How to create omni-channel customer experiences


The lines between physical and digital interactions with customers have blurred, and your business strategy needs to keep up with both online and offline touchpoints to create seamless experiences.

From augmented reality to voice assistants, emerging technologies have expanded the opportunities for omni-channel customer experiences, and your audience likely expects a blend of analog and automated interactions like the ones they already use daily:

  • Depositing their paycheck on their bank’s mobile app
  • Ordering their morning coffee virtually, then picking it up on their way to work (and earning rewards along the way)
  • Streamlining family vacation with a wristband that serves as their hotel room key, photo storage device, food ordering tool, and FastPass check-in
  • Seeing if that new couch will look good against their living room wall and that lipstick shade will match their smoky eye – before they pull out their credit card

According to the Aberdeen Group, businesses with strong omni-channel customer engagement strategies retain 89% of their customers and increase company revenues by an average of 9.5% per year. So creating touchpoints wherever your customers frequent is a no-brainer, right?

Well, not necessarily.

It can be difficult to implement an omni-channel CX strategy, especially with incomplete or inaccessible data, departmental silos, and skeptical executives slowing the path toward progress. The initiative spans the entire organization, and often involves realignment of people, processes, and technology.

Laying the groundwork for omni-channel CX

At times, the goal of creating omni-channel customer experiences can sound daunting. Especially for companies in the early stages of CX maturity, the vision of seamlessly integrated technology powering 1:1 personalization across channels seems nearly impossible to actually bring to life.

But even the most iconic brands that are redefining customer expectations often start small, rolling out new technology to a small test group of customers or in a single location before expanding. Benefits include creating buzz around a new offering, gathering preliminary data on user behavior, and allowing time to resolve any internal challenges that might hold back further CX initiatives.

Planning to expand and develop your customer experience strategy? Small steps help you determine where you can invest in CX in the most practical, containable way.

Try this four-step process to get started:

1. Define High-Value Segments

Instead of trying to integrate all touchpoints at once, create a test case with a high likelihood of delivering an acceptable and short term ROI. To do so, choose one or two customer segments that provide high-value. They may be extremely loyal and offer the promise of becoming active brand advocates. Alternatively, they could be customers with significant buying power who are at risk of defecting to the competition. If they were to become more dependable customers, however, they could substantially impact company revenues.

The key in selecting your segment(s) is to look for the low-hanging fruit. An airline, for example, might choose a group of their frequent flyers who sometimes board other airlines on competing routes. These travelers likely can offer a substantial upside revenue potential with just an average of one additional booking.

2. Map the Customer Journey

Create a complete view of the customer journey for your chosen segment(s). Because separate departments and even entities beyond your organization may control different parts of the journey, the mapping process may not be easy. However, it is essential to success. To complete the task, maintain objectivity and ensure the coordination between all groups involved; some companies use a third party. Whether you choose to do it yourself or to work with a partner, when mapping out the journey, focus on one or two touchpoints that represent the best opportunity to improve your customers’ experience.

Conduct research within your company and with customers. Internal discovery comprises working with all departments and entities that are involved with the customer to attain an inventory of customer touchpoints. These might include websites, e-commerce, customer support portals, mobile apps, social media platforms, retail stores, and more. For the airline, they would encompass many of those previously listed as well as check-in, security, boarding, in-flight, post-flight, and baggage handling.

3. Understand Each Customer Touchpoint

Learn how the customer interacts with your brand at each touchpoint, what’s important to them, and the highs and lows of the customer experience. Start your analysis by digging into your data.

For your mobile app, for instance, you might want to ask the following sorts of questions: Do long-term or new customers use the app most? Is there a correlation between use of certain features and new or repeat purchases? Once you’ve analyzed your data, talk with associates to gain their estimation of your customer-facing strengths and weaknesses.

After amassing your foundational knowledge, conduct voice of the customer (VoC) research with your chosen segment of customers. Use the maps to validate how and why customers engage at each step, then revise the maps based on any new information you uncover. The first step in VoC research is to identify customer expectations by using qualitative research, such as focus groups and in-depth interviews. These methodologies employ open-ended questions which allow respondents to provide rich answers, including attitudes and feelings. Thus, they are ideal for developing and testing hypotheses. Next, move on to quantitative research, such as structured online or telephone surveys, to help quantify and prioritize opportunities.

4. Develop Ideas for Connecting Omni-Channel Experiences

Analyze your research to determine which touchpoints have significant upside potential. Winnow them down to those that you can either control or profoundly influence. Based on customer feedback, create hypotheses of programs your company could initiate to improve the customer experience.

For example, if the airline found that saving time was critically important to their targeted segment of frequent flyers, they could explore programs that helped customers move through airports faster. They might consider using a digital app to help save time in a physical space, thus bridging the gap between online and offline experiences. They could utilize GPS and beacons with their mobile app, enabling alerts to their staff when travelers from their target segment(s) arrive at the airport and where they are within the building. That would allow brand ambassadors to greet them and offer a concierge service that helps them to move through check-in and security more rapidly or take care of pre-flight food orders while they wait.

Preparing for omni-channel CX success

Laying the groundwork is hard enough. If omni-channel customer experiences are part of your CX strategy, you can prepare for success by addressing these 4 internal factors first:

1. Departmental Silos

Some obstacles that impede the integration of on-and-offline customer experiences are rooted organizational structures that fail to align personnel in a way that best meets customer needs. Departmental silos, for example, are ubiquitous. 80% of marketers say marketing silos prevent them from having a seamless view across customer channels. Typically, digital marketing, traditional marketing, e-commerce, customer support, fulfillment, and retail operations each handle a distinct slice of the customer journey.

A business may need to reimagine organizational structures and processes to enable discrete departments to present a united front.

2. Incomplete Information

Due to incomplete or fragmented data related to customer touchpoints, some puzzle pieces needed to provide a complete view may be missing. Also, because companies might not control the whole customer journey, it can be difficult to compile the necessary data. For instance, a paint manufacturer does not manage the contractors who have substantial influence over the paint purchases of consumers.

3. Multifaceted Technological Issues

There are no easy answers to the technology questions associated with creating a seamless customer experience. As of 2018, the technology landscape includes almost 7,000 unique marketing solutions.

This large number of martech options leads to virtually endless permutations of technology combinations available to enhance the customer experience. Because there is no one-size-fits-all solution, businesses must strategically sort through their alternatives and let their customers’ needs and business priorities drive their decisions.

Adding another layer of technological complexity, business leaders must decide which data they need to capture and harness to execute a new initiative and how to ensure its integrity and security. Required data may not be available in real-time because legacy solutions often were neither designed to provide this nor to communicate with other systems. Customers still expect instantaneous responses, however, so preparing and integrating technology is crucial for delivering expectation-shattering CX.

4. Corner Office Support

Success in weaving together online and offline channels to enhance the customer experience is contingent on having a commitment to the initiative from the board of directors and the chief executive officer. This buy-in is crucial to:

  • Use resources from across the organization
  • Make a substantial investment in technology
  • Reconfigure how the company measures performance
  • Align and manage the expectations of financial stakeholders

Alongside these challenges, the organization must continue to run day-to-day operations. Thus, to gain the support of the powers that be, customer experience champions must convince them that the expected short and long-term return on investment (ROI) is in line with organizational goals.

Get Started

Once you’ve laid the groundwork with customer journey mapping and established integrated buy-in, you’re ready to start innovating industry-disrupting CX solutions. Learn how with our Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Engaging Omni-Channel Customer Experiences that synthesizes the process from segmentation to rollout.

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