People are channels too: How staff deliver omnichannel experience

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Much has been written about the changes need to execute omnichannel, but little about the need for an evolution of people. 

A new type of sales person is required for the omnichannel age. They are empowered, passionate actors who provide more than an ability to close deals. They shape the experience that your customer desires and are the physical personification of your brand. They are just as important in B2B as they are in B2C retail. Whilst much has been written about the technology, marketing and C-suite changes needed to execute a winning omnichannel strategy; very little has been discussed about the need for an evolution of frontline sales people. Allow me to start the discussion and speak for the [sales] people...

Delivering the experience through people

In order to best serve customers who are happy to swap channels at a moments notice, sales and store staff need developing along five dimensions as set out in diagram 1.

Diagram 1: Omnichannel store staff and sales improvement dimensions

  1. Knowledge: Specific product knowledge is vital. So is an understanding of competitor products and value propositions. If the representative in front of the customer can't explain it then the customer can find out for themselves at home or via their mobile. Obviously even the best store person or sales rep isn't going to know everything. Therefore mobile and easy to access knowledge management systems are an absolute must.
  2. Passion: Store staff and sales reps need to be passionate about creating the brand experience. Customer experiences need to vary depending on what the customer wants. When I'm fuelling my car I want the experience to be fast and efficient. However, if I'm in the Lego store with my family I expect the experience to be engaging and memorable. Similarly, if I'm in the market for a multi-million pound CRM project, I expect the experience to be simple, professional and collaborative.
  3. Tools: Based on the knowledge requirements, do your reps have the right tools available to them? Can they check prices and stock availability instantly? Can they look up the price on Amazon and then make a counter offer based on the customer's profile? Can they allow the customer to purchases on the spot rather than having to join the end of a queue?
  4. Role: When you walk around Disney's theme parks you'll notice signs saying "Cast Members Only". Whether they're dressed as Cinderella or sweeping horse poop after the parade, each "cast" member is an actor in the visitor's experience. People who represent your brand need to understand that they're part of a broader omnichannel experience and how to fulfil their role in it.
  5. Measurement: Controversial as this may sound, it is unfair in the omnichannel age to measure sales people on sales alone. Particularly when there are competing digital transaction routes available. Instead, measures need to relate to efficiency, ability to create positive experiences, quality of demonstration or contribution to other channel sales.


Changes required

Primarily I write about digital, innovation and marketing. This topic touches each of these points. Digital is the cause of the change. We live in an age of hyper-connected consumers. Innovation is applied through the harnessing of technology to improve the knowledge and abilities of sales reps. Finally, marketing is the matching of market expectations with the assets and capabilities of the business.

In this instance, human resources is the primary agent of change. For frontline staff to achieve the five dimensions above, HR must shape a new training, rewards and recruitment regime. Change is never easy and is complicated further by the emotional issues of reshaping job roles. It is my belief though that frontline staff will leap at the opportunity to be recognised as a crucial part of the experience.

Diagram 2: Old vs New world - the effect of omnichannel on sales people

The transition from the Old to the New world of Omnichannel (diagram 2) is not about automating or reducing frontline staff. It's about empowering them to be the best customer agents they can be through training, information and tools. It should allow them far greater flexibility, personality and creativity in their roles.

Innovate to avoid disruption

New technology increases the hazard of disruption in markets. Fact.

The technology that allows omnichannel experiences is here and is becoming ubiquitous. Harnessing this technology is the most effective way to deal with the threat of disruption. What better place to start with this adoption of technology than at the coalface where your sales reps or store staff are transacting but creating experiences.

Omnichannel should offer the customer the same experience across all channels (diagram 3). Now is the time to bring physical sales up to par with the information and price comparison offered by web-based channels.

Diagram 3: Omnichannel should offer the same experience regardless of channel choice

David Sealey is passionate about disruptive innovation through digital technologies and marketing. He works for Capgemini UK's Digital Services team designing enterprise level marketing, experience and service solutions. You can connect with David via LinkedIn and Twitter.

About David Sealey

About David Sealey

David is Head of Digital Consulting at CACI and founder of the blog Storm81 on digital strategy and transformation.


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22nd May 2013 09:13

Comment on this article from the MyCustomer LinkedIn Community

This is a great article. Staff play the most important role of all in the omnichannel experience - if they're not bought into it and committed to delivering it, then the experience will never happen. I've seen many 'best intention' strategies fall completely flat due to poor execution, most notably due to lack of employee engagement. Yet that's where it needs to start.

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22nd May 2013 09:14

Comment on this article from the MyCustomer LinkedIn Community

People make the biggest difference. The Contact Centre is the hub of the omni-channel experience, providing the assistance and advice to customers on whichever channel they seek it - WebChat, Social Media, email, mobile etc. - see my 'Smarter Channels paper which explains it further - . The Omni-channel leaders have already recognised this and are re-thinking how their structure to remove the old organisational 'silos' that are a barrier to providing a seamless customer experience.

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23rd May 2013 15:58

Comment on this article from the MyCustomer LinkedIn Community

And people wonder why customer experience has a credentials problem in business when we invent words like 'omnichannel'

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23rd May 2013 16:00

That's a good point, Paul - and one that we've addressed on this community before

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23rd May 2013 16:23

Comment on this article from the MyCustomer LinkedIn Community

Just looked through your post. Looks good. Maybe you could write an article about the total amount fo BS around customer experience. The amounts of new words I come across each day is beyond depressing. You know it's bad when you're introduced as saying 'I'm from Customer Experience' only to see everyone's eyes roll

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23rd May 2013 16:27

It's definitely an issue that blights many - most? - areas of business these days. Are the vendors to blame? Is it the analysts/consultants? Or, dare I say it, the media? 

It's a particular problem for customer experience at the moment, as it hasn't long shaken off its reputation for 'fluffiness'. 

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