2017 is going to be the breakout year for omni channel communications. Retailers have been talking about omni channel relationships for years, but it was only in mid to late 2016 that omni channel communications started getting noticed in other industries.
Which means, like social media marketing a decade ago, a lot of people are going to be asked and asking—"So, what’s our omni channel communications strategy/plan/direction/thinking?” And, just like ten years ago, there will be a lot of "I’m not sure, let me get back to you…” followed by frantic Google searches.
Let us save you a little time with a few basics about omni channel communications and how to plan for bringing it into your company.
Start with the Marketer’s Guide to Omnichannel Communications
If you need a primer on omni channel communications, our Marketers’ Guide to Omnichannel Communications ebook is a great place to start. The Marketer’s guide ebook is an expanded compilation of our Marketer’s Guide series of blog posts:
You might also like to check out our omnichannel readiness post and take our quick quiz to help you see where you stand.
Once you have the basics covered about what omni channel is, then it’s time to figure out the how for your company.
There’s a big difference between omnichannel and multi-channel communications
As we covered in Integrating Omnichannel Communications into your existing Infrastructure, mutli-channel communications is when you use more than one communications tool to connect with your customers. However in the multi-channel world, those channels might not be linked together. You might not know if a customer had already emailed, phoned, or sent a text to another department when you contact them. We’ve all experienced this when we call or email a company and one department can’t see notes others made.
In an omnichannel world, you’re using multiple channels to engage with customers, but all systems are interlinked so everything is treated like a single conversation and interaction—which customers already believe it is.
The essential part of implementing omnichannel communications is breaking down communications siloes. You can’t have any part of the communications flow or conversation matrix outside of the system. Remember, customers already see communicating with you, regardless of how, as a single conversation. Omnichannel communications only work if you see it that way too.
Business processes have to change to make omnichannel communications a success
In many companies, different departments "own" communications channels with customers. Marketing might be in charge of the product newsletter. Sales, the lead nurture flow. Customer Experience or Support for calls and emails (into support). Even if you’re pulling your data from a single source like a CRM, replies to newsletters (if you can reply at all) for support get responses like: “Please email firstname.lastname@example.org (not a real email, obviously) and they can open a ticket for you.” or a sales question receives “Contact your account manager for help with this.” Why can’t emails with support related trigger words just get queued to support? Why can’t a reply from a customer asking for sales help just appear in the account manager’s inbox?
Most of the time the answer is: "well, it just can’t" and we believe “it just can’t” isn’t good enough anymore. There are systems than can learn and manage these kinds of tasks. If a customer replies to a newsletter with “could you help me with…” chances are it will need to go to support or sales. Omnichannel workflows manage incoming calls that automatically pull customer data up for representatives. An SMS from a certain number can go right to an account rep or support (depending on the message). Omnichannel isn’t complicated, it just takes thinking about what customers expect will happen, and making it happen.
All customer-facing departments need to realize that they all have a stake in getting new customers and keeping existing ones happy. This isn’t a problem that technology can solve—people have to clear this hurdle first. Want an example of companies taking customers seriously? Jason Fried of Basecamp announced that in 2017 customer refunds come out of his paycheque. Imagine that kind of dedication to customers in your company. That if a customer leaves the CEO pays the price. Once your company realizes that customer communications are everyone’s responsibility, it’s easier to integrate all the channels into an omni solutions.
Omni doesn’t mean all the tools
Keep in mind that starting with omnichannel communications doesn’t mean you need to use all communications channels at once, start with the ones that you do offer and integrate them. If you only offer voice and email right now, integrate those before bringing in push and SMS. Want to add chat to your existing tools then expand? Great, but make sure that you have those internal processes and technology all set first.
It’s better to start slowly and integrate the tools you’re familiar with before trying to pull push messages into chats and emails when you’re trying to get a handle on SMS and email.
Now make a plan
With the concepts in your head, it’s time to start making your omnichannel plan. We’ve created an Omnichannel Implementation Strategy template to help you get started. You can download it for free to start on your own strategy. Each tab is a step in creating your strategy. Here’s how to use each tab.
Inventory: use this tab to list all the communications tools and channels you’re using right now. For something like email, where several different groups all use it, put in a line for each group. In the workbook the examples show that Marketing, Support, and Sales all use email to reach people, and each with a different desired outcome. It’s important to have a complete picture of your tools and channels before you tackle the project.
Stakeholders: Who needs to be involved. From the inventory you can see which departments are communicating with people, but now map out who is responsible. Include not just the people doing the work, but also the people who need to approve content and who needs to be kept in the loop.
Integrations: How are your systems going to talk with the omni system and each other? Sometimes it’s easy with a plugin or API, other times it’s more complicated. Now is when you need to identify potential obstacles. This is also where budget raises its head. Some services charge for access to their API or you might need to buy a third-party plugin to connect one service to another.
Other tools: Anything you missed? How does social media fit into your communications mix? Are there other tools that have customer information and data you need to plan for?
Phases: When are you putting each part into place. Even if you use a separate project management tool, you can use this workbook as a guidepost for stakeholders later on. This is another place for budgeting. If you need outside help to integrate or adding new services add new costs—like sending SMS messages to customers—plan now or have a unpleasant surprise later.
Messaging: Now look at the kinds of messages you want to send and plan out who gets what message when. This sheet can be used post implementation to manage your omni communications campaigns as well.
Process trumps technology
You notice that we haven’t talked about technology at all in this post. Technology is actually the (relatively) easy part. Omnichannel communications solutions are designed to make the technology part of the equation easy. However, embracing omni channel communications technologies requires also embracing the fact that all customers—potential and existing—are everyone’s responsibility. You can’t treat customers in silos. It’s not how you like to be treated as a customer, so don’t treat your customers like that.
Getting started is easy
After reading this brief introduction into starting your new omnichannel program, you want to get started with omni, get in touch with us and we can help you assess your needs, complete your strategy, and prepare for implementation.