Omnichannel is a concept that, even if you’re not aware of it, you’ve likely used and benefitted from it. Consequently, if your business isn’t offering omnichannel solutions, you’re at risk of getting caught out by the competition.
Here, I want to explain why an omnichannel strategy – especially with mobile – is vital for staying competitive and avoiding user frustrations that typically cause them to look elsewhere.
What Is Omnichannel?
Omnichannel is a cross-channel strategy with a focus on integration. Rather than separate channels running parallel, but completely separate. Let me give you a perfect example of the omnichannel approach in action…
Many of you know are aware of Netflix’s streaming service, while many (like myself) have also discovered some alternatives, such as Prime Video. These platforms are built on Omnichannel architecture.
Here’s a typical example – you’re watching an episode of your favourite program on your TV when you realise that sitting on the couch isn’t comfortable enough anymore. You would much prefer a horizontal position on your bed, but there isn’t a TV in your bedroom. However, you do have a tablet with the Netflix application installed, so you can pause the episode on the TV, put on your pyjamas and jump into bed with your tablet. The first thing you see when Netflix loads up is an invitation to continue watching that same episode – click ‘play’ and you’ll even start right where you left off.
This is a great example of a considerably perfect omnichannel experience in action. So, let’s explore just what happened and why you might need to build an omnichannel environment of your own.
Why Omnichannel Is Needed
These days, people have multiple devices and often want their experience to continue as they cross from device to device. Stopping and starting again doesn’t meet their needs and could result in a poor user experience. An omnichannel strategy resolves this issue.
In some situations, users may simply be seeking a different channel for your same service. Using a streaming service as an example again, we can easily imagine a user watching a movie on PC, switching to a smartphone on the bus and a TV or tablet late at night. In this scenario, your omnichannel apps need to offer a seamless experience as users move from different devices and builds of the app itself.
Alternatively, people may be switching channels due to specific capabilities. For example, users may visit a furniture shop’s website and complete their online basket at home – however, before they make a purchase, they wish to visit the store and physically check all the items they are considering. At the end of this viewing process, they can choose to finalise the transaction online (whether it’s via their phone in store, or at home on their laptop).
This latter situation also works the other way around, as well. A shopper in-store may be looking for clothes but unable to find a specific garment. Instead, they can pick up their smartphone, open your mobile application and tap the magnifying glass icon to inspect the garment via their phone.
Aside from being perfect omnichannel retail examples, these last two points also serve another key point – that omnichannel also needs to not just provide consistency across your digital solutions, but also the physical parts of your business as well.
Omnichannel & Mobile Keep You Visible
The mobile channel is one of the most important nowadays – and this mobile world is continuing to grow. Thanks to modern technology, you are now able to do more and more things with your mobile devices. Subsequently, users are also demanding more from their favourite companies and brands. When they don’t find such an application in their phone’s respective store, or your mobile site isn’t even properly adjusted, they can very easily (and very quickly) device to choose another provider for these services.
For instance, if you are searching for a private healthcare provider, you may very well check if they provide a proper, dedicated mobile channel; something that will give you a chance to quickly send a question via chat to your doctor, such as something you forgot to ask during your normal appointment. Perhaps you want to make appointments without having to speak on the phone. These same needs also apply to banks and other businesses – users want the possibility to continue or finish processes on their mobile device.
This is a growing trend and users are consequently reaching for those companies or brands that meet this service. User expectations are rapidly rising and they want their favourite companies to keep up with technology as much as they do.
Omnichannel Engagement Should Be Seamless
It’s also highly important that switching channels is as intuitive as possible. In other words, a user which is familiar with one channel of your company – such as a specific device’s app – should feel familiar in any other.
This can be achieved in a variety of ways. You could, for example, use similar colours, names and icons, as well as order the steps in the same way for each process. This is where a consistent omnichannel UX and design expertise come in handy – even if a user has to switch apps or channels, they should still clearly know where they are and how to navigate.
Similarly, one channel may sometimes need to guide users into another one, which should be more convenience at the specific stage of the process. In these cases, a smooth and seamless transition will keep users calm and happy. On the other hand, forcing users to manually exit one app to enter another and start over again is simply counterintuitive and creates a strong negative experience.
Omnichannel Services Should Be Easy to Use
When a user is changing channels, they should find everything already set up and ready to use. For example, if they have already provided data in your mobile app and wish to call a help centre, the person who picks up on the other end should already have this information available and know who they are talking to. This should also avoid the need to ask for irrelevant information again. All of this should be convenient for the user as, this way, they will be better taken care of.
This kind of capability will also give your user a feeling of security. When all your channels are closely connected with the same design and data flow processes, users stay in one healthy sandbox – one that is created around your specific brand or company. Furthermore, it shows that you, as a company, are paying attention. It helps users feel much more confident in your brand.
Less Switching, More Omnichannel
As convenient as it is to have an omnichannel experience where users can finish certain tasks in various different channels, it’s also important to give users the possibility to do as much as possible using one channel as well. In other words, don’t force users to switch channels if it’s entirely unnecessary.
This is a strong reason why you should think your mobile application through. Smartphone technology is going further and further, so much more is now possible on a single device, such as finishing payments without leaving the app (because nobody likes being redirect into and out of a bank’s website) or adding the possibility to authenticate using biometrics, which is typically faster and safer.
As an example, we’ve recently worked on a project that includes signing contracts within the mobile application itself, which is very convenient for the user. It is also quicker, which means less time to hesitate and a better chance of user conversions from a business point of view.
On the other hand, if we hadn’t implemented this feature, users would need to exit the application and find another way – with less assurance that they will get around to it.
Don’t Forget User Expectations
Users always have expectations. It’s up to businesses to meet these, or risk losing customers to competitors that are able to better give these users what they want.
Let’s take Netflix as an example again. Users are now used having the ability to pick up watching a movie on another device without having to search through content to find it. For anyone else planning to build the next big content streaming service, these features should be working as good – if not better – as existing solutions, or potential clients won’t stay for long.
While the details change, this is true for virtually any industry and there are already some standards you have to keep up with when it comes to omnichannel best practices.
Furthermore, if your desire is to stand out from the competition, you also have to pick some of the newest technologies, or invent something new using current capabilities. For a mobile experience, this could involve the likes of Augmented Reality, which is what Lego have done. This feature – which is awesome, by the way – lets users interact with the product via AR, while the simulated items also interact with physical, real-world Lego products.
Of course, this is just one example, but you can use AR to show your products directly to the client using their mobile device. This removes some of the need to go offline (and into your store), which can be a big advantage in many cases, especially when targeting busy people or younger audiences that don’t have the time or means to get to your nearest location.
In the case of AR, it also adds a “wow” factor, helping you get more attention, just by showing something new and technologically advanced. For many people, this is an important part of their choice and the advanced nature of the respective mobile solution is highly taken into consideration.
In an omnichannel environment, this all works in your favour. If your mobile app utilises new technology, as well as any other service your users can find elsewhere in your products, it will be a very strong contender.
Keep Users under Your Brand Umbrella
To make users feel save within your company’s processes, you shouldn’t take them outside you brand when using any of your services. I mentioned making mobile payments earlier, so let’s explore that in more detail. These payments should be done within the application (taking them to the bank removes them from your branded umbrella) and should be supported by on-site chat, as well as e-mail, all of which is branded with the proper styling for your company and ensures it’s from you. With e-mails however, I also recommend sending as few as possible, because these are often functionalities that can be covered by notifications in most cases.
So, why is it important to stay under this umbrella? It makes user feel safe. If they already trust your brand, they will feel more comfortable if, for example, the payment process is integrated in your application. This trust readily converts into an increased likelihood of undertaking the desired action.
The Case for Omnichannel B2B Solutions
You may have noticed these examples focus on business to customer (B2C) services, but this is just for providing clear situations everyone is familiar with. In reality, omnichannel B2B solutions are just as prevalent and similarly vital.
As an example, I’m currently working on a project to manage a fleet vehicle. This will be a mobile application, containing most of the capabilities of the client’s web portal, which is available via PC. Fleet managers and drivers, who are already experienced with this portal, will have a familiar feeling when using the app, which is one of the key goals.
Omnichannel integration is also perfect here because, when you are a manger and responsible for various expensive vehicles, you can’t always simply turn your computer off on Friday afternoon and stay logged out until Monday morning. During the weekend, drivers will be on the move and managers (one of the apps primary user groups), need to be able to check in with drivers and their vehicles, as well as provide care and make decisions, if necessary.
To explore this topic a little deeper, it’s not just a consistent brand style and name that offers familiarity to the mobile application, but also how it is set up and how user data is processed. Once again, seamless consistency is key. Situations can easily be imagined when a user is working during the week, but needs to leave their desk and inspect a van or truck in the yard. The app will provide notifications if anything is happening, keeping the user connected to their work, while it can also use the mobile devices own capabilities to better locate a specific vehicle.
B2B Omnichannel across the Company
I’ve recently prepared a mobile application for use in factory lines, designed to measure processes and send data to be stored in the backend (which is also a custom Cloud solution, but that is a different story onto itself.) The critical factor here, however, is that our Business Analysts and Designers are working closely with key personnel within the client’s team, specifically those who were previously responsible for collecting data on paper and manually feeding it into the system.
The reason for this is that the new application needs to seamlessly work with the factory’s existing systems and also be familiar to current employees. Working with those responsible for such roles helped us ensure they would be easily able to use the final product.
Inside the company, you also need to think about comprehensive channels with access to your system, many of which handle interior processes. As the above examples show, employees often have to be on the go, so they need access on a mobile device. Yet time is also crucial, so every setup or data set needed should already be there, ready to use or review, so staff can catch on their work, regardless of device. Commercial examples of this can be seen in shared PowerPoint or Apple’s services, such as the ability to pick up writing an email when moving from iPhone to MacBook.
These solutions enable businesses to operate much more smoothly. With omnichannel capabilities, staff can access the same information and take the same actions, whether they’re on the factory floor, at a computer or elsewhere on their mobile device.
How to Implement an Omnichannel Mobile Experience
While it might seem daunting, developing an omnichannel environment or platform is not as difficult as it sounds, as you likely already have a few of the vital building blogs already.
First of all, revise which channels you already have and are using. Next, you should seek a user experience expert to help verify if you have an omnichannel experience across all of these channels. Consider everything we’ve discussed here and see if a user is able to move from one device to another without losing features, services or their position within the process.
You can then follow this up with user interviews, which can help you decide which channels to add to your services, and where people are often looking to finish processes you provide. When adding new channels, proper and effective planning is crucial.
Let’s use the mobile channel as an example – after all, it’s the one that’s closest to my heart. As I’ve also shown, it’s a vital device for virtually any business and needs to be implemented as an integral channel.
When we start a new project that requires adding a mobile channel to a client’s service – or we start building an omnichannel platform with mobile capabilities, we first meet in a workshop to talk about our initial ideas. Through this, we recognise the users and their needs, undertaking a few exercises to build user personas (a vital part of any product design process – not just mobile – and highly vital to omnichannel architecture). Personas are vital, as we want to build an application users will actually use.
Another important point is to define the business goals and prepare a user flow, to improve the app’s conversion rates. The workshop also helps us to create a backlog. When we build this, we which services (all, ideally) can be covered in the application and how it will connect with other channels.
The last thing is to discuss the design itself, as it needs to offer familiarity for users. After this, we are armed with a dedicated, compiled backlog, complete with user stories, and designs, so the development and delivery phases can begin.
I hope, after this, you’re starting to realise why omnichannel platforms are important and increasingly demanded by users. In both B2B and B2C industries, it offers a chance to offer your services in more convenient ways, giving users more possibilities to finish processes through their preferred means.
When you are starting a new business or refactoring your initial infrastructure, include this concept from the very the beginning. By preparing for omnichannel at the start, adding new channels will be much simpler and cheaper moving forward.
However, I would also like to emphasise that mobile is a “must have” channel. Users look for mobile solutions, and they expect your brand to be readily available on their device.
Last, but not least, always think about innovation. Omnichannel integration offers lots of space for improving current concepts and this is where you can stand out from the competition, offering users new ways to utilise known services. Show a new way that’s potentially simpler and more accessible to get the same results.
In short? Stand out, be visible and meet your business goals.
Omnichannel strategies ensure users can jump from device to device with a seamless experience – but mobile should still be a central part of the experience. The more users can access on the go, and pick up at their leisure elsewhere, the better your services will meet their modern needs.