Omnichannel customer journeys: The banana, boot or book dilemma

8th Mar 2017

Where would you buy bananas, boots or books?

I’d probably buy my bananas in-store, because I want to check how ripe or bruised they are. Boots I might want to try on and see how they look, but I might also opt to buy online and return them if they don’t fit. Books I would almost certainly buy online — either in physical or digital form.

You may have different preferences, though. We all have different goals and motivations when we buy. These are also likely to change with circumstances — if the book is a Christmas present and it’s Christmas Eve, I will probably go in-store and buy the paperback. If I have a hole in my shoe and it’s raining, buying boots online is probably not my first priority (unless I can get 30 minute delivery). If bananas are part of a big weekly shop, I’ll probably order them online.

Does this make me an omnichannel customer?

Omnichannel is probably the industry’s most over hyped word.

It’s a strange word from a customer perspective. I don’t think of myself as “Omni” anything. As a customer I have a goal – I want to buy bananas, boots or books (substitute other things beginning with other letters as required). I use the many tools available to me to get what I need. And, if you hand me a smartphone, I have all the tools I need at the flap of my fingers.

How we go about choosing and using channels is determined by a number of factors including time, risk, and convenience, as well as our goal (or intention) state.

Sadly, organisations stay resolutely siloed in their channel strategies – employees often can’t flap their fingers and connect across multiple channels. The social media team don’t talk to the phone teams, and the branch teams don’t chat to the webchat teams. This isn’t because technology platforms can’t support multiple channels on a single desktop – it’s because organisations tend to silo for planning, skills, and efficiency reasons. This tends to push a lot of effort back onto the customer as they end up trying to connect the dots that organisations can’t.

So, rather than designing channels in isolation, how do we design omnichannel customer journeys that take into account goals and intentions?

Our research typically shows that we tend to be in one of three goal modes when we deal with companies. These modes tend to drive fairly universal behaviours, regardless of age, demographic, and culture.

  • Visionary customers are positively motivated. They have a positive goal in mind, so they are willing to invest time, energy and effort in exploring options. These are often “shopper swots”, who do their homework online, and potentially in-branch or store as well. They may even enjoy the process — buying boots for a mountaineering trip, a book for your Granny’s 70th birthday, or the most succulent banana for a pancake day treat. Because these goals matter to them, they can get very risk averse. They may ask people for advice to make sure they are doing things right. The most obvious symptom of this is ‘parcel paranoia’ if they buy online — because they may worry that those boots will arrive in time for the mountaineering deadline. This can produce “counter-intuitive” behaviours amongst demographics that are regarded as “digital natives” (e.g. millennials) as they may well venture into traditional channels such as the bank branch, or retail store.
  • Utilitarians are usually neutrally motivated because they are doing routine things. This is often because they have to rather than because they want to. I don’t expect, or need, a profound and life changing experience buying a banana, or paying my water bill. Utilitarians want to get to their goal as quickly, effortlessly, and easily as possible. Utilitarians like channels and technologies that put them in control — from queue-jumping using self-scanning technologies, to online shopping lists.
  • Visionaries and utilitarians can very easily flip into a very different type of customer, though. If things go a bit pear shaped with the bananas, the boots get lost in the mail, or the book lacks a last page, I then become a customer-in-crisis. These customers are unable to get to their goal — and they tend to get a bit angry and frustrated. This turns our brains into a wobbling mass of hormones — reducing our short term memory capacity, shortening our attention span, and making us unreasonably impatient.

Automation tends to drive customers-in-crisis to distraction, particularly if it’s complicated. They often just want to hand their problem over to someone who can solve it. This often drives them to human channels. If they can’t find a phone number on the website (hidden under 52 clicks), they are likely to email (only for it to disappear into a small black hole somewhere South of Ursa Minor), or get frustrated and fire off a snarky Tweet about how useless the brand is. They expect a snappy answer back (our research suggests that 70% of us expect a response in 15 minutes).

The worst outcome here can fall into two categories. Either the customer-in-crisis never gets anything back on any channel, so they give up and go somewhere else. Or they eventually succeed in getting simultaneous answers over email, social media and the phone that all contradict each other. Neither option is particularly good from the customer or the organisation’s perspective (in the latter example one issue has just been handled three times by three different advisors at (probably) three times the cost).

How to respond

If we factor these three behaviours into customer experience journeys we can start to respond to customers in a less silo-centric way.

Some sectors may have a slightly skewed set of customer goals to contend with.

Utilities companies rarely get customers contacting them because they are in visionary or utilitarian mode – they are usually customers-in-crisis responding to water coming out of things they shouldn’t be. This kind of customer will most likely reach for the phone, because they want to talk to someone, rather than send an email.

We rarely get too tied up in the process of buying bananas or books – so many retailers and supermarkets need to design convenience and ease into their experiences for predominantly utilitarian customers.

Organisations need to decide which channels are the most appropriate to open up – remembering that the more channel doors you open, the more connecting corridors you need in the background.

Airlines can have a mixture – visionaries are going on mountaineering holidays (with a snazzy pair of new boots), utilitarians are going on business, and customers-in-crisis are both of those after their plane gets cancelled. All tend to go on different channel journeys – needing reassurance, easy access to information, or help.

Based on these customer goal modes, organisations need to decide which channels are the most appropriate to open up – remembering that the more channel doors you open, the more connecting corridors you need in the background.

Next, they need to clearly signpost customers towards the channel that is most likely to get them to their goal based on their goal mode.

Finally, tear down the channel silos and create omnichannel employees.

So the next time you buy books, boots or bananas, think about how and why you are using the channels you do, and make sure that you use that knowledge to create smooth and easy customer journeys that help visionaries, customers in crisis and utilitarians get what they need.

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