With customer expectations for seamless service in the digital age continuing to rise, how can you ensure that you’re offering the best possible experience on every channel? By looking at your customer journey holistically, you can craft a seamless experience where every touchpoint and conversation flows into the next without creating additional work for your marketing and sales teams. In order to offer this level of service, you need to adopt an omnichannel customer experience mentality for your marketing and sales strategy.

What is an omnichannel customer experience?

Omnichannel customer experience is a marketing and selling model designed for the digital age. The core idea is that throughout various touchpoints in the sales process, customers should be able to jump between channels with cross-channel continuity — in other words, a customer can begin their journey on one outlet and migrate to another seamlessly.

In a recent study of 46,000 shoppers at a major retail brand, it was revealed that 73% of shoppers used multiple channels during their typical purchase. These shoppers took advantage of online, mobile and in-store experiences to complete their purchases — many of them leveraging in-store interactivity such as price checkers and interactive catalogs. Even more interesting than the number of touchpoints used is that the number of touchpoints correlates directly to a customer’s value: the more touchpoints an individual leveraged, the more money they spent both on an individual purchase and over the course of the study.

But does it work for B2B?

While most commonly used for B2C retail products, omnichannel experience can also be extremely useful for B2B brands. Because more and more millennials are becoming B2B decision makers, the expectations for consistent, seamless purchase experiences has extended beyond purchases for home and into purchases for business. While most B2B brands don’t have a physical retail location, there are still multiple channels for communication and engagement over the sales cycle, including in-person meetings, phone sales, teleconferences, websites, chatbots and email.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel

While they might sound similar, there’s a core difference between truly omnichannel customer experience and a multichannel customer experience. The distinction lies in whether each channel operates as a single well-oiled machine or if each channel operates largely independently.

Imagine a store in your area. That store has a physical location, maybe even multiple locations. That store also likely has a website or e-commerce presence where customers can purchase goods or place orders, as well as a phone line where customers can call to receive service. In the multichannel model, the store, phone and website likely operate independently from one another: online customers conduct all of their business through the website, and customers who walk into the store will purchase from in-store stock and conduct returns and exchanges exclusively in-store.

Most modern customers no longer subscribe to the multichannel model and become frustrated when their experience with one channel can’t be continued on another channel. Most modern retailers understand this and have adapted their model to meet customer expectations. Think about the typical department store or big box store — customers can see a product advertised on social media, purchase it online, get customer service for their order over the phone and pick it up or make a return in-store.

Building your omnichannel customer experience strategy

Building your omnichannel strategy involves careful up-front planning in order to ensure an effective launch and sustainable plan. Keep in mind that the foundational idea of omnichannel customer experience is to make the buyer’s journey as seamless and unobtrusive as possible.

You want to ensure that any customer information collected on one channel continues to assist the customer as they progress through their path-to-purchase, and that the path you’re presenting is personalized to the customer. The customer shouldn’t have to fill out multiple forms to repeatedly provide the same information as they transition between different communication methods and points of engagement.

Step 1: Take Inventory

Before you jump in, you need to understand all of the messages your customers may be receiving, where they’re receiving those messages, and what they’re doing with the information they learned.

Take stock of all your past and currently active marketing campaigns, content distribution channels and customer service systems. Run all performance reports and gather as much data as possible to find out not only where prospects are becoming customers, but also where customer churn is occurring.

Step 2: Unify Data

With reports and data in hand, it’s time to compile all of that data into a single, digestible stream. Input all of your customer data into your CRM system to identify who your audiences truly are, the types of content they’re engaging with, their most common questions and the information your brand is offering on each channel.
With everything in one place, you’ll be able to clearly identify inconsistencies, gaps and opportunities to synchronize communication.

Step 3: Integrate Your Channels

The defining characteristic of omnichannel experience is that every channel works together seamlessly. Take time to effectively synchronize content distribution and communication channels so that you can ensure you’re delivering a consistent message and collecting unified data from customers.

An effective CRM or marketing automation system will enable you to connect your communication streams and feed into your overall omnichannel marketing efforts. (Read more about marketing automation and omnichannel strategy.)

Step 4: Map the Journey

With all of your channels connected and your customer data collected in one place, you’re ready to start assessing where your customers are engaging at various stages of the sales cycle.

Using this data, you can score your leads and map them to sales funnel stages to effectively serve customers the content that can help them at each awareness stage.
Be sure to factor in branches for customers who may need extra education or have additional questions at specific points in the journey.

Step 5: Enhance Targeting

With effective and unified user data, along with a detailed picture of your typical user journey, you can invest marketing dollars in your most important top-of-funnel channels to generate new leads and guide them through your sales cycle.

With detailed customer data, you can also develop buyer personas and lookalike profiles for ad targeting on paid search channels and social media to further grow your database of qualified leads.

Step 6: Leverage Marketing Automation

As you launch your omni-channel strategy, you’ll need a variety of tools to keep all the gears turning together like clockwork.

An effective marketing automation platform and CRM system are absolutely critical to:

  • Integrate cross-channel communication into a single campaign
  • Identify and score new leads
  • Track user and customer interactions across channels
  • Publish new content and monitor results

Step 7: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Like all things in the digital age, omnichannel customer experience strategies need consistent auditing, updating and maintenance. Run regular reports to identify which channels are performing best and conduct customer surveys to identify areas for potential improvement.

If you see gaps in performance or specific channels underperforming or leading to prospect dropoff, do a detailed assessment to see what might be causing the gaps. Regularly update and optimize your strategy for user behavior trends, new products and services, and updated best practices for digital channels.

Brand examples of omnichannel customer experience

Looking for examples of omnichannel strategy done well? Chances are, you’re encountering omnichannel brands in your everyday life. Like most marketing, if it’s done well, it’s seamless for the customer. Here are a few brands we think are doing an excellent job of offering seamless omnichannel customer experience.

Starbucks

Few brands have the level of consistent loyalty that coffee giant Starbucks does, and it isn’t just because they sell delicious, caffeinated beverages. Starbucks has set the gold standard for omnichannel experience since the launch of My Starbucks Rewards in 2009, which allowed users to earn points toward free drinks with every purchase and the subsequent Starbucks App which allows users to reload their Starbucks card and pay in-store. With these digital tools, users can manage their rewards points and keep track of their visits directly in the store, and are rewarded for their frequency with free drinks and treats.

The true omnichannel experience began in 2015, when mobile ordering launched on the app. Caffeine lovers could now avoid the lines by placing their order on the way to the store and walking straight to the pickup counter, where their food and beverages would be waiting for them. Between mobile orders and linked Starbucks rewards cards within the app, Starbucks now has a unique insight into each customer’s behavior and purchase history.

This data fuels the Starbucks we know and love today. In addition to seasonal gamified promotions such as Starbucks for Life in the winter months and Starbucks Summer Bingo, the Starbucks Rewards program automatically generates personalized promotions for each member based on their purchase history. Users receive emails based on these upcoming promotions, can directly click the links in the emails to activate them in-app and place an order on their phone that gets sent to their nearest store. The experience from opening an email to a cup of coffee in hand is completely seamless with incentives to repeat as frequently as possible.

Disney Parks, Experiences and Products

As one of the largest brands in the world, it’s no surprise that Disney offers a wide range of opportunities for interactivity. When looking specifically at omnichannel experiences, Disney’s theme park experiences offer a unique and dare we say magical level of interactivity.

In March of 2018, Disney merged two major divisions of their business to better foster omnichannel engagement — Disney Parks and Resorts, focused on the management of theme park experiences; and Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, responsible for licensing, merchandising, video games and digital content. With these two major powerhouses of the Disney brand combined, the omnichannel customer experience becomes second nature.

Visitors to Disney Parks can begin their journey online or on mobile with trip-planning features to purchase tickets, book hotel reservations and make travel arrangements. Once they’ve locked in their dates, guests can use the ‘My Disney Experience’ to plan their day in the parks, view schedules and make dining plans. Upon arrival, guests use “Magic Band” digitally-enabled bracelets for every facet of their stay. Magic bands function as hotel room keys, storage devices for in-park photography, check-in devices for dining reservations and FastPasses to jump the line at specific rides. All of the information stored on the Magic Band can be managed through the mobile app or at various locations throughout the parks.

In addition to managing their experiences digitally, Disney Parks’ guests get to take advantage of unrivaled AR and VR experiences throughout the park on various attractions and can relive their stay after departure with access to the Photopass database of images — which aggregates all photos taken by Disney photographers at various locations throughout all the parks.

IKEA

Swedish furniture retailer IKEA has been known to involve users in their product experience from their founding — in order to save on shipping and delivery cost, customers receive assembly kits to build their own minimalist home furnishings. The printed IKEA catalog is only released once a year and is a much-awaited publication for lovers of minimalist design and fun, functional housewares. Each IKEA store has a constantly-changing showroom of display rooms and inspiration, ending in a marketplace and warehouse where shoppers collect their items from sorted bins.

The digital age has helped the furniture giant continue the self-guided home design journey with additional tools and resources to assist their purchase decision. The IKEA Catalog app allows users to flip through a digital edition of the printed book on their device and save items that catch their eye to a shopping list for purchase online or in store. Shoppers can also place orders online for in-store pickup if they want to skip the showroom.

IKEA also offers unique digital features for home design and remodeling services. The app features AR capability to visualize how a particular item will look in a room. Desktop users can take the AR capabilities to the next level with IKEA Home Planner, which allows you to input room dimensions for a kitchen, bathroom or office and design a fully remodeled room in 3D with items from the full catalog.

Crate & Barrel

Crate & Barrel’s customers use several different devices to browse, research and compare product items before completing purchases. So, the retailer launched an app that saves a history of a customer’s browsing history and shopping cart. This way a customer can pick up where they left off in the shopping process without having to start all over again.

The retailer also has a 3D Room Designer feature, which allows customers to virtually place any Crate & Barrel product into their home before purchasing.

In addition, a “Mobile Totes” program — which synchronizes physical stores and their website — enables the homewares store to remarket to store visitors online. The program uses tablets throughout their physical stores that act as digital shopping bags and allow customers to scan product barcodes to learn more and also read product reviews.

Customers can email themselves their shopping list, or checkout in the store where a sales assistant will gather their items for them. When they open the email, their cookie ID enables Crate and Barrel to retarget them with ads featuring the products they added to their list.

Why is omnichannel customer experience strategy important?

Omnichannel strategy is by far the most effective way to build brand trust and nurture qualified leads in the digital age. Both B2C retail customers and B2B decision makers expect a consistent, unified message across platforms, with multiple options to get their questions answered quickly while gathering all the information they need prior to making a purchase decision.

As expectations for digital communication evolve, omnichannel is no longer an option — it is a necessity. With so many options available for nearly every product and service, experience becomes one of the most important competitive differentiators. In fact, 86% of buyers state that they’re willing to pay more for a good customer experience, and 65% state that a good experience is more influential than any advertising materials.

Simply put, if your customers aren’t able to find the level of service they’re expecting from your brand, they will turn to a competitor who is able to offer them what they’re looking for.

If you need help setting up an effective omnichannel strategy to fuel your sales and marketing efforts, schedule a demo to see how SharpSpring can help.

AUTHOR
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Elsbeth Russell
Elsbeth is the Marketing Content Manager at SharpSpring. Through the creation of lead-generating content, including white papers, blogs, infographics, and thought leadership articles, she leverages her nearly 15 years of experience in journalism, marketing and communications.

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