Omnichannel Delusions And Nonsense

A recent article here on The Financial Brand reported that:

“68% of bankers agree with the statement ‘omnichannel means delivering the same capabilities/functionality across all channels.’ The strongest agreement among the respondents is with the statement ‘omnichannel is about ensuring customers have a consistent experience of our brand irrespective of the channel they use’. This is closely followed by the statement that ‘omnichannel is about channel integration and seamless customer transition between channels’.”

HUH? Who cares how omnichannel is defined? What matters is what banks are doing about channel management and integration, and why they’re doing it. The article goes on to say:

“Omnichannel has become another industry buzzword, which everyone talks about but, when pressed, often struggles to articulate what exactly it means. Some would argue that a truly visionary definition should not even contemplate the debate over what capabilities and functionality should be delivered over what channels. Banks’ architecture should be so flexible as to allow customers to pick and choose what features and functionality they want to use through which channels.”

“Truly visionary definition”? What does that mean? How can a definition be visionary?

MY TAKE: Deploying an architecture that is “so flexible as to allow customers to pick and choose what features and functionality they want to use through which channels” is just a wet dream of some low-level IT nerd. This dream is completely unrealistic, but more importantly, it doesn’t make business sense.

***

The notion that a bank can, or should, deliver the same capabilities/functionality across all channels ignores some realities of the real world:

  1. It’s nearly impossible to define every combination of transactions, interactions, capabilities, and functionalities that exist, or that could exist.
  2. Even if you could define the top 100 most frequently executed combinations of transactions, interactions, capabilities, and functionalities, it could take years to build out those combinations, even if you started with the IT nerd’s “flexible architecture.”
  3. Even if you could define the top 100 most frequently executed combinations of transactions, interactions, capabilities, and functionalities, it could take gobs of money to build out those combinations.

The Channelomnivores seem unwilling (and/or unable) to address a key question here:

If we invest the time and money to define and create an omnichannel capability, what does it really buy us?

In other words, what bottom line impact will this really have? Will our customer acquisition and retention rates improve? If so, by how much? Will our cost to serve decline by a sufficient amount to make this investment worthwhile?

***

The idea that customers want to “pick and choose what features and functionality they want to use through which channels” isn’t grounded in reality, either.

Here are three rules about consumer behavior and attitudes that you would do well to learn:

  1. Consumers will use whatever channel is most convenient for them to use at the time they decide to do something.
  2. Consumers just want the “job” done.
  3. Consumers will adjust their channel behavior in response to incentives, penalties, and the other realities of life (like you not offering every combination of features/functionality in every channel).

Conduct all the market research you want asking consumers stupid questions like “which channel do you prefer?” The right answer is the one that we researchers never seem to include in the survey: “The one that gets the job done when I need a job to be done.”

The idea that consumers want to start something in one channel and finish it another, or that they want a “seamless channel experience” is nonsense. They want the job done.

***

This omnichannel nonsense also ignores the fact that sometime there are good reasons for not offering all capabilities/functionality in every channel.

Some months ago, in an early Saturday morning coffee-less stupor, I went on to my iPad and foolishly fell victim to a phishing attempt. My attempt to change my ID and password went nowhere because my bank made the decision to not enable that capability through their mobile app (click here if you want a good laugh at my expense).

Maybe that was a bad decision on their part, maybe it was a good decision. I don’t know. The point is that they made that decision.

Why do the Channelomnivores always seem to think that some misguided vision of “seamless integration” trumps risk, fraud, and cost issues?

***

This omnichannel nonsense also ignores the reality that channels aren’t discrete. A customer can use a website to chat with a call center rep. A customer can use a mobile device to video chat with a branch rep.

This omnichannel nonsense misses the point that what’s needed is better process design–not channel design.

This omnichannel nonsense fails to consider that having a “consistent brand experience” is a stupid goal if your brand is poorly defined or undifferentiated because you offer nothing in the way of differentiated or superior products or services.

***

Thankfully, there are some people with their heads screwed on straight. As is typical, I’m about a year behind Chris Skinner on all this, who wrote, back in March 2014:

“We are now bombarded with channels and, being stuck in our 20th century speak, we coined the term omnichannel, purely to move away from multi- which implied a few to omni- which implies everywhere, non-stop, all the time in real-time. There’s no such thing as a channel. There’s just a digitally enabled world that augments our physical being. So for all you guys talking about channels, you are dead meat. You are stuck in the last century. Start talking about how to digitize everything, and stop talking about adding another channel to your old branch network purr-leeeeze.”

Honestly, however, I have to admit to being stuck myself in the last century, as I continue to talk about channels. Colin Henderson, writing on The Bankwatch, nails it:

“If engaging clients is the strategy (not a bad plan btw) then that is the strategy. Next comes the tactics to implement, which will define that strategy, and that will require considerations across HR, technology, processes and channels. I don’t see how the concept of OmniChannel helps in that discussion. It is going to depend on the current deployment of the bank and where the want to get to. Lets not kill ourselves defining a stupid word such as OmniChannel. Strategy is the place to begin, and that will produce the right considerations.”

And Aden Davies from HSBC, in a blog post titled Screw Omnichannel, writes:

“Do you want all your channels talking to each other before they are fully capable of talking to a customer as well as they could? Can every business model you have complete within a single channel? If not why not? As wretched buzzwords go omnichannel is right up there with the worst of them.”

***

BOTTOM LINE: All this discussion about omnichannel this or omnichannel that is nonsense. Perhaps it makes for interesting discussion in the IT department’s break room. But it’s totally useless in the executive team’s board room.

No talk of omnichannel is worthy of discussion in the board room until the Channelomnivores can credibly talk to how the bottom line will improve–in terms of cost reduction, new customer acquisition, and customer retention. But they can’t. They can only offer up assertions and bromides, and rely on customer research about what customers say they “want.”

And no talk of omnichannel is worthy of discussion in the board room until the Channelomnivores can credibly talk to how investing in omnichannelosity is a better alternative than making investments in other initiatives (you economists will recognize this as the “opportunity cost”).

In other words, isn’t it possible a better course of action would be developing and offering ONE new product or service (that a meaningful number of consumers value and pay for) that no one else offers, even if it’s offered in just one channel, and not every channel?

And isn’t it possible that “delivering the same capabilities/functionality across all channels” is useless for 99% of the possible combination of capabilities/functionalities that exist? Isn’t it conceivable that achieving “seamless integration” for just one or two types of interactions could have a disproportionate impact on customer satisfaction and behavior?

I could go on and on with questions that point out how questionable all this omnichannel nonsense is.  If you want to be a low-level IT nerd with a wet dream, don’t let me stop you. I could say “some of my best friends are low-level IT nerds with wet dreams” but we both know that wouldn’t be true (I don’t have any friends).

But please–or as Chris Skinner would say, purr-leeeeze–don’t talk about omnichannel as if it’s some big strategic imperative, impacting banks’ bottom lines, or worse, their existence.

This article was originally published on . All content © 2019 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

shares