Over the years, my background in IT marketing and product management has brought me close to the subject of how a software should be extended to new channels. I can recall at least five occasions on which I’ve been involved with spec’cing channel support in the past 15-odd years:
- ERP in Branch Office in the mid ’90s
- Internet ERP in the late ’90s
- Electronic Bill Payment in the mid ’00s
- Mobile Banking in the late ’00s, and
- Social Media Sales and Customer Support in the last one year.
On each occasion, the initial expectation of the market was identical: The software must do everything on the new channel that it did on all the old channels. Attribute it to customers affected by hype or consultants sitting in ivory towers or whatever, but a software gained legitimacy to its claim of supporting a new channel only when it permitted every step of every business process to happen on the given channel. Let me call this the “multichannel support” wave.
In each instance, it took a few years for the market to appreciate that each channel had its own strengths and accept that there was nothing wrong if the software only supported those features that played up to the strength of the respective channel. For example, since Internet was a great way to extend an ERP to customers, suppliers and partners without requiring specialized hardware or leased lines, it became okay for ERPs to only support marketing, sales and channel processes via the web to begin with.
Soon thereafter, the market recognized that there was no point in making the software support a certain feature on a certain channel when the corresponding business process wasn’t likely to happen on that channel. Out went “web-enabled MRP” from an ERP’s production module, for example.
It took a while longer for customers to understand that their internal and external stakeholders don’t think so much in terms of channels as overall user experience. And for vendors to respond by offering superior UX by splitting a single business process across multiple channels in such a way that each channel leveraged its strength and the customer found each hop natural. I call this “omnichannel support”. Or “interconnected retail”, as Home Depot’s CEO Frank Blake calls it in this FORTUNE magazine interview to describe “as seamless an experience as possible for you as a consumer, whether you’re interacting online or in the store.”
To take “buy mortgage product” as an indicative business process in the context of a retail bank, omnichannel would translate to the following steps on different channels:
- Mobile: Hear about a new low-interest mortgage product from a friend on social media
- Desktop: Check out the online buzz about this product, visit the bank’s website to learn more about it
- Branch: Find out the finer points of this product, sign up for it, fill forms, and submit documentation.
As I’d highlighted in Jumping On The Omnichannel Banking Bandwagon, multichannel banking is neither necessary nor feasible in most cases and omnichannel banking is the practical way forward for most banks. I recently noticed that omnichannel commerce also fits in nicely with the new buyer journey postulated by McKinsey.
— S.Ketharaman (@s_ketharaman) November 11, 2013
Once all key processes are omnichannel-enabled, or even in parallel, I envisage the next wave of channel support in which a bank develops new functionality that exclusively leverage the strengths of a given channel. For example, Mobile Remote Deposit Capture and ATM Driving Directions, which are features that exploit camera, GPS, accelerometer and other standard smartphone features that are absent from all other channels. For the lack of a better expression, let me call this “omniplus commerce” for now.