Channels Collide as Physical and Digital Converge

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Cusotmers today communicate with companies, and vice versa, over more channels than ever, with a variety of options—social media, text, email, mobile, the Web, telephone, and even in-store—all being part of the mix. It’s not uncommon for a single interaction to take place over more than one channel.

In fact, omnichannel itself is the critical channel of choice, but preferences go much deeper than that: Consumers want to be able communicate with companies via a blend of both digital and physical channels, recent research from the CMO Council found.

To support this, it found that the top five channel expectations are email (86 percent), telephone (65 percent), website (53 percent), text (52 percent), and in person (48 percent).

In its study, the CMO Council also found that when it comes to channels that consumers consider absolutely essential, all but Gen Z reached for their phones. Members of Gen Z simply could not part with social media, but since they are likely accessing sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on their phones, mobile devices are no doubt also high on their list of priorities.

As members of Gen Z become older and achieve more buying power, companies will need to consider the channels that appeal to them, ensuring that they are adding new forms of service communication, such as text and private social media apps, advises Chris Bauserman, vice president of segment and product marketing at NICE inContact. “This also means investing in new services that power seamless digital-first omnichannel service.”

As is so often the case, though, companies aren’t even close to being able to accommodate most consumers on their preferred channels. Only 13 percent of consumers believe that companies are fully meeting their expectations for delivering across both physical and digital channels, the CMO Council research also found.


Digital channels are leading the way, experts largely agree. Even in the financial services industry, where customers have traditionally opted for face-to-face contact, companies with a prevalent digital-first mind-set are moving into positions of leadership. Providers like Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans and Allstate’s Esurance have continued to remove friction from the online experience, and customers are rewarding them for it.

Other companies need to take notice. If they haven’t already done so, now is the time to start investing in digital capabilities and support to compete with these online competitors, says Joseph Salesky, CEO of CRMNEXT, a CRM solutions provider for financial services firms. Today’s financial services customers expect to be able to conduct research into financial products and rates online and then undertake much, if not all, of the application process online, he states.

Another digital channel that is gaining prominence among all age groups is social media, which had historically been the favorite of younger generations. A recent study by teamDigital, a digital marketing firm, found that the percentage of customers over the age of 35 using social channels for support doubled between 2017 and 2018. No longer just an important option for Millennials, social channels are fast becoming a standard for all demographics, it concludes.

“Consumers cite again and again that Facebook is the strongest platform for product discovery and purchasing,” adds Oz Etzioni, CEO of Clinch, a marketing personalization platform provider.

Companies also benefit in other ways from having a Facebook presence, he argues. “The platform makes it easy for brands to leverage data to find the right audiences, deliver tailored messages, and access insights quickly to optimize campaigns,” he says.

In line with the move to digital, companies also need to start thinking about video, experts agree.

“In 2020, expect to see customer service organizations turn their attention to optimizing each support pathway to meet the tech-savvy needs of many of their customers. Chief among enhanced capabilities will be multimedia. The ability to share screenshots, photos, and even video between the customer and support professional will become commonplace during support interactions,” says Anand Janefalkar, founder and CEO of UJET, a customer service software provider.

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