Omni-Channel: Putting the Customer at the Centre of the Retail Experience

Maria McCann, Head of Customer Experience and Service, Aurora Fashions, joins Customer Management IQ to discuss what the transition from multi-channel to omni-channel means and hot to put the customer at the centre of the retail experience.

Customer Management Exchange: Hello Maria, thanks for joining us for this podcast. How are you?

M McCann: Thank you, Helen. I'm very well.

Customer Management Exchange: That's great to hear. So today, I had five questions for you to get a bit of an idea of your role within the sector and the trends within this industry. So firstly, can you explain what is meant by omni-channel, and what it means for the retail sector?

M McCann: So I suppose the definition of omni-channel is every channel, and for us within the retail, and also I would say probably a lot of emerging digital sectors as well, it means being able to touch the customer at any digital or live touch point. So if I take a simple example of ordering, the customer should be able to order from anywhere, any channel. It's fulfilled within a retail environment within the most expedient point in the business, so that could be a store, it could be the customer's local store, it could be a central DC. And then it's delivered to anywhere that the customer wants.

So at the moment, a lot of innovative omni-channel retailers are delivering to home, delivering to work, delivering to other stores, delivering and starting to break out to deliver to actually third party stores, but you can see quite close in the future that, actually, customers could have it delivered to wherever they like, and order from wherever they like.

Customer Management Exchange: Okay. And can you talk about what this creates from the point of view of retailers - how do they link into this?

M McCann: For retailers, this just opens up a multitude of opportunity to engage with customers in a way that they've never really been able to do before. So if I think about the digital experience, the online shopping experience has probably up to this point been very different to going into a store, so the service that you would receive online versus the service that you would receive in store; the transaction that would take place online versus what would happen in store; how the customer would interact with the goods and with the business. But with the advent of omni-channel, and if we throw social into the omni-channel mix as well, actually, retailers can start to understand the value of engaging with customers and start to create more of a lifecycle around customer acquisition and loyalty, as well as moving the product around their various channels as well. So I just think it opens up far more opportunities to engage in service and interact with customers in a way that leverages value.

Customer Management Exchange: And how will omni-channel ultimately affect the customer journey?

M McCann: I think there's a lot more opportunity to have touch points with the customer from the retailer. I also think that with omni-channel, if you think about the order from anywhere deliver to anywhere approach, actually, it puts customers much more in the driving seat of... it puts them in the centre of their own experience, if you like. I think with the emergence of something like location-based shopping, which will start to become quite integral to omni-channel shopping in the future, you could potentially have... I could be potentially sitting in my kitchen, or I could be at a coffee shop and be thinking, right, I'd really like a new top; so retailers around me, I'm here, tell me what you've got; tell me what offers you can give me. And retailers will have to react or respond to that customer.

So I think for customers, it will put them much more in control and in the centre of their own experience. I think their journey with the retailer will probably be more efficient and more convenient for the customer, but I think if retailers get the engagement piece right with customers, actually, the relationship with their customers will deepen over time because they will be able to use big data and analytics about their customer's journey to actually interact in a much more meaningful way with their customers than we probably have done to date.

Customer Management Exchange: Yes, it's quite exciting. And how can you drive your staff on the shop floor to embrace these changes?

M McCann: Well, I think it's quite an interesting one, because if you see staff as pushing through product, so if they're just seen to be, I suppose, a part of the transactional journey, then we really not adding any value to the customer by them going into the store. So I think for the staff on the shop floor, they have to be part of the customer experience, so they have to be providing the experiential element to the customer's journey rather than just pushing stuff through the till.

So I think by using that experience element, that for me changes the way that staff on the shop floor should think about customers, should interact with customers. It opens up a whole new world of the role of the shop floor assistant. The traditional Saturday girl, suddenly is in charge of providing this customer with an experience rather than just selling her something on the shop floor.

Customer Management Exchange: Yes, so true. And how can you avoid alienating consumers and customers?

M McCann: I think consistency is key. I think if consumers feel confused or overwhelmed by what's on offer then they'll just switch off. With the Gen Y or Gen C, whatever you want to call it, they are the multi-tasking generation with the attention span of a fly, to put it in a crude way. But people nowadays, they haven't got time to really go into, right, so if I order from here, how long is it going to take and how do I get it to my office where I need it. So if we start to be too clever or show our cleverness to the customer and make things too complicated, I think that's a really difficult objection to overcome with customers.

I think simplicity is key. Convenience is key. And I also think just being really, really clear about expectations. Consumers will forgive a lot if they understand what it is that you're trying to do for them, and they've got a high level of tolerance as long as you're being really clear and having a really simple offering, and you're managing their expectations really clearly. So if your company's going to be innovative and serve in beta, then just be really clear about that with your customers about what they can expect from you, because not everything does run perfectly, as we all know from in the retail industry we rely on so many natural and man-made elements.

Customer Management Exchange: Well, there's clearly lots of advantage in this area. Thank you very much for sharing your insight with us today, Maria. Thank you.

M McCann: Thank you.

For more information on omni-channel, check out the Customer Experience Exchange for Retail.