One of the first sectors to adapt to an online environment was, by necessity, retail. In its infancy, e-commerce was a precarious affair, plagued with stock shortages, communication breakdowns and the lack of infrastructural support customers needed to get what they wanted.
Within a few years, however, solutions designed to overcome those challenges birthed a remarkable approach to doing business: omni-channel. The influence that omni-channel, as a goal, has had in retail has made it the gold standard across all forms of business.
In the beginning
Big retailers saw their customers wanted to shop via their Web sites; not content with simply browsing online catalogues, they wanted to make purchases immediately. This introduced many challenges: how could a chain of stores centralise stock? How could secure payment options be created? How could customers find out more about products? How could they track their purchases prior to delivery? And, that quintessential retail challenge – if purchasing online, how could businesses ensure customers were able to interact with them via phone regarding their purchases?
These conundrums were behind the need for a business option that could tie all the threads together. Information and transactions that happened on a Web site needed to be connected to interactions that were happening via phone and e-mail in the contact centre. All these channels, as they became known, had to flow together – in harmony.
A solution was needed that could ensure the individual channel silos were brought into one place, providing a seamless experience for the customer. That’s what drove the need for an omni-channel service that combined all of the touch points in the contact centre and connected them via the relevant channels to the necessary business units.
Fast-forward a good few years and the retail environment has become even more complex, with customer preferences generating the need for even more channels – social media, chat, in-store and more – so much so that the average business uses nine contact channels.
With the demand this places on businesses and contact centres to keep all lines of communication centralised and operating in concert with data generated and stored, the challenge of creating an omni-channel environment has grown, too.
The original concept was to serve and supply customers according to their needs, but the omni-channel solution requirement has now permeated the entire business framework. After all, the whole supply chain was influenced: the IT department has become integrated into all departments; operationally, it became necessary for every single business unit to be connected to this same network to create a more efficient space where interactions could be conducted, tracked and recorded, with data generated being stored for the purposes of improved, personalised customer service.