“Packaged Food Isles in a Supermarket” by lyzadanger, used under CC BY / Added transparency + text
Business in the Good Ol’ Days
When I was a kid, I used to spend some time during summer holidays helping (or pretending to help) in my uncle’s grocery shop. One of my tasks was to prepare orders that his customers made over the phone. He spent a good deal of his time on the phone with the neighbourhood’s old ladies, carefully noting down every little detail of their requests on a small piece of paper that he would then hand over to me. Once the order packages were ready, he would carry them all the way to his old Datsun van and off he went. This was delivery day.
Delivery day was a real pain. Besides preparing orders and carrying boxes, he had to wake up earlier than usual to make up for the time he would spend later driving around to people’s houses. He had to spend money filling up the tank, and my aunt had to take time off her work to take care of business while he was away. In other words, delivering something had a much higher cost than when people just walked into the store and bought those same items.
So why did he still do it? The answer is quite intuitive, I would say: because those people wouldn’t buy from him any other way.
Business in the Digital Days
And why am I telling you this story?
Because since online sales became a thing, and managers realised they were more cost-effective than selling over the phone or in a store, companies started to obsess over transforming “offline sales” into purely digital, self-care processes. The problem: for some people (and for some products) this will never work.
During BySide’s life as a digital marketing services provider, we always thought that it was silly for companies to create internal competition between sales channels, but we saw it happening many times and we had to adapt to those realities – however, we kept our motto: to connect online and offline worlds.
Our first product, the Click2Call, was the embodiment of this idea, allowing online visitors to request a free call, and giving contact centre agents the tools to understand who that visitor was and what he was interested in, in real time. This was a time – 10 years ago – when e-commerce was starting to flourish in Europe, as some of today’s giants started to show rising revenues. It’s easy to understand why everyone wanted to go 100% online.
Going digital – did they do it right?
Some of the big corporates did try to remove all other existing forms of interaction with prospective customers. This had 3 main outcomes:
- the repentant: companies that saw drop in sales so big that they quickly reverted the process and put traditional sales channels (and, of course, sales people) back to their jobs
- the enlightened: companies that kept online self-care processes but did not “block” customers from contacting them, some even proactively promoting offline contact during the purchase journey
- the benighted: companies that, for reasons beyond reason, didn’t mind losing a big chunk of revenue if they managed keep their costs low
Of course there were winners too. The winners were those companies operating in the low cost segment, whose business model depends heavily on a low acquisition cost – which can only be achieved through complete self service. But most of these companies were born digital and stayed there – they are not the byproduct of clumsy adaptation.
The dreadful buzzword: multichannel
Then the word multichannel came about and everything changed. Suddenly people started to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe we should let the customer decide how to interact, and that this is an advantage, not a setback. Because multichannel was not enough, someone created omnichannel, an even fancier word that I would describe as “the obvious way to manage multiple channels”. If a regular walk-in customer called my uncle’s shop, he would know who that person was. That’s omnichannel for you right there.
In the end, it’s just business as usual
Remember the connect offline and online worlds motto? Keeping it was a wise move. Now companies are trying to reconnect isolated channels, and we are helping them by providing unified identification, integrated customer information and a set of multichannel engagement tools. Remember: there’s no such thing as digital sales – a purchase may start online and end in a store, or the other way around; it may start and finish online, but with someone in the contact centre stepping in at some point in the process; it maybe purely digital, or completely offline. You don’t need to put things into such tiny boxes.