Avoiding omnishambles: effective omnichannel strategy for digital natives

Omnichannel is the current mantra in many retail-facing financial institutions.

Avoiding omnishambles: effective omnichannel strategy for digital natives

In particular banks strive to make the user experience seamless across all channels – whether the customer uses online banking on their desktop, an app on their smart phone or tablet, telephones the bank, or visits a physical branch. 

However, whilst seamless customer experience across multiple devices and channels is much talked about, it is rarely achieved. To understand this concept, let’s look at it from a different perspective: do customers think they are omnichannel?

We decided to raise this very question in our recent ‘Omnichannel Swap Shop’ research. During the study, we ran in-depth interviews with UK customers to understand how they go about their routine activities, such as banking and obtaining insurance, amongst others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when asked if they felt they were omnichannel, they often gave us a confused look – most of them did not perceive themselves as ‘omni’-anything.

Their choice of communication channels with their financial service provider was predominantly goal-driven. For example, some people wishing to open a current account said they might visit the branch to gather information; they would then open the account online, and use a mobile app, internet banking or a phone line for any daily and/or additional services. 

Smartphones have increased the number of channel choices and tend to drive customers towards the use of more, rather than fewer, channels. Customers combine various communication channels, choosing them based on their perception of risk, confidence, context and motivation. This doesn’t mean they stop using physical bank branches; it means they use them in a slightly different way – occasionally substituting, but also enhancing them by the use of digital channels.

To get omnichannel strategies right, banks and other financial services providers need to understand what is driving these customer behaviours. Our research revealed a few factors that need to be considered to differentiate a good omnichannel strategy from an omnishambles.

Understand which channels customers are using and why.

Depending on a situation, customers naturally tend to shift between channels. For them, the digital world has a number of advantages. As long as they are easy to use, digital channels put customers in control. They provide choice, accessibility regardless of time and location, and the costumers are free to do things in their own time. Because it is easy to compare services and prices, users often think they are getting better offers online.

Aside from accessibility of the channel, it seems that channel choices are strongly dictated by the motivational “mode” that the customer is in. If they are in a positive mode, or ‘visionary’, they are customer more willing to invest time and energy into researching options. Visionaries may use many channels to do this, may look for advice from other service users and be especially risk averse.

If things go wrong these customers can rapidly transform into a ‘customer-in-crisis’ – a negatively-motivated customer who tends to have very little patience with automation (unless it is extremely simple) and often wants to hand the problem over to customer service to have it solved. In situations such as a stolen bank card or a car accident, they are more likely to lift the phone, leap onto webchat or make their complaints known on social media, especially if they are unhappy with the way situation was handled. 

Of course, it isn’t all about the extremes. Some tasks, like setting up a direct debit or paying bills on a mobile banking app are neutral, and ‘utilitarian’ behaviour kicks in. Utilitarians don’t always seek to be wowed by customer experience; they want things to be quick and easy, and will happily embrace digital channels that are able to facilitate this.

To make their omnichannel strategy work, financial services providers need to establish what customers are trying to achieve. This is especially important when trying to direct customers towards lower cost channels, such as mobile self-service applications. If people aren’t able to achieve their goals using these channels, any attempts to drive them there could result in switching to higher cost channels, such as visiting a bank branch, or even a different provider.

Avoid silos by integrating digital channels into traditional environments.

Many corporate customer experience strategies continue to make one mistake – they tend to silo communication channels. This means that what happens in a bank branch tends to stay there, with the same applying to digital channels.

Furthermore, there can be silos within silos. For example, the social media team may not have access to the same systems as the telephony teams, and the contact centre agent might not have an email address. This results in ‘channel blindness’ which means that customers have to work hard as they migrate between channels.

Integrating digital channels into traditional physical environments is challenging. Financial services firms often deploy technology in-branch that is driven by cost-cutting motives rather than a desire to improve channel integration and, ultimately, customer experience.

Make use of personalisation.

The growing connectivity and Internet of Things means that personalisation will become increasingly possible in branch. Location-based services, wearable devices, video and smartphones can be used to identify customers as they move across digital and physical spaces.

‘Clienteling’ technologies on smartphones and tablets are being deployed to help front line employees to access data on customers and solutions enabling banks and insurance firms create more personalised experiences. These technologies could also be used for live employee support in digital spaces by allowing remote customers to talk to a branch using video, webchat and social media.

Boundaries between the physical and the digital world are continuously blurring, and integrated technology can help financial firms to make the best of this. It is vital that financial services providers try and adopt the customer’s point of view in order to build solutions that improve client servicing. That could prove to be the differentiating factor distinguishing effective an omnichannel strategy and an omnishambles.