Customer Experiences Need Work Across Channels

Earlier this year, we published a report called Best And Worst Of Cross-Channel Design, 2009 that examined results from our expert review of 16 companies across four industries: Online travel agencies, auto insurers, footwear manufacturers, and discount retailers. We examined scenarios that included interactions online, with call centers, via email, and through IVR systems. The evaluations also looked at transitions across channels.

Here are the overall results from that analysis.

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As you can see, none of the 16 firms ended up with a passing score. Here were the highest scoring firm in each area:

  • Web site: Expedia
  • IVR: Nike
  • Phone agents: Orbitz and priceline.com
  • Email: Nike
  • Channel transitions: Expedia, Geico, and New Balance 

The cross-channel reviews graded experience across 57 criteria. More than 12 of the 16 companies failed these nine criteria:

  • Is text legible? (Web Site)
  • Is the task flow efficient (Web Site)
  • Is essential content available where needed? (Web Site)
  • Can the user complete her goals in all required channels? (Channel Transitions)
  • Are keyword-based searches comprehensive and precise? (Web Site)
  • Does the system provide essential content? (IVR)
  • Does the site help users avoid and recover from errors? (Web Site)
  • Does the site present privacy and security policies in context? (Web Site)
  • Do menu categories immediately expose or describe their subcategories? (Web Site)

The bottom line: There’s a lot of room for improvement

Layaways Cater To Changing Consumer Needs

Just like the economic downturn in the 1790s gave rise to potatoes as a staple in European diets, the current economic environment will push consumers to find new ways to meet their needs. In some cases, they may revive old fashion practices like buying products on layaway.

With the current tight credit market, consumers are increasingly using layaway to buy their products over time. So kudos to Kmart (and Sears), which is one of the few retailers that still has a layaway program. Here are some of the details about the Kmart program that I found on its Website:

  • A Layaway contract is eight weeks.
  • The Service Fee on all new Layaway contracts is $5.
  • The Cancellation Fee on all new Layaway contracts is $10.
  • The Service Fee plus Cancellation Fee, or 10% down payment (whichever is greater)
  • The bi-weekly payment schedule for all new Layaway contracts is 25% of the original balance due.
  • Layaway merchandise will be returned to stock seven (7) days after a missed payment.

My take: Companies need to look for opportunities like layaway to meet consumers’ shifting needs. But that doesn’t mean that all retailers should start layaway programs. As with any new program, you need to understand the needs and desires of your target customers. If they are likely to use layaway and you can develop an effective program, then it might make sense.

The bottom line: Look for new (or old) ways to meet shifting customer needs.

The Best And Worst Of Cross-Channel Design

We just completed a pretty extensive evaluation of the cross channel experiences of the following 16 large companies:

  • Airlines: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Air Lines
  • Banks: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wachovia, Wells Fargo
  • Department stores: JC Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sears
  • Mp3 manufacturers: Apple, Creative, iRiver, Sony

The research used Forrester’s Cross-Channel Review methodology (which is a form of an expert reveiw) to grade the experiences across 57 criteria. The analysis looked at interactions via the Web, email, IVR, phone agent, as well as cross-channel transitions.

Here are some of the findings from the research:

  • None of the 16 companies received a passing score [+57 or higher].
  • Airlines received the highest average score [-8] and MP3 manufacturers the lowest [-29].
  • Delta received the highest score and iRiver received the lowest score.
  • There were 4 criteria that all of the companies failed:
    • “Is text legible?” (Web Site)
    • “Can customers get a confirmation of their phone conversation in another channel?” (Phone Agent)
    • “Can the user complete her goals in all required channels?” (Channel Transition)
    • “Can the user control how he interacts with the company?” (Channel Transition)
  • Results differed across the channels we evaluated:
    • Web Site: Delta was best; Sony was worst
    • IVR: American Airlines was best; iRiver, JC Penney, Southwest Airlines were worst
    • Phone agents: American Airlines was best; JC Penney was worst
    • Email: Sears, Creative were best; Southwest Airlines, Apple, iRiver were worst
    • Channel transitions: Macy’s was best; JPMorgan Chase, American Airlines were worst

I need to give a shout out to the Adele Sage, Vidya Drego, and Andrew McInnes who did most of the hard work on the research.

The bottom line: It’s not all bad news; firms that make improvements can really differentiate themselves.

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