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5 Signs of a Failing Omnichannel Customer Experience

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Brian Cantor

is your omnichannel experience broken?

The customer contact community may never agree on a precise, universal definition for the omnichannel experience.

Most will, however, acknowledge one important element of such an experience: consistency. No matter where, when or why the interaction is happening, customers should always feel as if they are talking to the same brand -- with the same commitment to creating value and satisfaction.

As is so often the case in the business world, widespread embrace of the principle is unfortunately not driving widespread action. Many brands continue to deliver fragmented experiences that feel markedly different across touch points. They are unquestionably failing to deliver an omnichannel experience.

Are you one of them? Here are some common instances of problematic inconsistencies. To best illustrate the points, each includes a real-world anecdote from one of my recent experiences.

Company does not recognize you throughout the journey

In identifying “needing to repeat information” as one of the most common pain points, customers confirm an unfortunate reality: today’s organizations do not have a singular, unified view of their customers. They simply cannot recognize them, let alone the nuances of their issues, as they move from channel to channel.

Recent example: To initiate a call back from an online retailer, I had to input my order number and a description of the issue into a web form. Upon receiving the call, I was directed to an IVR that asked me to confirm the same details. When I finally reached a live agent, she spent the early portion of the call reviewing the details yet again.

Frankly, a legitimately “omnichannel” business would be able to leverage a 360-degree view of my account to predict why I was likely calling. It certainly would not ask me to repeat information I had already provided moments earlier via other official platforms.

Discrepancies between in-store and online pricing

Despite years of discussion about “omnichannel,” some retailers deliberately advertise different prices for online and in-store customers. The approach is patently anti-customer in the omnichannel era, but as it is an intentional strategy, it is not necessarily a mistake. They simply do not believe in the omnichannel experience.

Others very much do intend to offer a single price across all platforms, but ultimately fail in their endeavor. Their in-store and online prices routinely fall out of sync, creating a situation in which agents and customers have to waste time reconciling the listings. These brands are failing in their effort to deliver an omnichannel experience.

Recent example: While buying a wireless keyboard from a big-box retailer, I noticed that the in-store price was 20% higher than the online price. As her store offers unified pricing, the cashier did not dispute my right to the lower price. She nonetheless needed to delay what should have been a seamless checkout process in order to verify and input the online price.

Inventory discrepancies across channels

To simultaneously pair the convenience of e-commerce and instant gratification of brick-and-mortar, many stores and restaurants let customers to order their products through web and mobile apps. These platforms allow customers to thoroughly review the menu, easily take advantage of discounts, link all purchases to their rewards accounts and pick up orders without waiting in line.

If they work, that is.

The mobile ordering/pickup concept requires complete, real-time alignment between the inventory advertised on the app and the actual products that are available storefront. Several noteworthy retailers do not simply fail to maintain this consistency; they also fail to advise customers of mistakes. Customers, as a result, end up walking or driving to the brick-and-mortar location only to be told that the product they purchased is not actually available. Talk about a bad customer experience!

Recent example: On two occasions this summer, I used a famous coffee retailer’s mobile app to purchase breakfast sandwiches for pickup. The orders went through, my cards were charged, and I received confirmation that my order would be ready at a certain time.

Upon arriving, my orders were not available at the pickup station. After finally getting the attention of a staff member, I learned that the restaurant had run out of the items I purchased. Why, then, were they listed as available on the app? Why, then, did I not receive an alert confirming that the items I purchased were no longer available (so that I could cancel or select replacements before leaving for the store)?

Inconsistent service promises and capabilities

If it commits to a particular ETA in one channel, an omnichannel brand honors the deadline even if the execution of the service will take place in another channel. Many brands unfortunately fail to hold all their touchpoints accountable for this reality. As a result, they routinely break promises to customers.

Recent example: This past Christmas season, I made an online pickup order at 7:30PM on a Saturday night. While checking out, I was promised the order would be ready at my nearby store that night.

As the store’s 10PM closing time approached, I had not received an email confirming my order was ready. I had no choice but to go to the store, only to be told that they hadn’t processed my order yet and that it would not be ready until tomorrow. Worse, because the store hadn’t officially “accepted” my order, it had no mechanism for canceling the online purchase and allowing me to buy the product on the spot.

In another recent instance, I bought lunch via a popular chain restaurant’s website. The order confirmation page told me my order would be ready at 12:30PM EDT, but I subsequently received an email saying it wouldn’t be ready until 1:30PM EDT. The physical store also listed my pickup time as 1:30PM and thus didn’t have my food when I arrived at 12:30PM. It should be noted that this wasn’t because the company changed my order (for which they surely would have offered an alert or apology); it was because their various platforms were out of sync.

Inconsistent messages across channels

One of the most notorious customer experience issues, “he said, she said” is becoming an even bigger problem in the omnichannel era. With so many agents and touchpoints involved in the customer experience, there are far more opportunities for a brand’s messaging to become misaligned. It takes a tight, cohesive approach to customer centricity to ensure all agents, self-service platforms and marketing copy communicate the exact same information across all channels.

Few brands are consistently meeting that standard.

Recent example: Upon going to pick up my order at the aforementioned chain restaurant, I was told that they frequently hear about discrepancies between the time customers select and the time the order is actually ready. The issue, the employee confirmed, is that the store’s order windows fill up faster than the chain can update its website.

Upon submitting a ticket to the chain’s customer support team, I received a vastly different message. They acted as if the situation is a freak occurrence and questioned whether I had set my computer to the wrong time zone. The situation left a bad taste in my mouth; if the actual restaurant encounters this problem on a frequent basis, why would the tech team try to deflect blame? Why wouldn’t they instead apologize, offer me a coupon, and confirm a serious commitment to resolving the issue?

Inconsistent messaging is nothing new for me. In past content for CCW Digital, I shared an experience in which different bank agents told me different things about the process for dealing with a stolen card. A coworker, meanwhile, recently shared a story of a major e-commerce company offering a sizeable “make good” in chat, only to renege on its promise when he tried to follow-up on the phone.