Years ago, the customer experience began when someone picked up the phone or walked into a store. Today, thanks to constant Internet connectivity that’s never more than an arm’s length away, the customer experience typically starts earlier and includes more touchpoints and interactions over the course of the customer journey. These smaller experiences shape the perceptions that determine whether someone will continue to buy from your company. This is why the customer experience is the number one priority for CEOs in 2017, according to Gartner.
The customer experience is especially critical in the retail and hospitality sectors, which are under pressure to deliver an omni-channel customer experience that integrates face-to-face interactions and experiences with online capabilities. The omni-channel customer experience is similar to the concept of omni-channel retail in which the customer expects a seamless, consistent shopping experience whether they shop in a store or online. Omni-channel retail makes it possible for the customer to shop how, when and where they want.
Although retail and hospitality organizations have offered online services for years, they’re now realizing that their physical branch locations are perhaps their most important competitive differentiator when it comes to delivering an exceptional customer experience. Branch locations represent an enormous opportunity to engage customers in a personal, meaningful way, but the physical branch must be integrated with other stops on the customer journey, such as the company website, mobile app and social media channels.
In retail, an omni-channel customer experience may involve a store associate using a tablet to recommend different garments to complete an outfit or to process a mobile payment. Whether the customer makes a purchase in the store or online, the retailer can follow up by automatically texting a personalized offer to the customer.
In hospitality, home delivery service is quickly growing in popularity for restaurants and cafés. Beyond mobile payments, restaurants are using mobile to deliver time and price promises and enable table-based ordering and recommendations. Beacons allow restaurants to identify customers as they arrive and send them offers based on order history. Hotels are using mobile to increase engagement by offering recommendations and offers for spa bookings, room service and concierge service. Customers can check in and out and redeem loyalty rewards via mobile.
Increasing IT capabilities in branch locations is critical to delivering an omni-channel customer experience, even though this may seem at odds with traditional perceptions of branch IT. Historically, branch IT has been viewed as costly and difficult to manage. In some cases, cost and management difficulties have held back customer engagement initiatives.
Most retail and hospitality organizations are recognizing that the branch network is critical to customer satisfaction and loyalty. However, legacy branch IT solutions weren’t created with omni-channel in mind. In the next post, we’ll discuss how changing requirements have created complexity in branch IT, and how to manage this complexity in a world of increasing competition and razor-thin profit margins.