Is Amazing Omni-channel a Pipe Dream? How CIAM Can Make it Reality


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Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies now find themselves in the era of instant gratification. Success in this new paradigm requires seamless customer experiences that span online, brick and mortar, social, loyalty and support programs, IoT, and eventually VR. In order to not just survive but thrive, in this channel-rich environment, retail, banking, hospitality, healthcare, insurance, and other B2C companies must look for ways to bridge digital and physical customer experiences (CX).

All of this fuels omni-channel strategies, which are meant to give customers more seamless experiences across each type of retail channel. Omni-channel is a top marketing and sales priority because the more channels someone uses, the more purchases they make. In fact, a recent study found that omni-channel customers spent 4% more in stores and 10% more online than single-channel customers. Furthermore, by sharing customer data across all of these channels, companies activate deeper personalization, which boosts total sales by 15-20%. Consumers reward brands that understand their preferences and transaction history and can use this insight to tailor interactions and offers.

In order to better differentiate from the likes of Amazon, brands are finding innovative ways to fuse the shopping experience across channels. For example, REI and Target recently brought online product reviews into their stores, and many retailers allow buyers to begin an in-person transaction with a sales associate and finish it online. Meanwhile, digital-first retailers are seeking new ways to complement online and mobile experiences in the brick-and-mortar world. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods and partnership with Khols for returns are just a few ways the Internet giant is expanding its offline reach, while innovative brands like Lululemon leverage community events to grab consumers’ attention in new ways.

Exploring omni-channel use cases
Today, multi-channel experiences in stores are just the beginning of what’s possible. Omni-channel CX is rapidly evolving to encompass interactions through smart devices such as a TV, refrigerator or even toothbrush. By tracking IoT data, companies can extract helpful consumer insights to personalize experiences or predict future needs. Some businesses capture geolocation signals from mobile phones as people browse the brand’s physical stores. This helps to gauge an individual’s interest in specific products and offer personalized deals in response.

Omni-channel isn’t just important in the retail industry. An integrated, cross-channel CX benefits every type of business. In financial services, omni-channel capabilities help banks consistently manage access hierarchy rules for shared accounts, regardless of which spouse, for example, is attempting a transaction at an ATM, branch or on a mobile app. When it comes to customer support touchpoints, every company benefits from pulling in sales data and loyalty data to help agents or bots be more efficient and helpful.

Although many enterprises are spending millions to reach sales and marketing nirvana with omni-channel, several underlying technical barriers tend to get in the way of true omni-channel programs:

  • There isn’t a single system for collecting authoritative, current, and first-person data about a user’s interests, transaction history, privacy settings, permissions, preferences, and consent.
  • Disparate customer data is stored across brands, products, divisions, geographies, channels, and devices which creates duplicate or inconsistent profiles.
  • Legacy identity and access management is not unified and doesn’t support modern standards or APIs. The result is developers are pulled away from more important projects to build custom identity solutions.
  • Digital security and data protection are mission-critical, but often come at the expense of the user experience.

At the end of the day, you can’t implement a successful omni-channel approach without connecting data across all channels to create a single, 360-degree view of each customer.

The most challenging obstacle to overcome is breaking through dozens or hundreds of siloed systems to make sense of all the customer data you’re collecting. These probably span multiple business units and various CX-related applications such as e-commerce platforms, loyalty apps, call center systems, CRM, marketing automation, master data management, and content management. For instance, Albertsons serves 30 million customers who interact with 20 different grocery brands (ex: Safeway, Vons, and Acme Markets) that were acquired via M&A. The company’s omni-channel experience has to efficiently connect consumers across all of these brands and their disparate internal systems.

Below is what a typical customer data landscape looks like.

Key requirements for omni-channel
This model shows what a typical customer data landscape looks like.

Customer Identity and Access Management
Customer Identity and Access Management (CIAM) unifies the customer experience. Using CIAM, you can delight users with single sign on experiences across digital channels. CIAM is self-service, allowing users to input and update key pieces of personal information themselves (rather than collecting that information second hand through sales reps or customer support), such as their preferred contact method, privacy preferences, and other personal attributes. This information can be unified across the myriad of customer data repositories (represented in the above graphic) for a single profile view. In addition, you can boost engagement by lowering friction with progressive profiling and passwordless experiences. CIAM also ensures proper security standards, from modern authentication, threat analysis, and multi-factor authentication, which are deployed across your customer facing ecosystem.

360-degree customer view
CIAM systems span channels, interacting directly with the consumer and feeding a unified view of the customer downstream to your other systems—regardless of the channel they’re using. This is crucial because omni-channel marketing campaigns, analytics projects, and data driven services (ex: recommendation engines) need current, authoritative data about a user’s interests, transactions, privacy settings, permissions, preferences, and consent. This ensures marketing, sales, and support teams get real-time identity and activity data across all of their systems in order to power personalized experiences and manage consent preferences.

Consent management and authorization
Regulations like GDPR and the new California Consumer Privacy Act require companies to know exactly where and how to delete all consumer data upon request—regardless of which channel the customer request comes in through. Therefore, a central customer identity store that prioritizes first-party declared profile data, and can integrate efficiently with advanced consent management tools becomes key to your compliance strategy. Additionally, for certain industries, it’s necessary to have a CIAM solution to validate that users are who they say they are, ensuring the right level of access is given to the right individuals, fraudulent activity is blocked, and identity data is gathered with a high degree of assurance.

Given all of these demands, it’s no surprise IT and development teams often feel overwhelmed by omni-channel. You want to give customers a frictionless, consistent, and secure self-service experience across digital channels while mitigating against data breaches. However, features like user registration, social login, and profile management are highly time-consuming to develop. Businesses need better ways to earn and maintain customer trust, while freeing up developers to focus on disruptive solutions rather than identity maintenance and compliance.

Jiong Liu
Jiong Liu leads the product marketing team for Okta’s Customer Identity products, working closely with customers to deliver trusted, tailored B2B and B2C experiences. Prior to that, Jiong led the strategy, content and tools for Okta’s Business Value practice. Jiong holds bachelor’s degrees in Economics and Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and a MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School.


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