Customer engagement (or experience if you prefer) is defined by New Business Strategies as “a buyer’s satisfaction and perceived benefit with or about a brand’s messages, people, processes, products or services, through any interaction across all touch points over a relationship’s lifetime.”
Both focus on understanding how to engage with customers across the entire lifecycle of the relationship. They differ in their perspective. Customer engagement centers on the customer’s behavior as a result of her emotions, opinions and reactions to brand encounters. Omnichannel focuses on how brands can and should engage with customers.
Customer Experience as an Emergent System
Core to both of these is a belief that if brands can dissect the relationships customers value at a detailed enough level, relationships can be replicated and optimized at scale. Just as they taught us in school, if we take things apart to see how they work, we can understand the whole and affect it. While we have dissected animals and humans to understand “how they work,” the sum of the parts does not adequately explain what and how humans behave.
That is the challenge with omnichannel experience. Reductionism does not provide a model that brands can effectively implement. A better approach is to view customer experience as an emergent system. Reductionism focuses on causality or behavior triggers while emergence focuses on cues that produce outcomes or influences, positive and negative.
Instead of a sum of the whole to explain behavior, emergent theory focuses on how environments and cues trigger behavior. A buyer living in a technology hub like Silicon Valley or Seattle is more likely to rapidly adopt a new way of collaborating, shopping or approaching an existing problem than a buyer living in a rural town. The environment is heavily influenced by a cultural norm and behavioral cue of early adoption. That explains why Uber was initially successful in cities that are also technology hubs: swarming happened.
Our understanding of customer behavior and their cues is nascent. That doesn’t mean we should throw out omnichannel experience theories. We should view them in a broader context and understand they are stepping stones to a more holistic understanding of customers and how to effectively engage them.
Defining and Creating Value
We do know that customers’ definition of value is often related to more than just the product they purchase. We know that customers have implicitly given brands permission to collect all sorts of information about them, their desires and behaviors through web forms, cookies, social listening, etc. Armed with knowledge about their personal tastes, needs and life events customers expect brands to engage them in human-like interactions with relevant value in the form of content, special offers, pricing, product usage information or inclusion in a community of like-minded individuals.
Successful brands have figured out how to use all available customer information to drive their omnichannel strategies. Omnichannel requires up-to-the-minute 360-degree customer profiles. Organizational silos must be torn down to give every employee access to customer information and visibility into the state of the relationship. Employees need to be trained and empowered on how to deliver value through consistent customer engagement across all channels.
We also know that a brand’s ability to successfully engage and influence their customers is only possible when a trusted relationship has been built. Trust is the key determinate of brand engagement for it is the foundation of credibility and loyalty.
Building and Maintaining Trust
There are two dimensions to trust-building: Brand culture and engagement strategy. Brand culture determines how its employees behave. Those culture attributes that influence a customer’s opinion of a brand’s trustworthiness include: Accuracy, consistency, completeness, truthfulness, responsiveness, accessibility, reputation and transparency. Every customer segment weighs engagement strategies differently. However, at a high-level, customers evaluate a brand’s engagement strategy based on the tone and language used, channel appropriateness, relevance, frequency, accuracy of personalization and the amount of value realized from every interaction.
Trust is not a "one and done" exercise. Customers are constantly evaluating brands in every encounter with employees, messages, advertising, marketing campaigns, products or reputation. Trusted relationships are like gold and take time to build. Trusted brands follow four steps with their customers:
- Develop a deep understanding by maintaining a 360-degree customer profile that captures cross-channel behaviors.
- Use behavior cues to define market segments and campaigns.
- Use analytics and customer intelligence tools to decipher intent.
- Personalize all interactions and channels used based intent and behavior.
Understanding intent forms the baseline for the omnichannel experience strategy. The key to engaging customers in the correct channels lies in maintaining a data rich 360-degree profile of known and unknown visitor historical behavior. The second key is to develop and execute every campaign from an omnichannel perspective instead of treating each channel as a silo. Together with behavioral targeting, micro-segmentation and personalization, customers can receive the right message at the right time through their preferred channel.
Over time, we will learn more about the influence of environments and behavior cues have on customer experience and an emergent theory will emerge. Until then having the ability to capture and act on behavior is critical to executing omnichannel experiences that result in higher conversion rates as well reinforce the trusted relationship that customers seek.