SXSW: Preparing for the new omnichannel customer experience

March 24, 2014

By Jeannie Walters

With so many discussions regarding omnichannel and multichannel experiences at South By Southwest, it's easy to assume we're all talking about the same thing.

The challenges with the new frontiers in customer experience are numerous, and they're not getting any easier to address.

How we describe omnichannel actually contributes to how we invest in it.

And how we invest in it better be focused on delivering a superior customer experience.

I asked several people at SXSW Interactive how they defined omnichannel. The overwhelming answer was that it means the same experience for customers via digital environments like online and mobile and in-store environments. While that may be a decent enough definition for today's world, it hardly lends itself to future strategies.

But when you examine how most retail companies are structured, you see just as they are touting omnichannel strategy, they are setting up their organization to silo the experience.

There were many business cards with "Head of Mobile Strategy" or "Director of Digital" on them, but not many with "Chief Experience Officer" or "Customer Experience Strategist" there. While customer experience leadership is becoming more popular, we are still far away from considering the experience of the customer as the non-linear journey it has become.

So let's consider omnichannel again. How would you classify digital? With the upcoming popularity of wearable tech devices, it's time to consider that strategy. Is it mobile? Is it digital? Is it in-store? The experience will be blurred in ways we have yet to even understand.

There is also new technology designed specifically for display opportunities. Customers no longer want to stand around waiting for a salesperson to explain a product or find the right size in the back of the store. With tablet displays and QR codes to scan, a customer wandering through the store could scan and order the right item to be shipped directly to them. Need to change the price on a sale item? Display technology is now easy enough to program on tablets.

The desire for NOW means delivery of those ordered items takes on new urgency. What changed the video rental market wasn't Netflix's original pricing strategy, but their focus on delivery. Ebay and Amazon considered where to put warehouses not just based on the obvious real estate questions, but on how quickly they could deliver to the majority of customers.

How can retailers prepare for the new omnichannel customer experience?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Consider the devices of today and the potential devices of tomorrow.

Don't get stuck in the customer experience laggard category. Instead, consider how you can support the entire customer journey. If a customer wants to review a product in-store, how can you support that with options on their mobile devices?

What if they look something up online and want to pick it up in the store? What's the easiest, most efficient way they can do that? Printing a form from the computer doesn't seem like it is for many connected consumers.

2. Don't underestimate the future.

The wearable technology of today is the beta for the future. What will these devices be able to do? Scan UPC codes and compare costs on items? Take pictures of customers trying on clothing in dressing rooms and quickly get votes from friends? It's an endless list of potential uses.

3. Don't divide the device from the experience.

If your mobile experience is limited to an app that really doesn't add much to the experience, don't blame the mobile app developers. It's up to the leadership of the organization to see the experience as a whole and make sure the company is aligned accordingly. If mobile stinks, your experience stinks.

Image credits: Primus Inter Pares, Chris F.

Topics: Consumer Behavior , Digital Merchandising , Omnichannel / Multichannel , Online Retailing , Social Media , Technology

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