Most integration strategies start at the wrong end of the business. We have been trained to always start at the beginning with marketing and sales. Starting at the back end is counter-intuitive. After all, sales have to happen before fulfillment. Operations cannot plan or implement without marketing projections or actual sales. Channel integration is different. Successful multichannel integration begins with operations. Customers receiving promotions encouraging them to cross channels expect universal service. In other words, if they can buy unconditionally from the catalog, Internet, and/or store, they should be able to return, exchange, and resolve any issue at any channel.
Unfortunately, customers are finding that policies, procedures and systems vary across channels. Companies need to resolve operational issues before they implement their multichannel marketing strategy. Start your channel integration by:
- Consolidating your catalog and Internet order management systems. The only difference between catalog and Web orders is the media used to generate the order. Operational systems and procedures are essentially the same. Consolidated systems streamline your business and provide consistent service to multichannel customers.
- Issuing credits that can be redeemed at any channel. If customers can shop or return at any channel, they have to be able to redeem credits at every channel. Ironically, many companies have universal gift certificates and unilateral credits. It is confusing and annoying to customers.
- Placing your customer service numbers prominently and often on your Website. It helps establish your company as a service brand. Customers are reassured by knowing that there is a person waiting to help when they pick up the phone.
- Clearly identifying channel exclusive items. Unique items are an excellent idea because they promote channel crossing as long as the customer understands that they are exclusive to one channel.
- Maintaining the same policies and procedures across channels. Conditions for sales and returns are sometimes necessary. They should be kept to a minimum and consistent across channels.
Multichannel customers are the most valuable in the database. They consistently order more often with a higher average order. It is tempting to aggressively market to these customers before integrating operations. Once you have the sales, the fulfillment is expected to fall into place. Multichannel customers are too valuable to risk alienating them with a marketing strategy that encourages channel crossing without the operational systems to support it. Build your foundation carefully and then watch your multichannel business grow!
Debra Ellis is president of Barnardsville, NC-based Wilson & Ellis Consulting