Omnichannel: Not Optional

The B2C experience that everyone resorted to in the pandemic because they had no choice becomes the new reality. … That is the yardstick now, and there is no going back.

Before the pandemic, some companies used their digital customer interface as a differentiator. Then, out of necessity, even the late-adopter customers in both the B2C and B2B spaces became comfortable with online channels. What is fascinating, executives said, is what has emerged since then: a customer who expects digital fluency from their sales channels, but also who has reclaimed the option to interact in person when they want to. This means that there is no excuse for mediocrity in any channel; an antiseptic online-only experience can be as alienating as a similar bricks-and-mortar-only presentation. “Not everyone wants to be 100% digital,” said Jessica Barker, chief digital and client experience officer at TIAA.

At Darden Restaurants, people have returned in full force to in-person dining, said Raj Vennam, Darden’s chief financial officer. Yet at the same time, what he called “off-premise” dining—which encompasses both delivery and pickup for at-home eating—has risen from 15% of total sales at Olive Garden to 25%. To make the customer experience seamless in both areas, Darden has enhanced its mobile app and website and has added an online waitlist for in-person dining. “These things make it more convenient for consumers,” he said. “They don’t want to wait.”

Replicating that seamless customer experience is particularly challenging for B2B companies, many of whom lagged consumer companies in this area during the pre-pandemic era. “The B2C experience that everyone resorted to in the pandemic because they had no choice becomes the new reality. … That is the yardstick now, and there is no going back,” said Elisabeth Zornes, chief customer officer of Autodesk. “Customer expectation has moved on dramatically, and we believe that this will become a differentiator in competitiveness of companies. It’s a race to really get to a point where you feel like you can close that expectation gap.”

At Juniper Networks, the pandemic forced much of the sales process online for good. But today, how customers interact with that process has changed again. “During the pandemic, Juniper Networks was forced to execute a lot of our sales processes online and, as we move forward, it has allowed us to recognize that how customers interact during that process has changed,” said Brian Cooper, vice president, marketing. “We’re seeing a strong desire from our customers and end users to engage in person again, but we are still investing and having success with our digital approach. So, how can we find the right balance?” 

Cooper and his team decided to break down the buyer’s journey, looking at how customers and prospects interacted with the classic four steps: awareness, interest, decide, and engage. One realization they had was that customers did 70% of their research online before their very first interaction with a sales representative. As a result, Juniper upgraded its marketing content model to deliver the information customers needed in the early phase of the journey. In addition to providing more content, including infographics and webinars, Juniper sought to do so with more creativity and even humor.

Enhanced analytics and data have also revealed how different people are involved in a buying decision—and the need to offer targeted information for a specific experience, for example, an engineer assessing capabilities versus a buyer looking at price. The biggest requirement in this new environment is that the underlying technology and the marketing content must work together at every stage of the buyer’s journey, said Cooper. “The modern salesperson has to move away from being [simply] relationship driven; they have to be data driven.” 


For ResMed, a health care company specializing in respiratory devices such as CPAP machines, the pandemic forced customers to learn how to use the machines virtually—a complicated process that had previously required an in-person clinical interaction. Today, said Christen Chavez, ResMed’s vice president of product marketing, during COVID in some markets 50% of therapy setup was done virtually. Yet that number tailed off as the pandemic slowed, not because the instruction was unclear but because the follow-on was complicated and uncoordinated. “Something that is virtual should be more convenient, but it can actually take more work for the patient and care provider,” she said. For example, the care provider must deal with the complexity of communications and messaging platforms and find out which service a patient will use—whether it’s Zoom or another platform.

This realization has shifted ResMed’s investment focus to more of what Chavez called “virtual pathways.” She said, “We realized the connectedness between these types of solutions that we’re developing is so important … potentially more important than the actual value of [an individual] point solution.” It turns out that there’s a lot more to the virtual customer experience than simply the interaction with the product. If the system doesn’t support the patient experience, it won’t work—which in ResMed’s case can have serious health implications.

As a result, said Chavez, ResMed is considering how care providers “think about something that used to be a single visit or encounter with a patient and spreading that out into an onboarding experience”—providing information before the visit and support after they leave. At the same time, ResMed is serving patients in a more personalized way; they can choose whether to come into the clinic or use the online instruction modules. “There’s been no negative impact on the level of patient service.”

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