From Channel Management to an Omnichannel Experience

Although omnicanality has been long discussed, the customer's expectations and the actual experience provided by companies are still very different from one another. What are the main challenges companies face in order to establish a continuous, mutual and consistent dialogue with their customers in every channel? How can they overcome them?

Customers are becoming increasingly demanding and are more connected; they have more information and improved access to goods and services. In addition, their behavior and consumption channels are changing ever more often. In this context, the companies that want to succeed need to include an omnichannel perspective as part of their management model. In other words, organizations need a comprehensive management strategy that results in one single, coherent consumer experience independent of the channel.

According to a recent study from Harvard Business(1) Review where 46,000 consumers were interviewed, only 7% shopped exclusively online, while 20% did it directly at the store. The remaining 73% stated they used multiple channels for one single purchase experience. These results seem to point that in order to provide an effective user experience and thus improve the results both online and offline channels need to be completely integrated.

Key Aspects for an omnichannel strategy approach

Our experience tells us that companies seeking to develop an omnichannel strategy usually need to evolve their management model entirely and overcome several challenges.

Consolidate the information flow. It is necessary to set up a technological platform that allows for real-time and multidirectional information flow to achieve a better understanding of the customers' behaviors, motivations, habits and preferences.

Ensuring an adequate information flow will allow the company to capture and process the information of all the client's movements regardless of the preferred channel.

Furthermore, customers will be able to access real-time and consistent information across every channel.

To ensure information flows smoothly, all channels must interact with every system –from payments, purchase orders and returns, to claims, CRM and supply chain, among others. Additionally, it is necessary to incorporate new tools that enhance the gathering of information, streamline its processing and allow for real-time availability for a more efficient decision-making process.

Design a collaborative structure. Developing an effective omnichannel strategy requires a structure where the customer is at the center, erasing barriers between operational areas and those in charge of channels, and creating interdisciplinary teams with a cross-functional mindset that foster their technical expertise.

The implementation of this strategy implies a change in the ways of working. Keeping a silo structure with different goals, incentives and priorities not only is detrimental to the common goal of providing a seamless user experience, but also leads to a lack of flexibility and disempowerment.

Develop cross-functional processes. In order for consumers to have the same experience in every channel, it is advisable to establish cross-functional processes that ensure complete consistency across channels.

As an example, the retail industry has a history of keeping separate inventories for the different sales channels, which leads to inconsistencies for the omnichannel user experience. Integrating the different inventories with the help of more flexible processes enables the company to provide real-time and consistent answers to the orders coming from all channels.

Adopt a new organizational culture. For an omnichannel strategy to be effective, a change of mindset must follow. Being flexible and dexterous, focusing on user experience and fostering innovation, making decisions based on data and adopting collaborative working practices are some key behaviors for this new culture.

Managing organizational culture through a transformation process is one of the greatest challenges leaders face nowadays. However, aligning the set of beliefs, the behaviors and values of the organization with the change of the management model is of utmost importance for achieving the desired results.

To provide a seamless customer experience requires engaged, motivated and qualified collaborators. All members of the organization need to embrace the new mindset and have access to the tools and knowledge necessary to work effectively in the new model.

In short, to implement an omnichannel strategy a comprehensive transformation plan that includes these four organizational elements is essential. For example, if the organization undergoes a change in terms of structure, processes or culture and does not consider adjusting the systems, would result In a half-implemented strategy.

A transformation process takes time, it is complex and investment returns are not immediate. However, through a work plan that establishes stages and sets clear goals and metrics, it is possible to evolve the business into a new way of operation that meets the costumers' needs anytime, anywhere. ■

(1) Harvard Business Review, 'A Study of 46,000 Shoppers Shows That Omnichannel Retailing Works', Emma Sopadjieva, Utpal M. Dholakia, Beth Benjamin <(P>

Maria Vila Melo
Consultant in Tandem, Decision Solutions
mvm@tandemsd.com