Achieving multi-channel success

Ten tips and tricks for a successful strategy
December 2017 | Willem Pieterson

Creating a multi-channel strategy is difficult and many obstacles block the road to success. While this article does not pretend to provide a fool proof recipe for organizations, our ten tips and tricks below can help the organization and prevent common mistakes from happening.

1. Clearly define goals

Too often are goals abstract and ambiguous, impossible to realize and without much meaning. Especially in a multi- or omni-channel strategy, where many parts of the organization need to work together seamlessly and dependencies are great, having a clear set of goals can help align the organization and balance its efforts. Tools like s.m.a.r.t. can help create a good set of goals and the best goals are those that are defined in terms of effectiveness (e.g. quality norms), efficiency (e.g. time/cost based norms) and satisfaction (e.g. in terms of customer evaluation). Creating and sharing these these goals with all stakeholders in the organization can help with alignment and create a common understanding. Furthermore, sharing these goals with customers can help set and manage expectations.

2. Embed and align goals in policies and bigger goals

Ambitious goals are bound to fail if they conflict with overarching organizational goals or policies. For example a strategy aimed at increasing customer satisfaction while the organizational budget is being reduced and austerity policies are in place is doomed to fail. Ideally there is a logical cohesion between the mission, vision and policies of the organization and it’s service and channel strategies. Designing these holistically prevents goal conflicts and can help in resource allocation.

3. Create the measurement infrastructure

Having goals is a good thing, but goals are useless if you don’t measure how you are doing in terms of meeting your goals. Strangely enough, while most organizations measure parts of their service delivery and channel activities (mostly web statistics and contact center analytics), very few have defined key performance indicators (KPIs) and are measuring success across all channels and services. Increased availability of data, improved analytical tools and ways to present results (e.g. in management information systems or dashboards) offer great opportunities to measure in (near) real time what is happening, but also create cycles where measurements are used to make adjustments in strategy or implementation. When translating mission, vision and strategy (MVS) into channel strategies, it is smart to continue working and create KPIs and the subsequent measurement infrastructure.

4. Focus on the organization, before focusing on the channels

While the channel strategy suggests the essence of this strategy lies on, indeed, service channels, that, in our experience, is a misconception. Successful channel strategies essentially are successful strategies in organizing (the organization). Seamless customer journeys are hampered by silos in the organization and mistakes in processes (often leading to more customer contacts) often stem from problems with communication, collaboration and/or culture.

5. Involve the customer and measure behaviors

This one seems like such a no-brainer, but surprisingly few organizations actively talk to their customers about what they want, need and/or what their ideas are regarding improvement of processes and services. Furthermore, the number of organizations measuring customer behaviors in a consistent manner across all channels is very low. This creates challenges in terms of determining the effectiveness and efficiency of service delivery and limits the organization’s capabilities in making informed and rational decisions. We recommend organizations to involve customers early on when new strategies are designed and make customer research a recurring topic on the agenda.

6. Organize channel initiatives on the strategic level

Even though the term ‘channel strategy’ suggests it is a highly strategic topic, whereas in most organizations it is not. Processes and operations are core businesses, service delivery and customer contact are less important and the channel strategy even less so. However, as self-service channels allow customers to do transaction straight into organizational back-offices and backlash of customers ‘voicing’ their issues or posting their experiences on social media is creating bigger PR risks, the strategic importance of channel management is increasing. We advise organizations to involve channel managers and/or decision makers at the highest levels, for example in discussions around customer goals, digital strategies, change management, process redesign, innovation and service delivery.

7. More channels is not (always) better

The assumption that more (and new) is always better, is a strong one and whenever a new generation of service channels arrive on the scene, organizations start wondering whether they should adopt them. For example, many organizations still ask us now whether they should invest in mobile apps (often purely to look innovative or modern). As a result, many organizations maintain a plethora of channels, but many of those are not very well designed, staffed, or maintained.

8. Treat channels as fluid, dynamic and connected entities

Channels used to be seen as rigid and discrete entities, each managed separately. However, channels and channel management have become more fluid and flexible. Communication properties of channels are fluid and constantly evolving.Now that most channels are built on a information technology base and often linked to the internet, channels start integrating even more, think about chat functions on websites or video-calling integrated in mobile apps. Because channels are converging and constantly evolving, we need to stop treating them as separate entities, this is important to realize when designing processes and services. In that sense it is better to think in terms of the type of communication best suited to deliver a service, rather than a specific type of channel.

Changing channel properties
Websites are a good example of the fluidity of channel properties. Whereas in the early 1990s, websites consisted solely of text and low resolution images, things have changed drastically. Websites now are highly flexible, multi-medial, interactive and integrated with other channels. An example of this is the direct integration with chat channels and/or co-browsing facilities.

9. Coordinate first, but focus on integration of organization, process, data, & IT

Because most customers are multi-channel customers, they demand seamless customer journeys and many (complex) service delivery processes require contact at different stages using different means, it is important to coordinate tightly between the different channels. However, given the previous point (channel fluidity and convergence), coordination alone might no longer be enough in the future. Coordination takes time and as long as responsibilities are split, silo-ing is a big risk. Therefore, integrating channels and the underlying organizational structure, service delivery processes, data infrastructure and IT systems seems like a necessity.

10. Be flexible; change is constant, also in channel management

Lastly, another one that seems obvious, but is mostly not adhered to, is the notion that change is constant, also in channel management. Most organizations have fairly rigid strategies, often with targets far in the future. However, especially in today’s fast paced world, we need flexible strategies and the agility to change plans frequently. In order to do so, it is smart to do a number of things: a) it is still a good idea to have lofty goals and ambitions that point a picture of where the organization wants to go, b) but actual strategic plans to have increasingly short time spans (2-3 years in stead of 3-5 years, c) collect data about the performance of the channel strategy frequently and assess the changing landscape continuously, d) built in more frequent evaluation moments in which you assess whether the strategy needs adjustment or a revision. In sum, measure, evaluate, adjust.