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European omni-channels: Hype or reality?

Organisations in Europe are adapting to demands for omni-channel services from consumers across the continent

Opinions about the speed at which customer relationship management (CRM) is evolving into an “omni-channel experience” vary hugely across Europe, depending on whom you ask.

The prevailing view is that competitive imperatives mean there is a growing need to serve customers through several channels using methods that extend beyond traditional CRM tools. This includes the ability to gather sales data from multiple channels in real time to provide a more holistic view of the customer.

Many industry players note that the move towards omni-channel is driven not by suppliers or IT providers, but by the customers that use these products. But is the concept of an omni-channel customer experience still in the hype phase or is it now closer to reality?

“The hype mostly fails to match reality. While most companies are improving their ability to engage customers through different channels, it remains difficult to share information and context across them,” said Sheryl Kingstone, research director at 451 Research.

“Certain verticals, such as retailers, have embraced newer channels of communications, such as online chat, but only a few industry-leading companies ensure a complete cross-channel memory.”

Richard Kolodynski, who was appointed by iVend Retail in March 2015 to expand the company’s presence in European markets, further commented that omni-channel has become a “buzzword du jour” for many retailers and IT suppliers.

“It’s become so widely used that many are looking for alternative terms to use: ‘omni-commerce’, ‘connected retail’ or ‘total retail’ to name but a few,” said Kolodynski.

“However, for all the discussion surrounding omni-channel, the truth is that few retailers can currently deliver a clean and consistent experience across all their platforms. The store in particular feels like it is disconnected from the digital world, even though smartphones are widely used by consumers in their bricks-and-mortar journeys.”

Still ‘some time’ until organisations fully adopt omni-channel experience

Chris Crang, head of corporate marketing at payments specialist Worldpay, agreed that the majority of retailers still have a long way to go towards omni-channel adoption.

“Although we have seen great strides in how retailers are making the connection between physical and digital channels, every business is at a different stage of this journey, and many are still testing the water as consumer preferences continue to evolve,” he said.

“Even some larger retailers are still unable to identify the end-to-end customer journey from online into the store. This is the main hurdle we need to overcome before a truly omni-channel experience becomes reality,” he said.

David Burnand, marketing lead for Northern Europe at Adobe Marketing Cloud, noted that omni-channel is still an emerging trend in customer interaction, but he believes it is becoming a competitive imperative in many sectors.

Burnand said it would take some time before organisations are able to deliver a truly consistent experience across physical and digital channels.

“There are several reasons for this, including the requirement for significant organisational and cultural change to break down traditional silos, extending way beyond classic marketing responsibilities,” he said.

“Only once this has happened will organisations be able to bring together multiple data sets to get a single view of the customer and create compelling experiences across all channels,” he said.

Optimising systems inside business is key

Nick Andrews, general manager of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at channel data management company Zyme, cited research from analyst house Forrester. It said omni-channel fulfilment initiatives are completely dependent on the ability for all involved in the chain to be able to accurately pinpoint the location of every product across the enterprise.

“Simply implementing a system, however, is not enough; organisations need to ensure that any systems are also fully optimised inside the business,” he said.

“Channel data, and the intellectual management of it, has a direct impact on the bottom line. To stay ahead of the competition there is pressure on the business to be able to adapt promotions and sales strategies with almost a real-time response to the market.”

Andrews emphasised that such channel data management strategies “must extend past distributor and reseller partners; capturing user data is just as critical. Increased levels of digital intelligence, gained from detailed channel data collection and analysis, also benefit numerous departments in the business.”

Addressing IT barriers

451 Research’s Kingstone noted there is “no silver bullet” to solving IT barriers. “Where is the pain? Is it omni-channel commerce or is it omni-channel communications? Both are priorities that will take different IT tools to solve.”

So what are customers doing to address issues outlined by Kingstone, such as improving real-time data for a more complete picture of the customer and making use of cloud along with orchestration tools to share processes and data more effectively?

B&O Play, which is part of the Danish Bang & Olufsen group, chose a channel data management system from Zyme to enable it to get a better understanding of its sales data and incorporate this business-based intelligence into campaigns.

Viggo Olsen, director of global sales at the company, said it was all about getting products into the market and creating demand and awareness in the early stages of the company’s business, but now the focus is on making sure growth is sustainable.

“We want to keep pace with consumer demands, so it is vital that we can support the wider team with regards to empowering them to make product and sales decisions as close to real-time as possible,” said Olsen.

“Deploying the Zyme technology will be a significant step forward for the business, as our configuration team will be able to forecast supply and demand with much improved accuracy.

“It’s also important for us to understand how we can grow the business with existing partners, which Zyme can hopefully help with by enhancing transparency in our channel.”

Read more about the omni-channel experience

Kingstone said Salesforce is helping a variety of verticals with omni-channel interaction where legacy CRM systems do not keep up with current demands.

Vax is one customer of Salesforce with a number of operations across Europe. According to Carole Edwards, head of contact centre at Vax, the company implemented Salesforce CRM into the company’s UK contact centre. It is now rolling it out beyond the call centre into other European markets as it works towards a full omni-channel capability.

“We now have a fully integrated system we can deploy and roll out across our wider business [in] Europe, while recognising it is different in each country as customers reach out in different ways in different cultures. For example, the phone is more popular in the UK than in most other European countries,” said Edwards.

In continental Europe, Vax is present in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Russia.

“It’s true that there is a lot of talk of omni-channel, not just from technology companies, but from the industry as a whole. I’ve never felt pushed towards an omni-channel approach by any suppliers,” said Edwards.

“However, I do feel pressurised by our customers who want to reach out to via any channel of their choice. I’ve worked in the customer service industry for more than 30 years and it’s now so different, even to four years ago.” 

Without a single view of each customer across all channels, brands are no longer in control of the customer journey, Edwards concluded.

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