Millennial Expectations and the Omni Channel Experience
The Market Channel Revolution
If history has taught us one important lesson, it is that change never comes easy.
In stagnant markets, revolutions are sure to arise. Often beginning with consumer discontent, these revolts have the potential to wash away market staleness and stimulate a new era of innovation.
Make no mistake: A revolution is upon us right now. A new era in customer relationship management has arrived to remove the old, archaic methods of the past.
We are experiencing a market channel revolution.
A shift in values has visibly manifested in the relationship between customer and company. It is here that a change in control has occurred, and as such, traditional marketing paradigms will soon be obsolete. The limits of the customer-company business relationship are no longer controlled and dictated by producers. Today, businesses cannot justify marketing efforts exclusively focused on isolated channels.
Because channel movement is no longer limited by technology. Today’s world is the world of the digital age. Today’s market is the market of Millennials. The “trillion-dollar generation” was born with a smartphone in one hand and a tablet in the other. Customers now have the ability to travel seamlessly from one channel to another, facilitating simultaneous and multi-channel interactions on a whim.
Does this impact consumer expectations?
In one word – YES.
Customers (i.e., Millennials) now hold the expectation that no matter where they are, and no matter their preferred method of interaction at that moment, touchpoint channels will seamlessly integrate through advanced technology. The margin of error is small, but the potential for success is limitless.
Out of this revolution, the “Omni Channel” was born.
What Is the Omni Channel?
The Omni Channel concept represents the notion that customer expectations are “on demand.” Traditional cross-channel customer interactions now are looped on repeat, a “Groundhog Day” for the digital era.
If Customer Y desires a new TV, he or she no longer goes to the local electronics store, asks for in-person assistance, browses models and makes a selection. In the digital age, Customer Y is conducting research, engaging with prior purchasers, pitting company against company, price against price and updating social networks all in real time!
With Omni Channel solutions a customer/client interaction will occur within each channel of the customer journey. How can businesses ensure positive Return on Investment (ROI) within each Omni Channel segment?
Focus on customer experience!
The Millennial Experience – From Research to Purchase to Product Review
Perhaps the most telling Millennial characteristic is the preference for meaningful experiences over tangible “things.” These experiences have a tendency to be communal, tech savvy and full of real value. In order to ensure maximum ROI for all Omni Channel segments, companies must provide an experience that reflects the Millennial notion of value.
How should you begin addressing the challenge of Millennial demands?
Let’s review a few important Omni Channel best practices:
1) Go mobile!
The successful implementation of mobile application platforms is perhaps the most crucial determiner of Omni Channel success. Customers, especially Millennials, use their mobile devices as a social extension of their mind, body and soul.
How many ounces in a quart? Google it! What movies are playing tonight? Google it! What are consumers saying about that new computer? Google it!
Today’s customers have the ability to both start and finish purchases solely on their mobile devices. The incentive to do so is high and, more often than not, is motivated by convenience. It is for this exact reason that mobile platforms are key to an effective Omni Channel experience. Businesses should also strive to include interactive chat assistance on their mobile platforms. Customers desire multiple levels of efficient customer service across all segments. A 1-800 customer service number no longer suffices with today’s diverse market.
For in-store purchases, mobile payment options should be made available as well. Like their generational elders, today’s purchasers are still inclined to make in-store visits. However, the key difference is that millennials are now accessing real-time information via their mobile devices while they purchase! From discounts to reviews to product information, the desire to consistently be informed is an essential part of their Omni Channel experience
Additional mobile options to consider include mobile payment applications and rewards plans. It is documented that Millennials are more willing to promote brands that reward them for their loyalty. “Check-ins” and “social tags” can expose businesses to wider market segments and can be achieved through interactive discount or rewards programs. Global market analysts predict that mobile payments in the U.S. will triple this year alone, with Millennials leading the way as early adopters. Mobile payment applications and reward programs are simple strategies that allow companies to attract more shoppers and simultaneously attain additional exposure benefits (as we shall soon see with Starbucks).
Remember, time is a valuable currency in the digital age. Mobile platforms with Millennial-inspired perks and efficient customer assistance will add value and help customers save more than just dollars.
2) Create User Segments and Respond Effectively
Understanding diverse target markets is key to creating responsive Omni Channel segments. This is achieved through data point research, analysis and automation software. By employing software solutions such as Customer Data Management from NectarOM, businesses can capture customer data and build profiles containing a wealth of information. Once you obtain customer profiles, you can begin to engineer your Omni Channel to cater to specific user preferences.
For example, 25- to 35-year-old Millennial males working in finance are likely to have different experience preferences when compared to 35- to 45-year-old fathers from Generation X. Depending on which audience you are targeting, you will likely highlight different portions and aspects of your Omni Channel experience. If knowledge is power, consumer data is a powerful tool to help you build success through strategic market segmentation.
Another important Omni Channel strength is the ability to be responsive to users across multiple platforms and throughout the entire life of a purchase. Eighty-six percent of Americans ages 18-29 own a smartphone. Twenty-eight percent of Millennials use their smartphones to shop online. As consumers are increasingly engaging companies across multiple platforms, businesses must equally engage their customers and sync their channels. A classic example would be that of the “shopping cart.” If a user initiates the purchase process on their tablet and places an item in their shopping cart, that item should remain in their shopping cart and be accessible across all channels (i.e., laptop, tablet and mobile device).
User responsiveness and market segmentation are techniques from the Omni Channel toolbox that can help ensure efficiency in the face of market demands and provide a solid foundation for positive customer experiences.
3) Develop Consistency
Rounding out our Omni Channel best practices, we find consistency.
Consistency hails from the same family tree as responsiveness but stands out as unique in its implementation. Channel functionality across multiple platforms should indeed be responsive (i.e., items remaining in the shopping cart), but each channel must also be homogeneous (color patterns, user options, function locations, etc.).
For example, if a client pauses a purchase activity on their phone, with the intent to resume later that day on their tablet, the general layout and functionality of the new channel should remain more or less the same. If the “My Orders” option is located under the “My Account” tab when shopping with an iPhone, it should remain in the same location when shopping with an iPad.
However, this isn’t always the case.
A recent retail industry survey from TimeTrade revealed a significant disconnect between consumers and companies. More than half of the 100 retail company decision makers surveyed for the 2016 study held the impression that their companies provided “a consistent experience across all channels.” Yet, only 26% of the 5,000 consumers surveyed for the same study actually agreed.
How can businesses reconcile this difference between perception and reality?
Here are two simple starter strategies:
- Commit to frequent data updates across all platforms.
- Consolidate data distribution channels.
This two-prong approach is intended to advance the value creation process. As product data and customer experiences are both living, breathing elements of the Omni Channel, systems should be implemented that leverage data from multiple sources. Whether via internal applications or through third-party solutions, pertinent data should undergo automated distribution processes in order to ensure uniform circulation across all channels.
A truly shining example of 360-degree Omni Channel engagement is observed in the typical experience of a Starbuck’s Coffee customer. When it comes to integrating all three of the aforementioned best practices and creating a truly stimulating Omni Channel experience, Starbucks Coffee stands alone.
Let’s take a quick look!
Starbucks – A Unique Omni Channel Experience
At the core of the Starbucks Omni Channel experience is the notion of value. In a simple, yet effective manner, Starbucks has engineered recurring customer loyalty through its rewards program. Customer engagements are effortlessly integrated between multiple platforms and channel levels. From mobile applications to physical locations to social media, customers are encouraged to move seamlessly from platform to platform and share their experiences along the way. Further highlighting the notion of customer integration, Starbucks customers even have the option of sharing their ideas online and collectively voting for change.
Where does a typical Starbucks engagement start and end? With the mobile app.
The Starbucks App and Rewards Program
While physical purchase locations will likely always remain the most important channel for markets in the food and beverage industry, Starbucks has expertly added enhanced value through their mobile application and rewards program. Customers using the mobile app can link it to their rewards card and, in turn, they are offered additional benefits that integrate and add value to the act of purchasing a coffee. This value serves to incentivize users to make recurring purchases.
Some of the linkage benefits include:
- Ability to order and pay
- Barista tipping capabilities
- Reward Points monitoring
- Ability to add funds to account (via PayPal integration)
Basic channel functionality at its finest.
Need more? Ok, here’s more. You can check what songs are playing in the store you are in! In real time!
The mobile application integrates with Spotify, allowing customers to download the playlist, create suggestions and share songs through social media. It is a complete integration of the most crucial elements of any successful Omni Channel: physical location, mobile application, social networking and the customer.
To further emphasize the importance of seamless channel integration, look no further than the numbers reported by Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, in March of this year. During his Q1 call, Schultz informed analysts that 21% of all U.S. Starbucks transactions are by mobile payment.
Twenty-one percent of $3.7 billion in U.S. revenues!
With a willingness to meet value expectations, a knack for mobile innovation and seamless and consistent channel integration, expect Starbucks to continue to lead the way in Omni Channel value in the digital age.
As you can see, the marketing channel revolution of today is all about value.
If you integrate, innovate and meet the mobile needs of your markets, the Omni Channel experience your customers crave will organically arise and ensure success in the digital age.