Some of the most interesting innovations in multi-channel retailing are an extremely light touch from the consumer’s point of view. For instance if I’ve bought an iPod from the Apple store and I want to return it online, how do they make that work? It’s not by any complex network of DSS-style computing network to make sure I fall in this or that group of customers. It’s the serial number on the back. Indeed the in-store experience was adapted to bring it inline with the web.
And how does Apple deal with the issue of price tiering and product availability between online, their stores, franchises and other outlets? By having the world’s simplest product range and staff who really couldn’t care less where you end up buying the product. That’s a multi-channel strategy.
The challenge as soon as you start collecting huge chunks of customer data and deploying them for the customer’s benefit, is that they will start to get a little concerned about what you’re doing. What would customers think if a pimply young member of the sales team popped up to them in a store and said ‘sir I see you almost completed a customer survey on our site’ or ‘you know that banner you clicked on yesterday…’
Still in many areas, we want or need the people we’re speaking with to have this knowledge and to use it wisely.
Some of the leading exponents of this approach, like Nationwide and First Direct, are using CRM tools to initially make sure that they know at least as much as their customers about what they are saying to their customers.
Consider this example. I’ve been sent a piece of paper by my bank telling me about a new offer on loans. I go to the branch and say to the staff, ‘you know that loan you wrote to me about’? They say? Probably: ‘which one was that?’.
Or I tell someone in a branch that I’ve been on the phone to customer services about how to deal with a lost pass book. What’s their likely response? Probably: ‘what did they say?’
Do customers mind the call-center staff knowing what the branch staff have been saying to you? Do they mind you knowing what you were doing on the website? Clearly some behaviours could set the big brother alarms ringing.
Like all interactions, we need to map back the customer’s expectations to their mental model of how the organization works. So if I do a formal application online (and finish the process) then it’s reasonable for the counter staff to be able to pick that off their systems. However, if I have a casual chat with one of the staff in branch, I probably don’t want to be reminded of it next time I log in to the website. That doesn’t mean that information can’t be used, but it should be used very sensitively.
Once we’ve established the limits of what customers find natural today, we can start mining the cross-channel opportunities in earnest, modifying our conversations at all stages to provide the best information to customers and close sales early.
It’s all business benefit too, but we need to avoid confusing ourselves and our customers.