sled dogs
Just when marketers mastered the art of messaging consistency, multi-channel commerce creates brand new challenges PHOTO: Ali Inay

Just when marketers solve one problem, another rears its head. Multichannel commerce is presenting marketers with a whole new raft of challenges.

Ensuring consistent messaging across many channels is one thing, but doing so while dynamically pricing, generating contextual bundles and creating promotions personalized to a segment of one is quite another. 

Content management systems have gone a long way toward ensuring messaging consistency, but unifying the customer experience across touchpoint silos is proving more difficult. 

If your marketing remains highly siloed, here are four tips you can do right now to break down barriers and keep your current systems: 

1. Find Where the Problem Starts 

Inconsistent customer experiences usually starts with fractured transaction systems based on channel. 

Point-of-sale systems in store are not linked to online catalogs or carts, nor connected to a customer profile. Mobile apps don’t always aggregate information for use in the back office. Pricing, billing and fulfillment systems are duplicated for different channels or sometimes they are duplicated to serve different geographies, even though the business has the aspiration to deliver consistent brand experiences on an international scale. 

Multiple channels and continuously evolving touchpoints have made CRM systems very hard to keep up to date, if they haven’t become irrelevant. 

From the customer’s perspective, your brand is what they interact with, not your “app” or your “email campaigns,” not your “stores” or a national “business unit.” They build trust in your brand through consistently high-quality interactions no matter what form they take. Moreover, they expect you to interact with them that way too. 

By analyzing data about customer purchases in the past, you can incorporate new offers based on actual individual preferences — as opposed to just personas — into marketing programs. But before any of that can happen, customer-facing systems need to connect. 

2. Define What a Unified Cross-Channel Journey Looks Like to Your Customers

One of the reasons companies haven’t unified the customer journey is because they are too caught up dealing with the mechanics of solving today's problems, rather than reflecting on what can set them apart from the competition in the long term, and enabling a vision that is conceived from the customer’s perspective. 

Here’s an illustration of how, from an individual’s point of view, a unified experience might look:

An international grocery chain has brick and mortar stores, a mobile app, a website and social media presence on all the major sites. Hypothetical customer “Devi” has downloaded and activated the mobile app, tying her account to PayPal. 

When she goes to the store to make purchases, she uses the app on her smartphone to pay through a bar code scanner. The app records her purchases, creates a shopping list and keeps track of reward points. Once a certain point level is reached, the app lets her know and allows her to use the points, or store them for later. 

On her laptop, after signing into her account, Devi can add money to the wallet, or change payment methods, check out her points status and update her shopping list. The shopping list is ‘intelligent’ and knows approximately how often Devi purchases certain items. 

This allows the mobile app to send Devi reminders to buy pods for her coffee machine and soda water. It also means marketing can send custom, automated offers to Devi. She does not need to make use of these offers in any physical way. Discounts are automatically applied based on her offers and her individual purchasing power.

Devi can also set her shopping list to auto-fill as well. In this case, Devi will automatically receive items she has identified for weekly delivery. 

While traveling, Devi can access the free Wi-Fi at the grocery chain’s retail locations by signing into her account. As she signs in, she is presented with her points total and she can pay with her phone in the local currency. 

The customer experience is so compelling and so personalized that Devi stops shopping at other stores altogether. It’s as if the company knows what she needs before she does.

3. Consider Integration to Tame the Moving Parts

Let’s take a look at all the parts behind the scenes which interact to produce Devi’s amazing customer experience. 

Devi’s personal account with the grocer is paramount. Her shopping list, payment method, preferences and settings are all located here and should tie up to the CRM system. The mobile app is also key since, when she uses the app, it automatically ties to her account and gives her the ability to pay with a touch and auto-build her shopping list. 

Her profile informs dynamic pricing and product bundling driven by rules-based merchandising software. Barcode scanners in-store or in-warehouse have to be linked to product catalog and inventory software. The grocer’s website must allow Devi to log in to access her profile. Free in store Wi-Fi allows the grocer to track Devi’s path through the aisles and marketers can push location-based ads to her cell phone. 

There are potentially eight different technologies involved here. 

  1. Mobile app
  2. Commerce platform
  3. Barcode readers
  4. Personalization engine
  5. Website
  6. CRM system
  7. Content management system
  8. Wi-Fi Beacons

No single company offers all of these components today. Analysts in general agree that conglomerates attempting to have a footprint in all the technologies involved inevitably offer sub par products to handle at least some aspects of the experience. 

Customer experience and commerce systems that satisfy, and sometimes even redefine consumer expectations, will be multi-vendor, based on best of breed solutions. You may use some of these technologies, or none of them in your current systems. In either case, the important thing to think about is how to integrate all the moving parts to orchestrate an extraordinary customer experience. 

4. Underpin the Cross-Channel Journey with a Flexible, API-Based Platform

No company can be expected to rip and replace their commerce systems overnight. Partnering companies have teams of integration specialists who can be brought to bear, but the templated and monolithic solutions on the market are hard to extend, and create technical debt in that they demand for these resources to be spent in hardwired integrations as opposed to designing and delivering compelling experiences. 

Adopting a flexible API-based commerce platform to unite a variety of existing and future systems — point of sale, ordering, fulfillment, call centers, CRM on the backend and content management and experience solutions on any device on the front end — enables both brands and integrators to accelerate and future-proof rich, cutting edge customer journeys designed with a customer first point of view.

An API approach allows businesses to maintain current practices and foundational technologies while opening the door to innovation. From a personalization point of view, it can facilitate a single view of a customer with information collected from more than one source. 

Front-end experience management systems can present campaigns based on accurate personal history. API-based integration frees marketers from patchwork solutions relying on convoluted direct integrations and customizations. This works both ways because organizations can also capitalize rapidly on new customer touchpoints and geographic opportunities as they arise.