Contact Centers Evolve from Multichannel to Omnichannel to Unified Commerce

Modern commerce in the contact center has transitioned through Multichannel into Omnichannel, beginning its evolution from siloed sales channels to a total re-architecting of the customer relationship on the backdrop of an ecosystem of integrated, personalized commerce known as Unified Commerce.

Within Unified Commerce, the contact center has become the hub of customer experience. As such, many are defining the contact center as the point of experience, or Experience Center. It’s a beacon for the customer experience and for feedback of the execution of contact center services. As an Experience Center, it’s driving the seamless integration of engagements across phone, chat, email, SMS and social media channels. Every customer interaction with the brand can be accessed from a cataloged source in a centralized engine. This holistic approach presents an opportunity for better service delivery on a case-by-case basis, but also analysis and optimization of the entire customer lifetime journey.

The advent of mobile technology and the smartphone presented an entirely new way for customers to access goods beyond the single-channel model. Initially, organizations treated the new e-commerce channel like their own stores. But as they explored each channel and changing technologies, they ultimately realized that the consumer wanted commerce in which they could work through the channel of their choice at any given time. The gradual evolution eventually led the way to Unified Commerce.

Unified Commerce is the adaptation of the enterprise to meet consumer demand in the method preferred by the customer.  It encompasses a comprehensive process that integrates transactions conducted in a retail outlet or online through the channel of choice (website, app, social media, SMS).  It’s product-flow agnostic. It is also reliant upon CRM integration, targeted promotional activity, inventory management, returns processing and supply chain technology. Customer Experience teams have a universal view of the consumer’s purchase history and can support interaction at the engagement point of preference.

How did commerce evolve from Brick and Mortar to Unified Commerce?

Brick & Mortar retail, catalogs and direct response TV (DRTV) were the siloed channels that existed for commerce before the 1990s, when e-commerce sprang up to challenge traditional consumer channels. The existing channels responded. Retail started adding e-commerce shops to its Brick & Mortar operations, for instance, growing into a multichannel model. While retailers used e-commerce as just another store, they began to realize e-commerce marketing was different than traditional retail … Fulfillment was different. Promotions were different. Email created new access to customers. Shipping and returns became a consideration. Many of the programs didn’t move across one channel to the other. They quickly learned this really was a different model.

Omnichannel emerged with retailers’ realization that the customer who shops in-store might also purchase using an app, a browser or a social media platform.  A premium was placed on inventory allocation, location and visibility to supply the multiple channels. Omnichannel also saw the move to cross-channel commerce, such as ‘buy online, pick-up in store.’ The matrix of ways product could flow had begun to grow, while cross channels became more complex.  The customer experience was not transparent across channels.

Now, retail is moving into the era of Unified Commerce, where operating through a seamless unified technology ecosystem yields benefits. The retailer and customer experience center, have a universal view of the customer journey. Through the use of integrated systems and CRM, the customer’s transactions can be seen across channels and various interactions. Their preferences and past purchases inform the company on how best to tailor the marketing message. In doing so, they seek to influence future purchases.

Unified Commerce is on a growth course

Unified Commerce capabilities are growing. About 28% of retailers have “start-anywhere, finish anywhere” abilities now, but 81% of retailers plan to have a Unified Commerce platform implemented by the end of 2020, according to a report by Boston Retail Partners. Those who have Unified Commerce in place are already seeing the benefits in areas such as the increased effectiveness of sales and marketing and the increasing convenience of allowing customers options such as ‘return in store’ and ‘buy online, pick up in store.’ They value the ability to build customer trust and confidence through features like purchase status tracking; reduced errors across systems; improved inventory management; greater return efficiency; and a better customer experience.

On reflection, in less than 30 years, the advent of technology and innovation has drastically changed how we shop. The landscape and the speed of commerce have markedly improved. Picture how 30 years ago we went through the process of placing an order from a catalog … Now with Unified Commerce, we accomplish the same in a swipe of the cell phone.


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