Channel integration is a broad concept, and there are many different definitions of it and many people who will vehemently explain to you how their way is "the right way". Much like customer relationship management or community management, the most important thing in strategic channel integration is that you have goals and a plan, and that you follow that plan consistently.What Channel Integration Means for Customers.
To your customers, channel integration is a method of connecting all of your points of engagement — the places where you offer your product or service. If you do it right, channel integration will be seamless and will make it easy for your customers to engage with your company whenever and wherever they wish.
It's all too easy to get it wrong when attempting to serve your customers across multiple channels, especially if your customer service or account management is disjointed. Many consumers still prefer to visit bricks-and-mortar stores and if you do not offer a good experience to those consumers, you will lose them. For example, if you do not allow consumers to view the status of their catalogue orders online, or have an in-store rewards programme which cannot be used on your website, then they will go elsewhere.The Cost of Integration.
If you design your business from the ground up to support multiple channels, then integrating those channels should be a simple process. However, if you have legacy systems that you are heavily invested in, then making those systems work with your website and your contact centre's system may not be easy. It is worth investing in an effectively integrated system, however. The initial outlay will pay for itself in customer retention and improved conversion ratios, as well as more effective marketing.
Strategic channel integration ensures that your customers see the same messages and the same branding everywhere they engage with your brand. It also allows you to send marketing messages to customers based on their past interactions with your brand across all channels, saving you money and removing the guesswork from your marketing.
Another benefit of strategic channel integration is that if it is working smoothly you will be able to manage your customer service more effectively. Staff at your contact centre will be able to see the mail order and online records of your customers, as well as any loyalty card transactions. Staff in-store will be able to advise on issues with online orders and the customer experience will be much smoother.
Integrating all of your channels takes some planning, and it works best if you have a solid understanding of how your channels operate. If you do not plan your integration effectively, then your efforts may backfire and leave consumers with a slow, confusing and error-prone system. Before you start trying to work on channel integration, spend a moment thinking about your customers' habits and the strengths of each channel. Why would someone shop online? What can your in-store experience offer that is different to shopping using a catalogue? Play to the strengths of each platform for best results.
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