By Shayna Stewart | July 2nd, 2019

Omni-channel — it's one of the most overused terms in our day, and one we should all agree to sunset.

I respect what it was trying to explain when it was first coined in the early 2000s (or before?) — to be on all channels, all the time — but so much has changed since then that the concept is obsolete.

In the context of the best strategies out there today, to be “Omni-Channel” is a HUGE mistake for two critical reasons:

  • Firstly, it does not make sense to be on all channels broadcasting disconnected information about yourself.
  • Secondly, the word “channel” doesn’t make sense to use anymore because that is not how your customers view the word.

What you really need is a Smart Consumer Experience (Smart CX for short).

Let's see why.

Smart CX: the Anti-Omni Strategy

Presenting your brand on all channels all the time is a highly inefficient way to gain eyeballs. While it may boost impressions, it won't lead to desired actions.

An omni-channel approach is often what brand use when they don’t know how to reach their customers or potential customers.

Smart CX is the anti-omni strategy, challenging brands to know where their customers or potential customers are and come up with a curated strategy around reaching them.

The best way to uncover how to reach customers with the lens of Smart CX is to root your product strategy in a custom consumer journey. In this work you will uncover the broad steps someone will take to a desired action (most likely a purchase in the space your brand is in).

Within each broad consumer journey step, you should outline the customer's needs, motivations, and their emotional highs and lows to empathize with what your potential customer will go through each step of the way.

Being everywhere at once is inauthentic. That's why omni-channel feels automated. Customers today have an amazing bull***t radar. So to be there for your customers when they need you most is the sweet spot.

Smart CX: To understand your customers, think and talk like them

Have you ever said outloud, or even thought, “I’m now entering the Facebook channel.” No, because people don't think in 'channels,' and brands shouldn't either.

The main issue with a channel strategy is that people don’t necessarily discern between a website or finding information from a post or blog. Information is information. It needs to be served up when it’s relevant, not hidden or confined to a specific channel.

Employing Smart CX means carefully creating a system for the information that is provided, when it is provided, and in the best experience to provide that information. Consider these tools with regard to information delivery:

  • If a user already has your app, then generally you should surface information through that property.
  • If a user has no knowledge of you, you should have a strategy to answer their specific question, likely through web property.
  • In addition, you should also have a good answer as to how your app and web properties work together.

You can think of your Smart CX strategy as well curated art shows. You put thought into the artists that were chosen, the diversity of art mediums, the specific walls where the art is hung, the types of attendees you will invite, and the flow of the attendees throughout the space during the main event.

There's process. There's intentionality. And there's a desired result.

The Four Components of Smart CX

In order to innovate, you need a framework to help benchmark yourself against industry standards. This is where defining Smart CX components becomes important.

It can be used to evaluate your current product and your upcoming feature list so that teams can understand if the product is adhering to best practices (in this industry, this means customer expectations).

Here’s how the best practices shake out.

1/Simplistic: Is this the simplest way to convey my content?

This can be a difficult one for people who are experts in their respective fields. Often times what’s important to an expert is not important to a layperson. In fact, details that are important to experts typically detract from the decisioning with a layperson.

There are two pillars that fall under simplicity:

  1. Language that is easy to understand / non-expert specific jargon (unless your audience is an expert audience);
  2. Design in which only the most important is shown.

Take Robinhood vs. eTrade for example.

Robinhood is a new player in the online trading industry. They built their experience around making it easier for young people to get into trading by removing barriers to entry and an exceedingly simple design.

Their insight was that the current companies make it difficult for new-to-be traders to understand how to trade, therefore, keep people out of the market.

Robinhood's business strategy was going after those people who wouldn’t have entered the market, but what ended up happening was that 75% of their user base were already traders on other platforms.

So how was it that they cannibalized their competitors market share, given that wan't part of their original business strategy?

The key was their sleek, intuitive designs along with plain and simple English. You can see within their trading flow that there is minimal information provided and the screens are broken up so that the trader can process one step at a time.

When directly compared to eTrade, there is an extreme language and visual difference:

eTrade has a cluttered interface chock full of highly technical terms and visual elements that are important only to the likes of day traders.

It is important to also note that simplicity can go against legal regulations as just seen in the failed launch of Robinhood’s latest product.

Robinhood wanted to offer a checking account that earns interest. That’s what they communicated to their customers, which was likely the simplest way to explain what the actual product was. They ran into major legal issues because the account was not a checking account, but rather a Certificate of Deposit account.

In this case, it’s important to understand why you cannot have the most simplistic language and work around that.

2/Contextual: Am I serving up the right content given the mindset of the user?

The best way to have a contextual experience is to make sure the content triggered tees up the answers to the questions a person is asking themselves at the time they are asking.

This becomes difficult in practice if:

  1. You have many marketing tactics that are not using complex exclusion logic;
  2. The industry has a long sales cycle or there are barriers to switching providers;
  3. Your company has many different products, thus different entry points to bundling product.

But it’s not impossible to create a contextual experience when going up against these barriers.

Take Delta for example.

While it's likely one of the most complicated backend implementations, Delta only shows the customers what’s important to them in specific, triggered moments of time. Delta has many inroads to purchase a ticket, but once someone has searched for a flight they offer up the custom experiences tailored to the person’s search results. They do this by using a combination of persistent, user-declared data location and time-based business rules.

Here’s a typical contextual communication log from Delta:

  • Notifies of changing flight prices
  • Ticket confirmation email
  • Things to know about your travel to the upcoming city
  • Flight status
  • Baggage updates
  • Boarding updates
  • Call center reps who can complete the same tasks as the at-counter reps
  • Immediate social responses to complaints

What changes about these communications from person to person is the city they are traveling to, frequent flyer status, notification preferences, and location.

They aren’t with the traveler throughout his/her entire trip, just for the moments when the traveler needs Delta.

Delta zeroed in on those moments and flawlessly executes this strategy, so much so they have been recognized as industry leaders in innovation.

3/Automated Decisioning: Is this helping potential customers make a decision?

Automated decisioning can be done via predictive analytics or machine learning, but it is not exclusive to advanced analytics: filling out form fields ahead of time, mobile payments, and package options are all examples of automating decisions.

Think of it as anything that helps lighten the mental work that goes into making a decision.

Much of this rests on collecting persistent customer data and tracking behavioral preference data. Once the right data is being tracked, automated decisioning can be built by creating business rules on the backend or from leveraging advanced analytics. This goes beyond simplicity and goes into the psychology of helping people make decisions.

We saw this from Costco’s rationale for stocking only 4,000 items, compared to other grocery stores stocks over 50,000 items.

Fewer options, in this case, equates to Costco’s way of automating decisions, making grocery shopping more pleasant.

4/Coordination: Are all of the parts talking to each other?

Once you stop thinking in terms of channels and start thinking in terms of behavioral triggers and consumer journey moments, you can start to build coordinated experiences.

This all starts from a solidified customer journey map that contains emotional highs, lows, task-based mindsets and gaps in content with the current experience.

From there you need to plan out how marketing and the experiences move the potential customer through that flow. Below is an example template that YML created to help outline how the experiences need to be coordinated around the customer experience.

Marcela Lay, YML's VP of Client Strategy, lays out her step by step “How To” complete this research.

Once this framework is outlined, you can use it as a basis for diagnosing the coordination across all of your touch points.

Conclusion

The omni-channel strategy may once have had value, but the evolution of consumer behaviors and product experiences means moving away from this outdated format. 'Always on' is out.

Smart CX represents a vital transition for businesses intent on building lasting relationships with their customers.