Is omnichannel enough to transform the customer experience?
Omnichannel has dominated both strategic thinking and technology investment for the past decade. But to what end, asks Richard Farnworth, the UK country manager of Axway, who outlines the findings of recent IDC research into the importance of the ecosystem in the customer experience.
Not only have the majority of organisations failed to achieve omnichannel objectives, including the single customer view, but only a handful consider omnichannel to deliver competitive advantage. The fact is that while customer experience is key to strategic differentiation and providing competitive advantage in the face of digital disruptors, omnichannel strategies are not delivering the quality of experience required. Technical challenges have derailed many attempts at achieving the omnichannel vision, but there is another key constraint: omnichannel is too inward focused. Organisations need to embrace a far more outward led approach, embracing Customer Experience Networks (CXN) that comprise all the stakeholders in the customer journey.
How long can organisations continue to invest in omnichannel strategies? While the concept of seamlessly tying all channels together to deliver a consistent customer experience makes sense in theory, in practice it is incredibly tough to achieve. According to a recent study, The Role of Customer Experience Networks in Delivering Value-Based Digital Transformation, undertaken by IDC on behalf of Axway, just 31% of respondents had managed to implement omnichannel systems. Furthermore, four in ten companies report their omnichannel systems fail to provide a unified and real-time view of customer experience.
Even more concerning for businesses globally is that despite the prioritised investment and a focus on omnichannel over the past decade, few can point to any strategic value. Only 14% consider omnichannel to be a key differentiator and source of competitive advantage; conversely, 22% say it is just a necessary cost of doing business.
What has gone wrong? Technically, omnichannel has proved to be far more challenging than perhaps many organisations expected, with companies struggling to pull together diverse business units with different data siloes and customer views. From ensuring secure data movement across the channel networks, to using real-time customer data feeds to dynamically update customer profiles and integrating omnichannel data into legacy enterprise data management systems, organisations have failed to overcome a number of significant technical challenges. But they have also struggled to overcome the barriers between different lines of business objective and create a more collaborative business mindset.
The result, in addition to corporate frustration and a lack of ROI, is an inconsistent customer experience. And this is the key: while omnichannel may not have delivered, customer experience remains imperative and now replaces product and price as a means to create brand value, distinctiveness and strategic differentiation.
Customer experience networks
Given the overwhelming technical challenge and the increasingly debatable business benefits, there is growing recognition that omnichannel is not the answer to achieving the optimal customer experience. The research revealed that customer experience, a single customer data view, and customer journeys are all rated as significantly more important as digital initiatives than omnichannel management.
This shift in thinking also reveals a change in focus from inward out towards outward in, with organisations increasingly considering the ecosystem of customers and business partners to be an essential source of innovation. Indeed, there is growing recognition of the value of Customer Experience Networks (CXN), where an organisation connects and embraces co-innovation from entities in a customer’s journey, including customers, employees, business partners and suppliers to deliver improved customer experiences and customer journeys.
With a focus on real-time response and customer centric innovation across the customer journey, oganisations are looking to leverage the CXN as a digital nerve system that responds to customer experiences and collaborates to achieve continual improvement. Almost one third (32%) of large enterprises currently operate CXN and another 29% plan to operate CXN by 2020 – and, unlike omnichannel, CXN investments are already delivering measurable business value. 68% of companies operating CXN have increased revenue streams and 53% have benefitted from new distribution channels.
New thinking to realise CXN
A fundamental aspect of this collaboration and CXN co-innovation is the creation of network connections and scalable customer experience networks that facilitate collaboration and data sharing, enabled by new application programme interface (API) capabilities.
Right now, most of the APIs and networks are internally focused; however, with the move away from inward focused development and strategy towards outward focused and a desire to bring the customer in to the business rather than pushing products or services out, organisations are increasingly looking to move to the next stage of development. APIs will be increasingly used to connect all ecosystem partners and customers into a wider network that goes beyond the traditional frontiers of the business. Indeed, almost half (49%) of survey respondents believe APIs are really important in delivering innovation and collaboration throughout CXNs.
Furthermore, the perception of APIs purely as an integration technology is changing, with a focus on business context set to become the key driver of API adoption. As such, APIs are no longer the preserve of IT, perceived only as an integration technology that enables data sharing. Instead, there is growing evidence that APIs are being considered a source of business value and a way to provide customer led innovation.
Traditional approaches to delivering improved, relevant and timely customer experience are broken. With digital disruptors proliferating in every industry, organisations need to find a way to compete and gain competitive advantage. And omnichannel is no longer the answer. CXNs provide a chance to accelerate innovation and leverage a strong ecosystem to create a truly customer centric organisation that can deliver an optimal customer experience. They also provide a way to respond fast to the new breed of digital disruptors by exploring new revenue streams and business channels.
The challenge for organisations is no longer technology but to embrace a collaborative culture at the heart of the CXN. It is with this vision and strategic model that the IT layer – the API – can rapidly become the enabler for the outward in approach that facilitates collaboration and delivers that optimal customer experience.