Cloud: The engine of the omni-channel customer experience

In a recent conversation, I was asked what I felt was the driving
force behind the technology innovations disrupting businesses across the
globe. Expecting some sort of a cloud computing-centric answer, my
inquirer was surprised when I answered “time.” Although cloud is
certainly the engine underpinning many tech advancements, the driving
force is the conservation of our most precious resource: time.

We have created a connected world in which we have blasted through
barriers to cram as much as possible into our daily lives. We save time
by doing research online. We save time by texting when we can’t talk. We
save time by letting a GPS-enabled map guide us to our destination.
Given all the enabling technologies at our disposal, it’s no surprise
our expectations from online transactions are projected onto our offline
life. These mismatched expectations are the core reason why businesses
are shifting from a multi-channel customer experience strategy to
omni-channel.

Omni-channel is “seamless and effortless, high-quality customer
experiences that occur within and between contact channels,” as defined
by Frost & Sullivan. Delivering an omni-channel experience seems
intuitive and therefore should be easy; however, the barriers have
proven significant and numerous.

Today, ecommerce and mobile solutions tend to be siloed from front
office (branches, stores, etc.) systems. Although many of these
channel-centric systems have been integrated with systems of record to
prevent the duplication of customer and product data, the actual
workflows, the heart and soul of each system, are unique. It’s easy to
understand why everyone from CEOs to CIOs are frustrated with the
current setup. It’s the enigma of modern IT: all the data, compute, and
storage one could possibly ever need, and nothing put together in a way
that makes it truly useful.

There’s no escaping the simple fact that an omni-channel customer
experience requires a cloud computing foundation to be successful. In
the omni-channel world, each channel transforms into one access method
funneling interactions between the customer and company. Behind the
scenes, a large-scale application, embodying the features and functions
comprising the desired customer experience, is responsible for
delivering the right response at the right time through the right
channel.

The only method that can operate at such a scale is the cloud, where
the walls which previously partitioned customer interactions by channel
are eliminated. Cloud computing is the key to delivering the agility,
elasticity, and efficiency required to maintain contact with the
customer, growing and shrinking channels as necessary, and fulfilling
their needs. In fact, it’s those very qualities that have already led to
the deployment of ecommerce, web and mobile apps, big data analytics,
and collaboration solutions on clouds, systems which any omni-channel
capability must integrate.

Delivering the omni-channel customer experience underscores the
importance of getting cloud right. It’s the single most important
technological shift in Information Technology since client/server. Like
the artillery shell that’s a degree off when fired, those who get cloud
wrong will simply miss the mark, measured in cost in the short term, but
ultimately measured in customer satisfaction in the long run. IT
leaders and staff need to get comfortable with cloud technologies and
its associated processes to make the organizational, operational, and
educational changes required to pave the way to the future.

Looking into that future does not require a crystal ball because all
the indicators of how channels, and thereby customer interactions, will
change over the next five years exist today. The Internet of Things
(IoT) portends to take the concept of a channel to new extremes.
Personified by the Amazon Dash Button and Progressive’s Snapshot,
products are now communicating on behalf of the consumer.

Like the omni-channel experience, IoT also requires a cloud
foundation and for all the same reasons. Connected cars represent
another channel, similar to mobile phones, yet due to distraction
concerns, interaction may be limited or even restricted based on state
laws. Wearables are likely to emerge as yet another channel able to
provide location and situational context in addition to whatever voice
and/or text information is shared by a customer. And underneath each of
these solutions is, of course, cloud. It’s easy to understand why those
who get cloud right are in the best position to deliver the seamless
customer experience people not only want, but which they expect. An
experience which focuses on their needs and puts the tools into their
hands so they can save, or spend, as much time as they desire.

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