Companies are not omnichannel at all! Irritant #10 of the employee experience

Omnicanality is the enterprise’s new Holy Grail. Firstly because it is the logical evolution of e-commerce that we have known for a long time now, but also because in these times of fight against the pandemic many have learned, sometimes at their own expense, that it was the only salvation for the merchant in a world that could close down overnight.

If omnicanality is not the norm for the moment is an unavoidable trend when we talk about the relationship between businesses and customer, we are far from it when we talk about employees.

Omnichannel is the digital that has grown up!

To put it simply and without getting into expert quarrels over definitions, I will say that the :

  • E-commerce is about selling online
  • Multichannel commerce means making several sales channels available (store, site, application, social networks…) but on the assumption that the customer will have a preferred channel and, above all, will use it throughout his purchasing journey.
  • Omnichannel commerce means potentially using all possible channels, but more importantly, it means assuming that the customer does not have a preferred channel and therefore, in the end, can switch from one to the other throughout the purchasing journey. For example, get information on the site, start his purchase in the app and finally go to the store to pick it up or even pay for it.

For the sake of completeness, we will also talk about unified commerce when all channels are managed from a single platform, which somehow comes down to fulfilling the promise of “putting the customer back at the center” initiated by the omnichannel but which required some technical efforts to break down the silos existing between platforms (this is called cross-channel).

Well I’ll stop here, if you’re here it’s probably not to talk about e-commerce. On the other hand, if e-commerce is your primary concern, you may learn things here that will turn on some lights in your home, especially if you are embarking on an adventure and you wonder what side effects to expect.

The many challenges of omnicanality for the employee

If we only talk about omnicanality for the client, the stakes on the employee’s side are far from negligible. I will highlight five dimensions that pose a problem today:

The helpless employee in front of the omnichannel client

When we talk about the lack of omnicanality of the Employee Experience, we have to take the subject at its base, i.e. in the field! I was already talking about this in terms of digital transformation: it’s there, among blue, grey and even white collar workers, that we realize that the thing was considered too much as a subject for the happy few, with an approach that is more statutory than operational. As with remote work, by the way.

I don’t know when Philippe Bloch’s sentence dates back to, but the fact that it is still relevant 5 or 7 years after its pronouncement is significant. “the blockhead moves to the other side of the counter“, referring to the opening in the morning of a department store. The idea was that in the “old world” the clerk was the expert who enlightened the misinformed customer (the blockhead). With the arrival of the smartphone and the ubiquitous internet, it is now an over-informed customer who arrives in the store and the clerk who becomes the blockhead. Faced with a customer who has access to all the technical comparisons, the opinions of customers from here and elsewhere and can compare prices while he is in the aisle, what can the clerk do if he is refused to use a mobile or a tablet at work for fear that he might go on Facebook or try to progress at Candy Crush? Nothing. Then he’s hiding out.

But even in an omnichannel business logic, we still see shops not equipping their sales staff with tablets. They are thus unable to spontaneously help the customer who asks for information, have to wait until a checkout is free to handle a “click and collect” and, worse, miss the opportunity to enrich the customer experience (and therefore to sell…) according to the knowledge that the retailer has of the customer.

Concretely speaking, I always buy on X’s website, they know my tastes, my purchase history, they can make me recommendations. Finally, as long as I’m online. I go to a shop of X the seller does not know me, I have to explain everything to him again. Imagining that he gets all the information about me on presentation of my loyalty card or whatever is too much to ask. He is going to advise me a product that I already have etc… When your site is better placed than your salespeople to build a personalized relationship your shops have a very big problem.

This brings us to the subtle distinction between multi-channel and multi-channel. For some companies the web channel is one thing, the store is another. They are on the edge of being competitors. So as a web customer you don’t have to expect anything from the store and vice versa. Things become close to ridiculous when the customer brings a product bought on the web back to the store and it is explained to him that nothing can be done for him! So there is a problem of omnicanality on the part of the organization that feels on the customer’s side but do you think that the salesman is satisfied to tell the customer that “the website of brand X and the shop of brand X is not the same thing? Do you think it helps or hinders him in his work? That the client accepts without flinching? And that in the end the business has certainly lost a client?

I deliberately took the example of distribution, but as soon as we have an agent in front of a client in the field, we still too often feel sorry for this poor individual whom his employer has sent like an outfielder to wipe the casts on the front line.

The problem is that the employee and the customer no longer take such dysfunctions as a necessary evil. They go to Apple Stores, they see airline staff equipped with tablets in airports or airplanes, they see that in some hotels they check in as soon as they arrive in the lobby or even in their room with a tablet…and that the person in front of them has all the necessary information.

Bottom line : frustrated and inefficient employees, dissatisfied and poorly advised customers, poorly taken care of, a customer relationship that loses quality, turnover that is not achieved….

Collaboration is more multi-channel than omni-channel

There’s no shortage of collaboration tools in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean we use them well. I was talking a little while ago about the importance of a unified search engine at the level of the information system and we’re in the same logic.

So-and-so said something to me, gave me information, shared a document…but where did it happen? I can’t find anything in the project space, maybe it’s in an email? No. Ah yes in the chat…but which one? The “official” chat? The one integrated in the enterprise social network? The one integrated in the project management tool? Unless it’s in the one integrated in our video conferencing tool? Ah no it’s probably an attachment in the CRM. Well no, it was in a enterprise social network community.

Here you can see the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel. In the first case, the employee has at his disposal a lot of channels but no way to reconcile them to gather everything related to a subject, a case, a project. In the second case he can do it from a single screen.

So, yes, it’s progressing little by little and we see an outline of interesting things at Microsoft, especially with Teams, which is becoming the focal point of many things. And, we’ll see it in a future article, with solutions that are grafted on Teams to bring a real view oriented according to the needs “case” or “process”.

But it’s still too rare and unfinished.

But that’s not all. The employee also suffers from the lack of omnicanity of his colleagues and even his manager.

Faced with a profusion of tools at a given time, we choose. In “real life” some are more iMessage and some WhatsApp. Some prefer email, some prefer messages. Etc. And then there are the priorities. Some will monitor a channel in real time, consult another one several times a day, a third one every day and the others when they have time…that is never.

Well when two people try to communicate but not through the same channel or through a channel that has a different level of priority and attention depending on the person…it usually ends badly.

And I’m not even talking about the employee or the manager, who is…single channel and forces everyone to double each message: one in the team’s preferred channel, one in the person’s channel (who is often a manager…).

Collaboration and communication are team sports but still too often follow the logic of individual preferences. So when you multiply the number of people by the number of channels, there are too many possibilities for everyone to get together.

Processes not digitized enough

Beyond communication and collaboration, there are a lot of topics that are treated by similar…but different tools. Why in terms of “helpdesk” do we have a different tool for IT, HR and general services? After all, it’s just a ticketing logic, isn’t it?

Why is it necessary to use the traveldesk to book a train ticket but go through an assistant to book a hotel (or vice versa)?

Generally speaking, the one-stop-shop logic advocated for the customer is not applicable to the employee. And even more, therefore, the multiplication of tools, channels, things that get lost, do not arrive at the right place. Bad in terms of experience but also bad in terms of efficiency at both ends of the chain!

But we’re only talking about digital here. There are also some things that can only be done through a paper form! So for this application to HR you have to go through a tool, but for this one you only have to fill in a form that you have to submit to the appropriate office. Not to mention the fact that sometimes the said form must then be sent to another site for processing. I’ve seen even better: a paper form filled in by the employee, sent to HR at his site, which was then scanned and sent to HR at headquarters. Or another company where paper was the norm between the employees and the administration, and then the administration retyped everything in a application! Worse still: sometimes you have the choice between paper and digital! I don’t need to tell you about the hell that those who have to deal with it go through!

In short: deplorable experience but above all waste of time on all floors and worthless tasks that occupy people who could be better occupied with other things.

I am fortunate to work in a company where the last paper-based processes were “killed” a few years ago. From the employment contract to the order form and everything that resembles an application or a report, everything is captured, automatically generated if necessary, communicated and signed electronically. I know enough companies that have become paperless to tell you that this is possible if you take the effort.

Device-based discrimination

When we talk about omnicanality we imply, of course, multiplicity of channels on multiple devices. To propose a shop that would only work on a desktop computer would not come to anyone’s mind today. In the same way that the customer can start their journey online, go to the store to see the product and then come back online to order, they can start to find out about it on their mobile, place their order on their desktop, follow it on their mobile and so on.

In the workplace there are tools that are only accessible on a computer and not on a mobile phone or tablet. These are therefore actions or information that are inaccessible to employees on the move or those working in stores or factories. Here again, this is discrimination by status ( we have to call things by name) which has no justification except to explain that there are categories of employees who can be satisfied with restricted access to information. The information is thus delivered to them either on their home computer (provided that remote connections are allowed), on a “shared” computer in a place such as a break room, broadcast on screens or even, and this still happens, printed and displayed. When it comes to “on demand” we can do better.

Cross-channel absent from HR and managerial systems

Last example of an absence of omnicanality : business tools. We will see this through two examples.

First of all, HR tools in the broadest sense of the term, a subject on which companies have absolutely no excuses, since specialized vendors all offer highly integrated suites that cover almost the entire requirement. However, either because the choice has been made for a “best of breed” policy or for historical reasons (external growth), we can end up with a heterogeneous environment.

Then everything to do with customer knowledge. Whether customer data is disseminated between shops, e-commerce, loyalty program or even support is problematic but understandable in a multi-channel approach that has been done by stacking channels over time. Now the subject is mature enough and we have enough hindsight to understand that this poses two problems.

First of all, the customer, cut into pieces according to the different points of contact, lives a disjointed experience that is not at all fluid. Then, and this is our problem, the employee in charge of the customer, whether he or she is a salesperson in a store, works in marketing or is in charge of the loyalty programme, who usually has no way of reconciling the data and therefore has no way of taking relevant action based on complete information.

Note that in the latter case, unfortunately too frequent, the multiplicity of channels means that neither the customer nor the employee is at the center of anything…except problems!

A broad multi-channel concept for the employee

In a logic of symmetry of attention or parallelism of forms, it is clear that the logic of omnicanality is far from being as advanced on the employee’s side as on the client’s side, even if in this case it must be admitted that the variety of tools, channels and cases of use means that for the employee the notion of omnicanality can be appreciated in a very broad way.

However, it is clear that the notions of a fluid and “seamless” journey, the elimination of application silos which are all reasons for the multiplication of channels and easy access to information are not just gimmicks aimed at a policy of least effort on the part of the employee. Here again, we must think about our production flows in a largely dematerialized economy which, unlike the industrial sector, does not necessarily have a developed awareness of this concept, at least certainly not outside the IT departments.

And the price the organization pays for that is high.

Photo : omnicanal de PopTika via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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