Best Practices for Multi-Channel e-commerce

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Once upon a time, e-commerce was straightforward enough. You created a website, populated it with your products or services, passed around the URL, and waited for the customers to come (at least that’s how it seems in hindsight, from a much more complex playing field).

But that was before the confluence of the technology explosion, and evolving consumer behavior and expectations changed the rules forever. Today, customers come at you through a rapidly expanding array of channels, using a rapidly expanding arsenal of devices. And, in a very real sense, the success of your business hangs on your customers’ experience at every touchpoint, because the need for each customer experience to be an excellent one has never been greater.

In 2016, the customer expects nothing less than excellence, and that expectation remains constant across every channel they might use in connecting with you. They want a seamless, personal, and satisfactory experience at every step of the way, and the businesses that provide them with that are the ones that will thrive in our hyper-competitive world. In a global marketplace where countless businesses can provide the same products at competitive prices, the quality of the customer experience is quickly becoming the main way for a business to differentiate itself.

But that, of course, is easier said than done, in an environment where even a single customer is likely to use multiple channels during the course of a single transaction, from preliminary research through final purchase.

Bridging the divide to offer a seamless experience

Every time a customer connects with you, by whichever way or whatever channel, there’s yet another “once upon a time” being written. You and the customer are, in effect, collaborating on the creation of a story, the story of the customer’s experience with your company. The trick is to make sure that story is a happy one.

A study by Microsoft reveals why: 66 percent of consumers surveyed said they are willing to spend more money with a company that offers them a top quality customer experience. On the other hand, 60 percent said they had backed out of a transaction-in-progress because the experience was a poor one.

Even a routine customer interaction these days is likely to involve multiple channels, as a recent blog post from nanorep, a leader in guiding multi-channel e-commerce, maps out. That puts a new burden on businesses to ensure consistency and quality on every channel, from social media to mobile apps, email support, self-service web functions, live telephone conversations, and more.

That may be one thing when designing a multi-channel e-commerce system from scratch, but few businesses in the real world have grown like that. More commonly, each element has been created independently of the others, and the look, functionality, and customer experience may differ greatly from one channel to another. That pattern of development is only natural given the speed of technological progress, but it can also be a prescription for frustration on the consumer’s part.

Returning to the nanorep example, if a customer’s story begins with an inquiry on a social media site and then continues through additional channels, best practices require that the experience as a whole – the story – must be integrated, personalized, and seamless. That is possible, even imperative, even when the various channels have grown in separate silos, thanks to holistic software solutions that integrate the customer experience at each stop.

In the post, Nanorep takes its fictitious customer through an all-encompassing CX journey, with stops or touchpoints at just about every conceivable channel, in each instance walking the reader through a best-case experience.

When the customer turns to the company’s Facebook page with a question, she gets an immediate (and helpful) response. When she turns next to the website and a self-help service widget there, by simply typing her question into a “Need help” box, she gets real-time access to the information she needs – on her own terms and in her own time. Customers get one hundred percent accuracy one hundred percent of the time.

A holistic, multi-channel system extends that success by making sure, for example, that responses from live telephone reps and social media chatbots are grounded in the same product information and understanding of the customer’s wishes. The customer can count on prompt, informed, and consistent information, whether contacting the company by way of a messaging app, a tweet, or an email.

The end of the story

When it’s done right, multi-channel e-commerce is nothing less than the best way to guide the customer’s story through the scenes and chapters that will lead to a happy ending every time. And a happy ending for the customer can only be a happy ending for the business as well, as it builds loyalty with the brand, has them coming back for more, and turns them into enthusiastic brand ambassadors.