Omni-channel strategy is the latest buzzword in the digital space because of its emphasis on the user experience across channels — and typically, digital tools and tactics are being used to bridge the customer experience across these channels, therefore we now have the term “Omni-Channel.”
As you begin to design experiences that will bridge across channels, this creates a broader perspective of a user’s experience than just their experience with an interface or digital tool. An element of service is now introduced because you aren’t dealing with something tangible anymore as a user transitions across channels. The fact that you can use your mobile device is a tangible element of a digital strategy, but the information being provided in the context of the customer’s shopping/navigation experience, is really an element of service.
What is Service Design?
Service Design is the articulation of the context, actions, needs, and emotions of the customer along their journey. In an omni-channel experience, there are several touchpoints (physical and digital) along the way and the relationships between these touchpoints is critical.
For example, designing a mobile experience for use in the aisle of a store will likely require considerably different needs (where do I find XYZ product in the store, I want more detailed information on XYZ product) than the mobile experience for outside the store (what are the store hours, where is the store located, can I order online and pickup in-store).
Omni-Channel Strategy Must Incorporate Service Design Strategy
Omni-channel strategy cannot just simply be the inclusion of digital tools in different channels. At the time of this writing, the tendency I see with brands and retailers in the consumer shopping space is to rush to a digital tactic and call the collection of the digital tactics an omni-channel strategy. Without a proper Service Design strategy, it would be easy to provide the wrong information to users because the digital tool/application may be misaligned for the needs and context of the user.
Understanding the customer journey and how physical and digital touchpoints can provide value to the customer along their journey is the essence of Service Design. My favorite example of a customer journey map is done by Adaptive Path for Rail Europe:
The reason this is my favorite example is because it’s so specific in terms of what the user is doing at various stages of the journey, what their needs are, what emotions they are experiencing, and what the opportunities are for improving on the experience. It is an easy tool for an entire team to refer back to to ensure that the tactics being deployed in the omni-channel experience are appropriate for the particular point in the customer’s journey.
Omni-Channel Strategy and Service Design are Hard
There is no silver bullet for designing the optimal omni-channel experience. But the key to success will be having a service design strategy at the core of your omni-channel initiatives. The service design strategy, and more importantly, the customer journey map is the holy grail of how to think about the total experience for your customer. Without this, you’ll find yourself guessing at what information to provide (and where to provide it), and you’ll be trying to make each digital tactic and physical touchpoint do too much. When you try to do too much, or when each touchpoint tries to be everything to everybody, it ends up providing little-to-no value.
Omni-Channel and Service Design are Iterative
It’s tough to get things right the first time when designing a service in an omni-channel experience. The more important thing to recognize is that the entire process is iterative, even if the execution is done flawlessly out of the gates, customer needs will inevitably change and the experience will need to evolve with these changing needs. So what this ultimately means is that an omni-channel strategy doesn’t have an end date. When embarking on this type of initiative, it’s best to organize for regular improvements than a “one and done” type strategy.
Service Design Resources
If you’re looking to get more background on Service Design, check out the following resources:
- Learn about the history of service design — it’s not exactly new, however there is a new way of thinking about its importance as it relates to digital experiences and an omni-channel strategy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_design
- Attend UX Intensive by Adaptive Path — whether you’re a visual designer, interactive designer, product manager, or leading a team, you’ll find the sessions at UX Intensive beneficial and you’ll leave the training understanding how to think about design strategy. The Service Design day is excellent: http://ux-intensive.com/sessions/#service-design
- Service Design Tools — plenty of examples of how other companies are using different tools to plan service designs: http://servicedesigntools.org/
- A simple search for “customer journey maps” in Google Images is also a good source of inspiration