Omnichannel Marketing through the Single Customer View
The Omnichannel Imperative
Everything that is born or created must evolve over time. Darwin’s theory is not just true for species with life but also for business strategies. The advent of social media meant businesses were rooting for a multichannel strategy till now. But evolution meant that this strategy is now outdated. The multichannel strategy has evolved into the omnichannel strategy but a lot of businesses are still stuck in old times while those who keep pace with evolution are marching ahead. Businesses now face the omnichannel imperative but what exactly is this? And how can businesses evolve their strategies to be oriented towards an omnichannel approach is the question we will attempt to answer in this post.
Blurring boundaries between online and offline
Hypothetically, could there be a scenario in the future when retail stores are obliterated and people just shop and buy things online? Ask yourself. Can you live an entire life buying stuff off e-commerce websites? Maybe not. Sometimes, you just have to go the store at the end of the street, out of necessity or human desire to see or touch the thing you want to purchase. The Web has been fancied as a medium to which real world functions can be translated and performed, effectively replacing them to a certain degree. Like social networking, shopping, booking cabs, buying flight tickets, making hotel reservations and what not. According to a Deloitte report, online shopping in Sweden grew by about 15% between 2013 and 2014. That shows how successful digital business has been. But then again, can the Web replace the brick and mortar stores entirely? Probably not.
People will use Facebook and Twitter and still go meet their friends. People will shop online but still go to shopping malls, grocery stores or supermarkets to buy stuff. What this means is that every business is now adding new channels of customer interactions and transactions without abandoning any conventional channels. Businesses are selling in brick and mortar stores, they are selling on the websites, they are selling on Facebook and any other channel where it’s even remotely possible. But that’s not the whole point, it’s just the tip of the point.
Customer Experience transgressing online channels
Before getting to the core of this post, a rudimentary question to ask is: “Is the Customer Experience limited to just online assets like websites and mobile apps?” Once upon a time, maybe it was, but not anymore. The logic is simple. Today, every customer is using every channel available to interact with a business which obviously means the customer experience accorded, shouldn’t differentiate based on channels but be continuous throughout.
Let’s take at an example. An apparel chain has retail brick and mortar stores alongside its websites and mobile apps. It also has a loyalty programme giving customers redeemable points on every purchase. This obviously means that the returning customer gets a discount, which a first time customer doesn’t. In such a context, let’s say a customer makes a first purchase in one of the offline stores and is rewarded points. If the customer makes his or her next purchase through the mobile app but is recognized as a first time customer instead of a returning customer, the customer can’t make use of his or her earned reward points. This, effectively, is a broken customer experience possibly resulting in the customer bouncing off. In extreme terms, this is just sacrilege. The important point to be underlined now is that savvy things like customer experience or single customer views – which we will come to in a while – are not restricted only to Web or mobile channels but rightfully transgress to the offline channels as well. The uniformity in customer experience must be visible across all the channels operated by a business, irrespective of their being offline or online.
Multichannel vs. Omnichannel
We have already discussed how customer experience is transgressing digital channels and spilling over into the offline world too. Again picking a retail example, customers today are choosing bricks and clicks – the actual definition of bricks and clicks is the other way round – which is choosing to buy in brick and mortar stores as well as through digital media like the mobile app or website. In a multichannel approach, the strategy would be to make efforts to maximize returns from each channel, but individually. On the other hand, omnichannel aims to maximize returns from all operational digital and offline channels as a whole, with the emphasis on creating a synergy between all the channels. This can result in removal of data silos between individual channels which in turn will lead to a better customer experience for the multichannel customer. Stacy Schwartz, a digital marketing expert and adjunct professor at Rutgers Business School told Econtent magazine, “The difference between multichannel and omnichannel really comes down to a company’s approach to digital channels,” She further told Econtent, “Companies that focus on maximizing the performance of each channel-physical, phone, web, mobile-have a multichannel strategy. They likely structure their organization into ‘swim lanes’ focused on each channel, each with their own reporting structure and revenue goals.” She goes on to explain, “An omnichannel approach puts the customer, not corporate silos, at the center of its strategy. It acknowledges that mobile and social have enabled customers to not only quickly switch between channels, but actually use channels simultaneously. For example, checking out product reviews on their mobile phone while evaluating a product on a physical retail store shelf.”
A lot of customers are now beginning to use the offline and online channels in conjunction. Studies also suggest that 80% shoppers use their smartphones in-store to help with shopping and more than 50% purchase decisions are influenced by digital information. For instance, a lot of customers shopping for clothes tend to check for size and fit in the brick and mortar store and then go back to the website or mobile app if the same clothing is available for discount. This is not the ideal situation for customers but anybody would want to save a few extra bucks. The break here in the customer experience is due to the absence of a common pricing model across all channels forcing the customer to use each channel for each step in the purchase process rather than completing the purchase from one channel alone. That is the drawback of the multichannel approach. Also, customer view for businesses operating in a multichannel environment is like looking at cube. One side is always obscured giving partial customer views that is detrimental to marketing efforts. These are some of the problems the omnichannel approach attempts to solve.
Single Customer View as a gateway to Omnichannel marketing
We have talked quite a bit about omnichannel marketing thus far but how do marketers switch from a multi channel marketing strategy to an omnichannel marketing approach? That’s the question we really want to answer for you here. A multichannel approach goes hand in hand with a fragmented customer view. That is to say, when you focus on individual channels separately, you focus on customers coming in through each channel separately. This introduces silos between different channels and the same customer transacting through multiple channels is viewed as multiple customers. Recall the apparel loyalty programme example we discussed earlier.
However, as a business, when you view each customer as one single person irrespective of the number of channels he or she uses to transact with your business, you obtain the Single Customer View. In achieving this single customer view, also called the unified profile view, businesses focus on individual customers and not on individual channels giving them a much improved customer experience. Eventually, this means businesses maximize returns on each customer against a channel focussed policy followed in multichannel marketing. Just to give you a definition, the single customer view is simply a centralized integration of each customer relationship across all operational channels, be it offline or online, and across all operational marketing stack elements. It’s just about getting a proper vantage point to understand each customer as a whole person.
Single Customer View through Customer Identity and Access Management
The path is clear. Omnichannel marketing is only possible when you achieve the single customer view. But how do you get the single customer view in the first place? It’s a tricky question with as many answers as a business has websites these days.
Typically, businesses operate multiple websites, mobile apps, brick and mortar stores, kiosks and so on. Obviously, if you are maintaining customer relationships through web and mobile properties, you would have setup some sort of identity management processes. But a simple identity management process for each of your assets wouldn’t make the cut. Identity management is the core function in a customer relationship management process though a lot of people may tell you otherwise. For businesses to achieve the single customer view and an omnichannel approach, it is imperative that they employ an identity management module that is marketing oriented rather than just being an application for authentication and authorization. You need more than a AAA sized battery, you need a power generator and that is exactly what a Customer Identity and Access Management (cIAM) solution can do for you. As is defined in the post cited above, a cIAM solution helps businesses simplify identity management, store customer identity data, create centralized unified profiles and integrate with marketing applications to supply those unified profiles.
A Customer Identity and Access Management (cIAM) solution can help you achieve the single customer view by aggregating your customer profile data from multiple operational channels to one single unified profile. Of course, this is just one of the functions a cIAM solution performs but a very important one nonetheless. Contrary to the traditional practice of creating a channel centric profile for each customer, a cIAM platform helps you identify and create a single profile for each customer which is accessible to both the business and the end consumer across all channels. This effectively ensures that whether your mobile app team is viewing a customer’s profile or your web team is viewing it, there is just one unified customer profile reflecting relationship summaries from all channels.
Focus on each individual customer
Unified customer profiles can also be immensely useful in marketing outreach efforts. Imagine a situation where your marketing team only has a partial view of your customers and carries out a campaign informing them of a discount offer that has already been taken by them. It could be a really messy situation. A cIAM solution can help you ride safely through puddles by integrating with your marketing teams to give them complete customer data aggregated from all channels. This will save your business a lot of time, money and face.
In the end, the key takeaway here is that days of multichannel marketing are long gone; the season of omnichannel marketing has already arrived and will stay on till the world ages a bit. Already, many businesses around the world, specifically in electronics, are adopting the omnichannel way as measured by PricewaterhouseCoopers. It’s time for you to match the age and do what is needed to get your business forward: adopt the omnichannel approach and focus on each customer. It’s not a choice anymore, it’s what businesses need to remain profitable.