The (old fashioned) secret ingredient for omni-channel success

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We are all familiar now with the principles of the omni-channel business model: today’s customers demand seamless experiences centered on their needs, meaning that brands and businesses need to reinvent their processes and offerings to keep up.

The word “seamless” is key to all of this. Offering a joined-up and frictionless experience is seen as the critical ingredient for delighting and retaining customers.

But how is this seamlessness achieved?

It is assumed that software and technology must be the answer. After all: it’s technology that’s driving the change in customer habits and expectations, and so technology must be the solution, right? Actually, flashy new tech and software is only part of the solution. The key to seamless success lies in that good, old-fashioned asset we call “people.”

That’s right, it’s your people – your employees – who will make or break your shift into omni-channel operations.

Seamless customer-facing experiences

I have encountered a great many situations in which expensively deployed initiatives like in-store iPads, clientelling software and fancy mobile apps have failed to catch on with staff and customers alike. What seemed like a great idea on a head office PowerPoint slide just doesn’t cut the mustard on the shop floor.

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The reason? The product design and deployment has missed the mark, the target users are fearful/bemused/bored by the product offering (delete as appropriate), and so the person who approved the investment has a lot of explaining to do.

The solution? Use people-centric design and people-centric deployment plans.

So, before that cool PowerPoint idea goes into mass production:

  1. Take time for listening to what your customers and staff actually want.
  2. Invest in training and explaining the tools (and the underlying business rationale for the change) to your staff.
  3. Use a test-and-learn roll out approach, rather than a high-risk (and expensive!) “big bang.”

Ultimately, it’s your front line staff who will drive adoption, and who will join the dots to make the seamless experience really sing. Get them fully involved!

Seamless back-office processes

In theory, omni-channel systems offer unparalleled levels of “big” data analysis and task automation to the back office team, which should allow them to achieve unprecedented efficiency and effectiveness…

But in practice, the road is often not so smooth.

First, Big Data can cause a big headache if too much team-time is shifted towards analyzing results or micro-managing algorithms, and too little time is left for acting and executing on the results. I have seen many a smart team buckle under the weight of work generated by new analysis package (a condition also known as “paralysis by analysis”).

In my experience, human agency still trumps the machine mind. Big Data can guide decision-making, and can automate the menial tasks, but it shouldn’t take over entirely.

Solution: treat your big “omni-analysis” as a means to an end (enabling your decision-makers), and not as an end itself.

Second, task and process automation can be counter-productive if it’s not designed and deployed carefully. Just like in stores, if the front line staff (product admins, warehouse pickers, call center operatives, etc.) don’t buy in to your exquisitely engineered new processes, those processes will founder and fail. Listening and learning, training and explaining is again the key.

Tip for success: the process-flow diagrams that underpin your new omni-channel workflows should not be drawn by “ivory tower” business analysts. Those business analysts need to spend just as much time at the warehouse/call center/buying floor as they do sitting in front of their Visio software!

Now, enjoy your journey towards deploying a seamless omni-channel operation. But never forget, it’s your people who will hold those seams together. Ignore them at your peril!

 

Joseph Ballard
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June 1, 2015
Joseph Ballard

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