How Partners Impact the Omni-Channel Customer Experience
CX expert Annette Franz asks: Are you considering all of your channels when you think about the omni-channel experience?
A couple months ago, I wrote about improving the omni-channel experience to reduce customer effort. In my closing statement, I mentioned that I'd write about a channel that you may not think about when you’re making the transition and the transformation from multi-channel to omni-channel experiences. I think most companies only consider phone, web, social, email, in store, in person, etc. when thinking about the omni-channel experience. That's a good start. But there's one more to consider.
SEE ALSO: Omni-Channel vs Multi-Channel: Understanding the Crucial Differences to Help You Meet Rising Customer Expectations
The group I'm referring to? Partners, e.g. resellers, distributors, franchisees, licensees, etc. In reality, a lot of companies fail to include this particular group in their overall customer experience improvement strategies.
If you've ever purchased an airline ticket through a site like Expedia, Orbitz, or Kayak, you've purchased from a partner. Or think about the codeshare partner experience, e.g., you bought a ticket with American but your flight is actually on Alaska. If you get your Starbucks fix at "Tarbucks" (Starbucks inside a Target store), you're interacting with a partner. If you work out at a gym, most of the time you're probably working out at a franchised location, not a corporate club.
In the example of "Tarbucks" (or in any instance when you're interacting with a franchisee), you may not even know that you're not dealing with a corporate store. As a matter of fact, I bet most customers don't realise that. Nor do they care. Nor should they. The sign above the counters say "Starbucks." The baristas wear the green aprons. And by all other accounts, they sure look like Starbucks. The experience from store to store ought to be seamless. And yet, they are not.
To some/a large degree, companies are responsible for the experience that customers have with their partners/at those touch points. It starts with choosing partners wisely. Know what the customer experience will be via that partner. Why? Because that experience can be just as detrimental to the brand and to the customer relationship as if the customer had dealt with your company directly.
Companies have brand standards for partners. The problem is, most of the time, those standards revolve around things like logos, colours, look-n-feel, identity, marketing efforts, dress code, and other brand guidelines. They ought to spend more time focusing on the experience standards and how to ensure that the experience is consistent from one store/location or partner to the next.
Partners must adhere to those standards. SLAs (service level agreements) ought to be in place. (Sadly, I've talked to franchisors who have no idea what an SLA is.) These partners are clearly a touch point, and they are an extension of the brand. Choose them wisely. They need to represent the brand and reflect the company's culture and experience. If they don't, then it leads to yet another disjointed experience for the customer.
How does this apply to the omni-channel equation? Well, in order to make the omni-channel experience seamless and successful, companies really need to consider the entire customer experience ecosystem, not just parts and pieces of it.
Some tips to help with the partner/omni-channel experience.
- Partners are touch points, too. Pay attention!
- Listen to customers about the partner customer experience.
- Customers need those partner experiences to be seamless.
- Choose your partners wisely. (I know. I keep repeating that.)
- Listen to partners about the partner experience.
- Listen to partners about the customer experience.
- Act on their feedback and concerns.
- You are responsible for the quality of your customers' interactions with those partners; you chose them to be your partner, to represent your brand. (Think about how much care you take in hiring a new employee; partners need to be scrutinised for culture fit and more, too.)
- Don't confuse customers with inconsistent language, messaging, etc., especially across partners and channels.
- Don't confuse customers by making them figure out your discombobulated partnership arrangements.
- Train partners just like you would employees. Share customer feedback with them. Communication is key to the success of partnership arrangements.
- Educate employees (your company's and the partner's) about the brand experience and what that means to you - and to your customers.
- Remove policies that make the partner/omni-channel experience painful
- Develop SLAs around the customer experience.
How can you gauge success? How will you know if you've done everything right to set up customers for a great omni-channel experience? A great metric for the partner customer experience is Customer Effort Score. The effort far exceeds the expectations all too often. It doesn't have to be that way, though.
The bottom line is that the brand experience needs to be seamless, regardless of where or how your customers interact with the brand.