Until fairly recently, professional services tended to be single-channel and focused on in-person meetings. Other contact points such as phone, email and chat were often only used to set up face-to-face meetings. Now, many businesses in the professional services sector are actively working to leverage omnichannel service.
Professional services and omnichannel in figures
We surveyed 300 C-suite executives in the UK about their progress towards digital transformation. Of these over half (159) rated their company’s ability to take a holistic view of client needs as good or excellent. Almost a third (90) described it as average.
Three-quarters of respondents said they provided products or services across more than one channel. Over half offered in-person meetings, remote meetings and email. Almost half offered telephone service. Around a third offered service via their website and social media.
Interestingly, there was an almost even split between those who believed that their channels were synchronised (54.22%) and those that believed they operated in silos (45.78%).
What do you mean by omnichannel?
The definition of omnichannel is integrating different communication channels to create a seamless, frictionless omnichannel customer experience.
What is an omnichannel example?
In professional services, the move towards an omnichannel strategy has been less visible than in other areas. It’s mostly been focused on business operations.
For example, many businesses in the professional services sector have been moving away from analogue communications and toward digital ones. This allows them to bring diverse communication channels together into one unified communications whole.
As a result, staff and customers are spared the pain of tracking and managing diverse communication channels. For example, before unified communications, staff had to treat letters, faxes, phone calls, voice messages and emails as entirely separate. Now, increasing numbers of businesses integrate all communications channels into one omnichannel communication strategy.
Probably the single, most important benefit of this is that it means customer communications can be tracked seamlessly from end to end. For example, if a customer fills in an online form and then sends an email with further questions, the two communications will be automatically linked to the same customer record.
If they then call up to discuss further, agents can simply pull up the previous details rather than having to ask the customer to repeat themselves. Likewise, if a customer deals with more than one agent, each agent should be able to pick up easily from where the other left off.
What is omnichannel vs multichannel?
An omnichannel strategy combines all communication channels into one. At the very least, it aims to give the impression that they are one. A multichannel strategy simply has multiple communications channels that run parallel to each other.
An omnichannel strategy is used to improve the customer experience and may also be used to improve business processes. A multichannel strategy is used to engage customers.
It’s becoming increasingly common for customers to switch to an omnichannel strategy for engaging customers. For example, many businesses are implementing omnichannel marketing in preference to multichannel marketing.
What does an omnichannel experience mean in professional services?
The omnichannel experience in professional services is much the same as for all other industry sectors, because professional services are driven by the same forces as other sectors.
In the case of omnichannel strategy, this means recognising that customers are now routinely hopping from one contact point to another. For example, they may undertake quick internet searches from their smart hubs at home. They might follow this up by checking out a company’s social media platforms from their phones on their way to work.
They might then send an email, use live chat or make a phone call to follow through. Alternatively, they might go onto social media and contact a business through its messaging system. Whatever channel they use, they expect seamless, frictionless service. They increasingly expect it to be personalised to their needs.
Meanwhile, the people in customer-facing roles expect to be given the tools to deliver best-in-class service, no matter where they are. They don’t want to waste their time (or the customer’s) pinging between multiple systems and processes. They need business systems to work together harmoniously.
Why is omnichannel important to professional service businesses?
There are three main reasons why omnichannel is important to professional service businesses. Firstly, it helps to keep professional service businesses on the right side of the regulators. Secondly, it helps to improve the overall customer experience. Thirdly, it helps to improve business processes by reducing costs without compromising service or security.
Omnichannel experience and regulation
In the professional services sector, businesses need to deal with two sets of regulations. The first is GDPR (as enforced by the ICO). The second is their industry regulator (e.g., the Solicitors Regulation Authority).
Both types of regulators place a very high emphasis on security. Industry regulators also tend to place a high emphasis on service. Using an omnichannel strategy helps with both goals.
It improves security by forcing businesses to be very clear about their data management. With an omnichannel strategy, you need to know what data you are holding, where and why. This is a prerequisite for managing it appropriately (e.g., archiving/deleting it promptly).
It improves service by removing friction. By making sure that channels converge, businesses eliminate the possibility of items falling between cracks. This is an issue that has plagued the professional services sector for many years and has been the cause of many complaints.
Omnichannel experience and customers
Shifting to an omnichannel strategy helps to ensure consistency. This is vital for businesses in the professional services sector. Giving customers mixed messages creates frustration in any environment. In professional services, it can lead to serious issues with major implications.
On a more positive note, consistency also helps to build familiarity. This is a starting point for brand loyalty and can in itself increase your sales opportunities. Using an omnichannel strategy helps businesses identify weaknesses and gaps in their offering. Resolving these creates even more sales opportunities.
Omnichannel experience and business processes
Moving to an omnichannel strategy benefits your staff in the same ways as your customers. It removes friction, improves consistency, and helps to highlight where further improvements need to be made. This means that using an omnichannel strategy helps improve both staff performance and staff retention.
How to implement/improve an omnichannel experience
Implementing an omnichannel experience is only a first step. Once you have implemented it, keep on improving it, repeating the implementation process but adding new information or new technology.
Start from a solid foundation
Before you start thinking about how to implement an omnichannel experience, study your current systems and processes. Make sure they’re as robust as possible. In particular, have you thoroughly covered the following bases?
- Search engine optimisation (SEO)
- Search engine marketing (SEM)
- Mobile optimisation
- Segmented email campaigns
- Effective use of social media
- Unified communications
- Digitisation and automation of analogue business processes
If any of these areas is less than 100% robust, address the issue before you progress. This can be easier than you might first think.
For example, if you’re struggling with email open rates, then switch to Square Marketing. This is specifically designed to create automated and personalised campaigns that build customer relationships while saving you time.
Assess your customers
Who are your customers? How do they behave? Go into as much detail as you can. In particular, what kind of devices do they use and how do they engage with content and with your team? What does their behaviour say about how they view your current service?
Get as much feedback as you can directly from customers. Run simple polls on social media. Send more in-depth surveys to people on your email list and customers who’ve made a transaction. If necessary, incentivise people to complete the surveys. This may not be permitted for reviews but it’s fine if the feedback is for your internal use.
Delve into analytics
Using analytical tools can be intimidating, especially for SMEs. It is definitely worth making the effort, since these tools deliver in-depth insights into your customers’ behaviour, highlighting where you are doing well and where you need to improve. They also track and assess the impact of any changes you make.
The most obvious place to look for analytical data is your website. If you’re using Square Online, use Square Analytics also, which delivers all the information in a very user-friendly way. There are plenty of other places you can look, for example, business accounts on social media platforms tend to provide analytics.
There’s also your payment system. With Square, use Virtual Terminal to take payments online or by phone. If you need to take in-person payments, use Square Reader and POS hardware.
Either way, you benefit from Square Point of Sale software. This gives you access to real-time data about the sales you have made, therefore allowing you to see what people are actually doing, rather than just indicating what they might do.
Set your goals and prioritise them
Do you want to increase sales? Reduce churn? Speed up business processes? Moving to an omnichannel experience can do all three. Most SMEs will want to move forward one step at a time. So start by defining and prioritising your goals, then use your resources where they make the most difference.
Look for simple but effective improvements
Look for simple but effective improvements. These require minimal resources to implement and often make a meaningful difference very quickly.
For example, you probably already send customers invoices. Switching to Square Invoice lets you send these automatically. Furthermore, it automatically tracks payments and sends reminders if necessary and provides you with payment reports.
Gather your resources
Moving to an omnichannel strategy requires investing in technology. However, you can get valuable resources for free or at a very affordable cost.
For example, Square has solutions letting you serve clients no matter what channel they use. Whether they turn up at your office or send you a text message, Square has a tool for you.
As a bonus, when you use Square payment tools, you get free access to the Square Customer Directory. This is a powerful customer relationship management (CRM) tool, enabling you to create profiles for your customers so you can manage your interactions with them from one central point. This not only makes your processes more efficient, but also lets you get to know your customers better.