Today's businesses face the challenge of ensuring customers can access their services and products through whatever means they choose. Channel shift moves customer transactions to the most effective and efficient channel of engagement, creating satisfying customer experiences while delivering savings and increasing revenue.

In times of reduced budget and more savvy shoppers, channel shift is seen as an essential method of delivering better services and increasing sales to people looking to buy or seek information.

Channel shift, or web transformation as some people call it, is applicable across all industries. In this post I have highlighted the challenges and successes some businesses in the Financial Services, Travel and Transportation and Public sectors are experiencing.

Web transformation technology is not just about slick looking websites. Digital channels can:

  • Deliver more sales
  • Reduce the cost of sale
  • Reduce customer service cost
  • Increase customer conversion
  • Increase intelligence about customers.

The good news is that many vendors have proven success in this area. When selecting partner agencies, be sure to check that they can deliver at least 250 percent ROI. In other words for every £1/US$ 1 spent, you should aim to see a cash return or benefit of £2.50/US$ 2.50.

Channel Shift in Travel and Transportation

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French ferry operator Brittany Ferries, prides itself on a commitment to provide an excellent online customer experience which has delivered increased bookings, outstanding levels of customer satisfaction and a reduction in contact center costs for this quality-focused cross-channel ferry operator. To date, the firm has moved 75 percent of ferry bookings online with a 275 percent ROI and have recently launched a mobile website to further assist travelers.

National train operator Virgin Trains faced a specific challenge -- a significant increase in demand over the recent Olympic Games held in the UK. They quickly deployed a LiveChat facility before the games to enable customer service operators to chat online with up to 6 customers concurrently. This allowed them to help customers with quick questions they had about Virgin Trains’ operations and services whilst increasing conversion rates and customer satisfaction.

Channel Shift in Public Sector

Within the public sector many organizations are facing very clear budget cuts. In the UK there are clearly defined channel costs. According to Socitm, a face-to-face meeting costs £8.62/US$ 14.00, phone contacts are £2.83/US$ 4.59 whereas web transactions can be as little as £0.15/US$ 0.24. This clarity has ensured that channel shift is now widely adopted, but sadly still remains under invested.

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An example of an organization that understands the need to invest to save, and have a clear eye for tracking ROI is Basildon Borough Council, located just outside London. They are targeting over £1m/US$ 1.6m channel shift savings.

Like every local authority in Britain, Basildon Borough Council is under pressure to reduce its operating costs without effecting the quality of service delivery. For the council, that has meant exploring ways in which its website can work harder to reduce the administrative burden on council staff, whilst protecting front line service to the borough’s 172,000 residents. This channel shift project is achieving improved service delivery and has seen ROI well in excess of expectations.

Other local government organizations across the UK were also challenged to provide service information to residents and visitors during the Olympics Games. With sailing competitions taking place in Weymouth and Portland, dorsetforyou.com provided live web updates and real time information on their desktop and mobile websites, the mobile site alone taking 27 percent of traffic. All this helped to ensure those attending the sailing events were always kept up-to-date and had a very enjoyable visit to the region.

Channel Shift in Financial Services

According to leading business strategy consultants McKinsey & Company, retail banking, particularly in the UK, is also facing channel shift challenges in:

  • Delivering services online
  • Delivering services via mobiles
  • Reducing staff levels in branches.

Their recent report on retail banking shows that Scandinavian countries like Norway, Finland and Sweden have up to 75 percent online banking penetration. In the US this is closer to 50 percent and in the UK just over 40 percent.

In the UK, where a customer starts their information seeking journey online, only 25 percent complete the purchase transaction online. Worst still for the UK, the majority of customers go to their local branch to complete the transaction. This bypasses the call center for the most expensive branch option, where transaction costs can be at least 3 times as high as online banking.

Additionally in the UK, each retail branch has an average of 4 people, but the industry is aiming to reduce this to 3 in the next 12 months in order to save costs. This can only be achieved whilst increasing sales and customer service through the intelligent application of channel shift and by the adoption of online / mobile services.

Finally, 7 percent of banking customers across Europe currently use mobile banking (less than 4 percent in UK). Internet and mobile banking is expected to grow across Europe to an average of 37 percent by 2015 leaving countries like the UK, Germany and Italy today over 50 percent behind the curve according to McKinsey, and likely to be in the future without significant investment.

Online Customer Service and Advanced Search Capabilities Deliver Profitability

There are many technologies to improve online customer service, but these should not be introduced without a "customer first" strategy. Better use of intranets and smart faq facilities can prime customer service people with the right information, instantly.

Utilizing LiveChat facilitates instant communication. 90 percent of customers consider live chat helpful according to a survey by ATG Global Consumer Trends and an emarketer.com survey found that 63 percent were more likely to return to a website that offers LiveChat. The facility is especially good for instant market research and capturing what customers are looking for and problems they have, so aid improvements in web delivery and self service.

Website search capabilities allow customers to quickly find the best information they are looking for. This can be further enhanced by advanced search capabilities such as faceted, federated and geo-spatial search. These approaches provide associated content -- e.g. ferry bookings plus accommodation, insurance, car hire, etc. -- ultimately providing a richer customer service and immediate up-sell/cross sell opportunities.

Mobile Channel Shift - Are you missing the opportunity?

Recent research into visitors from mobile devices by my company showed that of 1.2m unique visits to a sample of 12 clients:

  • 12 months ago less than 6 percent of visitors used mobile devices
  • 6 months ago 11.23 percent of visitors used mobile devices
  • Last month 17.34 percent of visitors used mobile devices with some sites seeing over 27 percent

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We therefore predict that most websites will see over 25 percent of access via a mobile device by February 2013. If you don't have Mobile Web delivery today then you could lose 25 percent of your opportunities.

Getting it Right

The challenges organizations have in getting their sites ready for Channel Shift are numerous and include cultural and technological changes. As noted, the right customer service tools need to be in place for your staff, the right content needs to be available and discoverable by consumers on desktops or mobile devices, and processes and systems need to work right the first time, every time.

However the payoff in investment is a significant ROI, the development of a major competitive advantage and increased market share taken from slow adopters. All this can be achieved by those who move quickly to offer the best digital services to consumers.

Editor's Note: To read more by Rob McCarthy:

-- Planning Your Channel Content Marketing