What is the omnichannel customer experience?

Integrating all the online and offline touchpoints into one cohesive buying journey is the key to a satisfied customer


A buying journey done right

Just the words omnichannel customer experience give the impression that something magical is about to happen.

It could.

Done right, an omnichannel experience can whisk customers into a blissful buying journey. Done wrong, it’s a lost opportunity with a likely customer.

What exactly is an omnichannel customer experience? It’s a process in which organizations integrate all the touchpoints in any given customer experience, including emails, texts, social media, and websites on a variety of different devices, including mobile phones, tablets, and laptops or traditional channels like landline phones, or retail stores. Cohesive messaging and goals are aligned both online and offline. The objective is a final transactional moment that is consistent and predictable. In other words, no surprises.

As a further, simplified comparison, the process is like participating in a relay race at a track meet. Businesses must be prepared and focused, speedy, possess reliable handoff abilities, and be able to sprint to the finish line in full stride to complete the process. Any stumbles or mishandled opportunities can be costly.

What does success look like? Customers should be able to take their little virtual shopping cart and pick up where they left off on one channel and continue the experience on another. But the omnichannel experience is not only limited to individual customers.

Omnichannel, once the domain of the B2C world, also includes a B2B component. The customer who expects to be able to purchase an audio soundbar and return it in-store could be the same buyer who wants a cohesive experience when procuring products from a supplier.

The omnichannel experience differs from a multichannel digital experience. In the most basic definition, omnichannel is a progression from multichannel. In a multichannel environment, customers have access to various communication options, but they aren’t necessarily connected or synchronized. Multichannel marketing considers each touchpoint and channel as independent and separate. Omnichannel tears down the silos between in-store, social media, mobile, email, web, phone, and live chat experiences.

Businesses can set up all the top-notch mobile marketing with engaging social media campaigns, and a well-structured website. But if they don’t work together, it’s not an omnichannel experience.

Chapter 2

What does omnichannel success look like?

Consumers are becoming old pros at the omnichannel experience. They’ve accessed an app to order coffee, searched a retailer’s website for a certain appliance, or booked travel plans. This approach has been on the rise in recent years, but omnichannel’s emergence accelerated recently as e-commerce adapted to customer behaviors that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some types of businesses are excelling at omnichannel. Two examples:

  • For that special blend of upscale coffee, we might get the work week started by reloading your loyalty card with money via the brand’s website, mobile, in-store, or on the app. Any changes get real-time updates across all channels, all the while gaining rewards points for future purchases.
  • For the family’s vacation, an entertainment venue’s omnichannel setup can book the entire trip, from finding dining options to acting as a hotel room key. The app also can geo-target attractions, set up fast passes, and view the estimated wait time for each.

It’s also can be an extended shopping process, like a virtual concierge.

Chapter 3

Omnichannel by the numbers

Based on the data, customers have shown their desire for the omnichannel experience. According to a 2021 Digital Commerce 360 analysis, omnichannel services were key to digital growth in 2020. Because of pandemic protocols, 68.7% of retailers offered curbside or pickup services in early 2021 compared with 54% in early 2020.

Signs of omnichannel growth were evident before the pandemic.

According to a 2019 Boston Retail Partners report, 56% of customers surveyed indicated they were likely to shop at a retailer that allowed them to have a shared cart across channels rather than a retailer that didn’t offer this service. Customers and businesses also had expectations: 87% of customers wanted a personalized and consistent experience across all channels and 53% of retailers indicated that personalization of the customer experience is a top priority.

Omnichannel also drove e-commerce to soaring sales numbers. In 2020, consumers spent $861 billion online with U.S. retailers, an increase of 44% from $598 billion in 2019, according to Digital Commerce 360. In total retail sales, online spending represented 21.3% in 2020 compared with 15.8% in 2019.

According to Worldpay research, omnichannel shoppers spend somewhere between 50% and 300% more than traditional shoppers. Businesses with omnichannel strategies achieve 91% greater year-on-year customer retention.

Chapter 4

Effective application of the omnichannel experience

As we mentioned, omnichannel tears down the silos. Departmental silos can be problematic when it comes to both the customer experience and data collection. It could be a territorial issue. Or it could be unintentional, especially when departments use technology to solve an internal issue create a data silo that isn’t sharable. Each channel might have its own strategy, goals, and metrics that are not associated with the others. The result impacts customers and their experiences are disrupted by inaccurate and non-standardized data.

It is an issue. In CMSWire’s 2021 State of Digital Customer Experience report, 37% of digital customer experience leaders point to data silos and/or fragmented customer data that are hurting their digital customer experience initiatives.

To get everyone on board, brands should encourage and set up effective collaboration between departments and adapt the existing culture to having a more unified customer-centric objective. Businesses can turn to a customer data platform (CDP) to unify their data sources. A CDP can distill the data using machine learning or artificial intelligence and create customer profiles.

Chapter 5

Steps toward a positive omnichannel experience

Presenting a positive omnichannel experience is much like the long-held tenet of providing a quality customer experience and putting customers first.

Here are a few ways to provide that positive experience:

  • Develop cross-channel consistency: Create a consistent customer experience across all channels and help them benefit from the best offer wherever they are located. Use real-time offers that are matched to the customer profile across different sales channels. Be clear and honest.
  • Keep everything on brand: Developing standards for brand consistency will lead to less confusion and better brand loyalty. This strategy includes interactions, color schemes, and fonts. This also helps customers stay focused.
  • Work on increasing average cart size: Current customers are the best prospects for higher sales. Target sales for all customers — anonymous, identified, or loyal — to encourage impulse buying and additional sales.
  • Choose the right channels: Here’s a case where less can be more. Ask customers which platforms they prefer to engage with your content, and then focus on those. Use engagement analytics to determine platforms where users are most active.
  • Understand the channels: The audience needs change over time, so your message also needs to evolve. Each channel has its own unique audience. Know your customers intimately and understand their buying habits. Put customers’ needs at the heart of your strategy.
  • Develop high-quality content across multiple channels: It should be relevant to different stages of a buyer’s journey. Repurpose podcasts into blog posts, which can evolve into FAQs, scripts for a YouTube channel, or chopped into micro-content for social media posts.
  • Data is your friend: Make sure all your digital channels are producing usable data. Analyzing data can help better understand customer behavior and track their purchase journey.

Brands face enough challenges. Developing a positive customer experience across multiple digital channels and platforms can put customers at ease with your brand. By fighting through the data silos, unifying data, personalizing experiences, using real-time decisions when appropriate, a brand can make the customer journey into an omnichannel experience seem ... almost magical.