The secret to customer loyalty. Winning in an omni-channel world

For brands to succeed in today's rapidly evolving digital world they now need to give customers a participatory, seamless and personalized cross channel experience.

This is largely due to the emergence in recent years of a group of service-based companies who have raised the bar of experience so high customers now expect the same from all brands. To meet these liquid expectations companies must let go of the reins and allow their customers more control over the sales journey. More importantly, brands need to provide personalized experiences across channels—over and over again—if they are to build trust, and attract and retain their customers.

This is the new battleground for experience and the winning or losing of loyalty. It's called omni-channel and the direction brands should be heading if they want to succeed in this rapidly evolving, increasingly digitized customer-centric marketplace.

But what exactly is an omni-channel experience?

An omni-channel experience is one that is personalized, engaging, relevant and most importantly, continuous across human, digital and physical channels.

"Gone are the days where it's okay to have one experience delivered in a digital format and another in a human-to-human interaction or via some sort of traditional type media." says Dawn Anderson, Global Omni-Channel Lead for Accenture.

Entry into and out of the customer lifecycle is fluid, and customers expect companies to always be switched on to their specific needs. All this represents another major change in mindset for traditional or legacy companies who now have to be all places and all things, all the time, to all individuals. This is the new norm. Adjusting isn't going to be easy, but it will be essential.

Not if you're a new kid on the block and you're already providing omni-channel experiences.

Born in the age of experience with digital spoons in their mouths, disruptors like Uber or Airbnb were providing omni-channel experiences before they became a thing. This is because these brands evolved out of a specific customer need in the first place. As a consequence these non-traditional companies are leading the way in providing dynamic and purposeful experiences all companies, traditional or otherwise, will have to replicate if they want to survive.

This is one of the key insights Accenture gained from the preliminary findings of a recent survey they conducted with 5,000 customers of companies from across the U.S. communications industry. These included traditional Wireless and Wireline companies, and non-traditional providers such as Amazon, Uber, Netflix, and Airbnb.

To measure brand loyalty and gain some insight into how non-traditionals got a leg up in the omni-channel race, Accenture developed a brand-specific measurement that looks at what customers think and feel about a brand. The measure includes four subgroups: instinct, dependence, trust, and perception. It also takes into consideration what customers are saying about a brand. What Accenture found was that non-traditionals have the advantage and are reaping the benefits: emotional connections with loyal customers.

Broken down, their success comes from being able to "create a differentiated experience," says Michelle McGlynn, Senior Manager Communications, Media and High Tech at Accenture. This is centered on reliability and transparency, which engenders loyalty and builds trust.

"Brand loyalty is very closely tied to perception which is related to value. Uber's brilliantly simple interaction enables the customer to have complete transparency with the company at any given time. Connectedness across the experience is what is driving the perception of reliability and value," says Rob Birdsong, North American Omni-Channel Lead for Accenture.

Good old-fashioned human interactions also play a key role.

"If you believe in the notion that trust is the new digital currency, the human component becomes even more important. That is what is differentiating the Ubers and the Airbnbs," says Anderson.

What's it going to take for traditional companies to shift into a more omni-channel way of thinking?

It's one thing to analyze why non-traditional companies have been able to provide these seamless experiences. It's another to be able to replicate them. While Accenture's 7P omni-channel framework (see infographic) provides all the necessary components a company needs to address in order to become omni-channel, success really hinges on three factors.

Firstly, companies need to reorient so they're no longer siloed but holistic, agile and staffed by empowered employees. This means facing up to some potentially uncomfortable home truths.

"It's asking hard questions, reorienting your business. It's the people. It's the processes. Sometimes it's an uncomfortable change. But you have to be able to think critically about how you run your business," says Anderson.

Secondly, this mindset needs to be complemented by technology that can scale and flex to meet the ever-changing needs of customers.

"Putting some thought into how technology and analytics are going to drive your omni-channel experiences is also important, as is placing your customers and employees at the heart of every business activity," says Anderson.

This means gathering as much customer information as possible is vital, but not as important as designing for the collection of that data at every possible customer touch point. Examining behaviour in this granular manner provides a deeper understanding of what customers want and allows brands to respond in real-time.

Which leads to the final step to omni-channel success: delighting customers through deeply personalized experiences. On the surface this may feel organic and anticipatory to the customer but in reality is the result of an intense and, as far as the customer is concerned, invisible background effort.

Put simply, those companies that value their customers' time and provide a positive experience will be the ones that succeed, says Dawn Anderson who cites Warby Parker as an example.

"They let you touch, they let you trial; they let you experience the product as part of that experience and they keep you connected in that experience. Companies like these are going to be some of the differentiating game changers. We're shifting away from experiences with companies feeling transactional to experiences with companies feeling emotional."

Discover Accenture's recent findings into the omni-channel landscape at www.accenture.com/omni

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