person in jeans climbing on a construction site
The enterprise retail storefront today is more of an open veranda, which customers can approach from many angles. PHOTO: Josh Willink

Modern customer journeys are erratic.

Customers research and look at products in-store and online. 

They ask questions in chat windows, through emails, via the phone and in person. They toggle between phones, laptops, iPads and physical stores so rapidly it could make your head spin.

And though you may see your ecommerce website different than your brick-and-mortar store — and even further removed from your contact center — your customers see all channels as simply "your brand." And they believe one brand should equal one voice.

The omnipresence of customers has complicated the retail process. And for many enterprises, the omnichannel world remains cryptic. 

Companies big and small can no longer afford to address their ecommerce and brick-and-mortar shops separately. They must unify them to create a single brand voice.

Obstacles in the Omnichannel World

Traditional enterprise retail was a single entrance store (metaphorically and sometimes literally). Customers came in the front and were seen, greeted and helped by employees and then sent on their way.

Today, technology has carved new doorways into the enterprise retail storefront. The shop is more of an open veranda, which customers can approach from many angles. They enter and exit at various points, which makes them difficult to greet and help.

To provide exceptional customer experience (CX), retailers must address the challenges created by omnichannel.

Specifically, retailers must find a way to:

  1. Monitor all brand access points
  2. Combine data
  3. Repair broken customer journeys
  4. Simplify paths to purchase

Staffing the Entrance

Customers may flood into your store front from multiple entrances, but that doesn’t mean they are untraceable. The key is to enable customers to move freely through multiple entrances while simultaneously acknowledging and flagging their entrance and exit.

To do this, you must first identify your brand access points and create an initial point of contact for customers at each entrance.

Many retailers track customer journeys online via digital doors. Customers can login to stores on the website – provide their email, phone, Facebook account, etc. – and the store can chronicle past purchase, frequently viewed pages and any email exchanges.

Similarly, contact centers collect the same information from callers either passively through caller ID and/or an IVR dial directory, or actively via a live agent.

In-store the process is slightly backwards with most data collection occurring at the end of the customer sale cycle during checkout. However, modern stores have started to add digital components to their entrance to identify customers and provide guided shopping experiences.

Merging the Channels

According to a recent UPS study, "Online shoppers report they are using their smartphones in-store for a full range of actions. Nearly 30 percent of shoppers look up product reviews (29 percent), read product details (28 percent), compare prices (27 percent) and access coupons for in-store redemption (27 percent) regularly (often or most of the time).”

Customers aren’t just walking through multiple entrances. They are literally in two places at once. Customers toggle through different engagement platforms in a blink and can trigger a flood of data collection related to their likes and interests.

So how do you best capture and use data on the fly to deliver the best possible experience? How can you greet and help customers, on multiple platforms, in a way that keeps them coming back?

To provide an ideal customer experience, companies must collect data from all touch points and combine them in a less confusing databank. Luckily, cloud technology has made the tangled task of data collection much more elegant.

In today’s multichannel retail world, a customer relationship management platform (CRM) is a business’s must-have command hub and the contact center is its mission control. The connection of the two is paramount.

With a connected cloud CRM and contact center, cashiers can attach a sale made in-store to a customer email and/or phone number. Then, if a repeat customer decides then to call or send an email to the company’s service desk, the attending agent can reference the previous interaction.

Omnichannel contact center/CRM combinations can funnel online, on-the-phone and in-store interactions into a single dashboard of truth.

With this single dashboard of truth, brand agents — whether in-store or online — have context for all contact the company has made with the customer.

The Road Not Taken

Once you’ve flagged the customer, gathered their data and combined it in CRM, you can start to truly dissect the customer journey. Through a combination of analytics and traffic mapping you can determine both a general and specific habits of your customer base.

Data from phone calls, emails, website views and store traffic can reveal where customers most enter your business. It can tell you common purchase paths and behaviors, and it could potentially uncover problems.

For instance, if you have a surge of customers who tend to call after purchasing a certain product in a certain size, you may be able to assume an issue with the manufacture labels. Or if you have a large number of online orders for a specific product but in-store sales are down – you may have a retail display issue.

Make It Easy

The CRM/contact center combination provides cross company operational intelligence. When sales, service and marketing all operate with the same customer intelligence, it allows enterprise retail companies to have more contextual interactions. Consequently, they can market, sell and serve the customer better and faster.

Data from the sales department can prompt service agents as to why a customer might be calling in (e.g. “Is there an issue with the toaster you just bought?”). The result is faster service and less probing questions (e.g. “Please provide your name, address, why you’re calling, etc.”).

Similarly, customer service can collect information about customer preferences and push those preferences to sales and marketing teams. Then, if the customer returns to the store, company representatives can greet them with products that fit their wants (e.g. in-store suggestions for complementary products from sales associates).

This leads to two things customers love: recognition and simplicity.

When customers have to hunt for their interests or needs, it is easy for them to become distracted or frustrated. But if retailers can tee up a handful of suggestions, they can better grab and maintain a customer’s interest.

Personalized experiences help customers feel pampered and build brand rapport. A strong CX tells the customer:

  1. I know who you are and what you need
  2. I’m going to make it easy for you

Customers like suggestions, and when marketing gets it right, sales are positively impacted.

According to McKinsey & Company, “… 35 percent of what consumers purchase on Amazon and 75 percent of what they watch on Netflix come from product recommendations...”

As retail becomes increasingly digital, lines between sales, service and advertising will continue to blur. Companies that wish to thrive should plan to dissolve the silos that separate these functions. Uniform data collection and more informed interactions from all three departments will inevitably lead to higher customer conversions and greater customer retention.