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Commentary: A discussion of omni-channel at CETW12

By Ron Bowers

Despite super storm Sandy's best efforts to make it a wash-out, attendees of Customer Engagement Technology World carried on with a "show must go on" attitude appropriate for New York on Nov. 7 and 8. CETW is a bi-annual industry event focused on leveraging the integration of emerging media technology across multiple channels to activate customer engagement.

I was privileged to be asked by the Digital Screenmedia Association to chair a discussion titled Social Media, Kiosks and Mobile: Omni-channel Convergence to Maximize Customer Engagement. Our panel consisted of Greg Clore, vice president of information technology at restaurant and entertainment company Dave & Buster's Inc.; Cory Keen, retail programs, kiosk and mobility technology manager at retailer Cabela's Inc.; and Ray Rotolo, COO at out-of-home advertising company Posterscope.

The overriding theme of our discussion was that businesses skillfully embracing mobile, kiosks, and social media are the ones focused not on stand-alone engagement but cohesive customer experience. To the extent that we can deliver as a point of purchase industry not only to brand and retailer objectives but to the positive experience of the consumer we can be partners in building loyalty. 

The omni-channel strategy tracks customers across all channels. All shopping channels work from the same retailer database of products, pricing, promotions, and engagements. As Wikipedia says best; "Instead of perceiving a variety of touch points as part of the same brand, omni-channel retailers let consumers experience the brand, not a channel within a brand. Merchandise and promotions are not channel specific, but rather consistent across all retail channels."

Greg Clore's presentation illustrated how Dave & Buster's uses guest-facing technologies that not only communicate their product and services but also deliver on the excitement of the Dave & Buster's brand. Their multiple channels include a website, kiosks, digital signage, self-service POS, an online digital guide, and numerous ways to engage via mobile and social media.

The central theme that Greg has integrated into Dave & Buster's guest experience is the use of technology-enhanced engagement — not just multichannel touch points. Dave & Buster's has focused on the omni-channel engagement of the guest's personal experience integrated through Dave & Buster's loyalty program, power cards and experience redemptions in the restaurant and entertainment venue. The experience is enabled by the customer when they want it, where they want it and the way they want it. Launching this week will be the new mobile wallet where customers can register powercards, credit cards, Dave & Buster’s location services and guest-selected promotions.

Cory Keen addressed Cabela's strategy of becoming "channel-less." Cabela's brand experience has one face — because customers expect one look and feel — but access across multiple channels. The retailer has empowered customers to do channel-less shopping with mobile apps that include bar code scanning and enable pricing transparency, online ordering through in-store kiosks and an order online/pick-up in store service. 

Cabela's is a leader in instituting corporate commitment to the omni-channel message of consistency across all channels and finding ways to remove the "silos mentality" through inter-department communication and collaboration. This orientation begins at the core engagement point. The in-store outfitters are empowered to match prices and create an omni-channel consistency to meet the demands of the Cabela's customer. Their strategy encompasses empowered outfitters, price transparency between channels and corporate training for omni-channel development. 

Keen acknowledged that customer expectations are "growing extremely fast." It is essential to keep taking a pulse through their voice of the customer survey. Cabela's has implemented mobility feedback and studies for multiple mobile platforms that will allow their loyal customers a readily available forum.

Ray Rotolo of Posterscope noted that people are connected to their devices, but they are also members of "dynamic connected cultures" through their social interactions. Thus, the drivers of the out-of-home business are both supply-side innovation through mobile and digital technologies and demand-side adoption by consumers. 

This industry dynamic is creating new demands and opportunities for brands and media owners in four key dimensions:

  • Content - Understanding what people want and how they want it.
  • Space - Understanding how best to create experiences that capitalize on the increasing "location neutral fluidity" of people's lives.
  • Community – Understanding how to leverage social media to help people connect and share.
  • Commerce – Understanding how to move consumers closer to purchase especially using search.

Consumers are forming relationships with those retailers who not only understand the technology but are using it to meet their rapidly evolving consumer expectations in a consistent and satisfying way. There is room for a finite number of close relationships with brands and retailers in our fluid lives and those who embrace convergence have a better chance of being on the winning end. 

Kudos to CETW and the DSA for facilitating this movement!

Ron Bowers is the SVP of business development at Frank Mayer & Associates

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