A goldfish jumping from a small water bowl to a much larger one - overcoming challenges concept
PHOTO: Adobe

In a simpler time, customer journeys were much shorter, like a trip to the local department store. Today is different.

Customers are better informed and come to the table with higher expectations. They expect personalized experiences with each interaction. Fulfilling their expectations can be difficult across the myriad of channels they use to research, test, compare and ultimately buy.

Defining Omnichannel Customer Experience

Omnichannel experience refers to how organizations integrate all the touchpoints in any given customer journey, whether from a mobile device, a desktop computer or a brick-and-mortar store. It’s a customer-centric approach meant to deliver value to the customer through better, more consistent targeting and messaging delivered at the right moment.

“It’s so important to create a holistic experience for your shopper and make sure your brands are showing up consistently throughout every part of the consumer journey whether it be digitally or in store,'' said Marissa Eisenbrei, manager of omnichannel marketing at J.M. Smucker. “Each channel should work together in unison to deliver one experience.”

Exploring the Key Challenges

Creating a consistent, positive and personalized omnichannel customer experience presents many challenges to brands. But recent investments indicate the juice is worth the squeeze. According to a 2020 report by consulting firm PwC the number of businesses investing in omnichannel customer experience has jumped from 20% to over 80% in the last decade. A report from Adobe showed that brands with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies see 10% year-over-year growth, a 10% increase in average order value, and a 25% increase in close rates.

Most marketers and CX leaders will need to contend with the following five key challenges to be successful.

1. Overcoming Data Silos

Departmental silos are a problem when it comes to both customer experience and data collection. According to CMSWire’s 2021 State of Digital Customer Experience report, 37% of digital customer experience executives said data silos and/or fragmented customer data are hurting their digital customer experience initiatives.

There are many reasons for data silos. For example, individual departments often use technology to solve a problem that facilitates the creation of a data silo. However they form, the result is a large amount of inaccurate and non-standardized data that stands in the way of consistent experiences across all customer channels.

To break down the silo mentality, brands must encourage and facilitate effective communication and collaboration between departments. Data siloing is not an option as we shift from multi-channel to omnichannel, Eisenbrei said. “Since a consumer journey typically consists of multiple touch points, chances are there are several teams within an organization supporting different areas of the same journey," she said. "Cross-team data integration, sharing, and capturing is really the only true way to break the cycle.”

The culture and core strategy of a brand must include a focus on getting rid of silos, while driving collaboration and transparency across departments. The simplest approach is to use a unified customer-centric platform that enables teams and departments to contribute data that can be accessed by every department. When all teams and departments are working towards a unified customer-centric goal, it can go a long way towards eliminating data silos.

2. Unifying Omnichannel Data

Customer data is spread out among all of a brand’s channels, including its website, mobile apps, brick-and-mortar storefronts, social media channels, chat history, customer service call records, purchase history and more. This data is often located in many different locations or databases, making it a challenge to unify, analyze and turn into actionable insights. “With siloed companies with different ownerships of marketing areas, collaboration and cross-functional sharing is necessary to unify the data and activate against it,” said Eisenbrei.

Customer data platforms (CDPs) are one approach many enterprise organizations use to unify these disparate data sources. A CDP is able to unify the data from various sources, and using machine learning or AI, provide a recommended next step in the customer journey, by connecting to other platforms in the brand’s martech stack.

This type of unification helps marketers deliver the right message in the right moment of the customer journey, providing better value to the customer.

3. Personalization Across Channels

Personalization used to refer to practice of audience targeting, grouping customers into large segments designed around similar demographics such as males between ages 18 to 25 who were likely to be interested in sporting goods. At the time, it was a useful marketing technique but today it's considered spam and ignored by the average customer.

Rahim Gulamali, founder of DnA, a business mentoring and consulting agency, said data normalization and optimization are the keys to being able to connect the experiences from across channels in order to provide today’s personalized experience. “The customer journey map is tailored to the segmentation you make, however connecting the flow with different sources can be daunting,” he said. “The technology stack exceeds far more than a basic marketing automation solution. However, when enabling these experiences across platforms and channels, the overall customer experience increases.”

Today’s customers demand a more personalized experience, one that is based on their preferences, purchase history, browsing history, chat transcripts, customer service inquiries, and current session specificities. Eisenbrei said it comes down to efficiently using the data that has been collected and analyzed. “Analyze your consumer attitudinal and shopping behaviors then personalize your tactics accordingly,” she said.

4. Creating a Consistent Experience

Zach Marcov, omnichannel delivery strategy manager at hardware and home goods retailer The Home Depot, said the options for delivering a consistent experience across all channels are complex, and determining which approach to use depends on the needs of the customer. "Messaging those options to help point them in the direction of the option that is best for them without confusing them can be challenging,” he said. “If you get it wrong and end up confusing them, they’ll find someone else that can be more clear in their offerings. If you inadvertently get them to choose an option that’s not best for them you could lose a customer for good."

It’s not enough to create an exceptional experience in one brand channel either — the experience needs to be consistent across all channels. For example, if someone visits Apple’s website and has an amazing experience, that person expects that to translate into an exceptional experience in Apple’s brick and mortar stores, their apps, and their products. That outcome is the goal of a consistent and positive omnichannel experience.

“Make sure you’re consistent and distinctive across every touchpoint a consumer might experience your brand whether it be through commercials, digital ads, websites or in-store experiences,” said Eisenbrei.

Understanding the vision and voice of the brand and knowing how customers feel about it is vital when it comes to providing a consistent experience. Eisenbrei recommended thinking about how brands want customers to feel. “Knowing what your brand stand for, thinking about how you want your consumers to feel about your brand, and investing in how your consumers will experience your brand will all help drive connection with consumers,” she said.

5. Real Time Decisioning

Only 14% of marketers are having success with decisioning, a necessary part of building real time omnichannel experiences, according to recent research from Winterberry Group titled “Demystifying Decisioning & Orchestration: The Power Behind Customer Journeys.”

A real time omnichannel customer experience requires brands to rely on machine learning and AI to provide the insights necessary to provide relevant communications. Real time decisioning (RTD) facilitates decision-making based on the most up-to-date data that is available. “Modern algorithms like AI and machine learning help of course,” Gulamali said. “The fact that you work across channels, does not mean you use different algorithms behind them. Omnichannel removes that equation and enables optimized decision models to cover them via workflows.”

Given that each of a brand’s channels is different, each is approached differently by a customer. Understanding the roles of each channel helps a brand know when real time decisioning can improve the experience of a customer. Eisenbrei said defining clear KPIs in relation to each channel and evaluating performance on a regular basis are both critical to real-time decisioning, as each channel has its own unique set of goals. “Our intention is to be omnichannel, however, each media has a different role to play in the consumer journey,” she said.

Conclusion

Brands face many challenges when crafting an exceptional customer experience across channels. By overcoming data silos, unifying omnichannel data, personalizing the experience, providing a consistent experience, and using real time decisioning when appropriate, a brand can create an emotionally fulfilling experience that improves the customer journey.