Let’s start by defining what Omnichannel is. It’s a current buzzword in the eCommerce world and isn’t that familiar to everyone. Omnichannel refers to the shopping experience that is created by the seller. Customers today are seeking a seamless buying experience with multiple purchasing options whether they are on a desktop computer, a mobile device, in-person at a brick-and-mortar store or on the phone. The key here is the integration between all these shopping experiences. If a user is shopping on their desktop computer, they should be able to continue the shopping experience on their mobile device. Perhaps the online customer can view inventory levels that represent a store location, then they can decide to purchase the product at that location or even purchase online and retrieve the product in-person from the store. Additionally, if the customer has made purchases in the past then their account information, past purchase list and buying preferences should be as easily accessible by the buyer and the customer representatives alike.
This is quickly becoming a common definition of the B2C consumer experience and is going to become the B2B consumer expectation. But the world of B2B eCommerce is so much larger and complex than B2C. How can we create an omnichannel experience for B2B purchases?
The first place to start is ensuring that you are doing B2B business online. Many B2B businesses have been slow to migrate to the world of eCommerce, and worse yet, many that are online do not have integrated systems between eCommerce and their business management and customer relationship management systems. In less than a decade the integration of all these technologies will be a requirement to continue competing in the large-scale business world.
Once you have these systems in place, ensure that all your consumer experiences are device agnostic. If a user is on their desktop computer reading about your products, but then have to run to a meeting, ensure that they can continuing the shopping experience from their smart phone while on the subway. Additionally, if a customer dials into your call center with a question, their user profile, purchasing history and customer information should be easily accessible by whoever picks up the phone on your customer relationship management system.
But, how can we take this further?
Think of the last time you were at a big box retail store about to make a significant purchase. Maybe you were buying a new set of golf clubs, looking at flat screen TVs, or about even test driving cars. In these cases, you usually had a sales representative assisting you through the process. They were asking you questions, making suggestions, and learning about you as an individual to help you make the right decision. Initially, this feels like a person-to-person only engagement that requires face time. But perhaps it can be replicated in a digital environment.
Imagine browsing an eCommerce store for that same large purchase. You are trying to narrow down a few options and simply wish someone could help you. Now, imagine that a web chat feature appeared and you could instantly be introduced to a virtual customer representative. Not only does the customer representative know that you have been lingering on a product page for a particular period of time, they also know the other pages you’ve looked at, how many times you’ve visited these pages in previous hours, days or weeks and it can programmatically send you the most appropriate customer representative based on the product type that you are reviewing. This virtual experience exceeds the in-person experience. The eCommerce shop actually has the ability to send you the most qualified representative to answer your questions.
To take it a step further, imagine a Call Now button that would place a call via your browser and puts you in touch with the most appropriate person to ask questions about that particular product.
This example of technology is more than a science fiction definition of how things could be. This is actually a current work in progress and it will likely be the future of the online buying experience. Not only will this assist B2C consumers purchase the right flat screen for their living room, it will help the B2B consumer feel confident in the large business purchase that they are about to place online. Suddenly companies will confidently have a virtual salesforce of representatives paired with the customers that need information.
Moving forward we are going to see more of these types of integrations fall into place with big brands and overtime they will become consumer expectations. Years from now the omnichannel ‘buzzword’ will disappear and this will simply be the standard buying experience. Make sure that your moving in this direction now so that your business is prepared for the future.
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