Multichannel the buzzword is dead, it's the norm

Multichannel is no longer the buzzword having been around since 2005. The emergence of the multichannel buzzword used synonymously with internet or digital selling served to focus CIO minds on the new channels available, but multiple channel is not a new thing. Savvy consumer organisations have been reaching their customers in stores, at home, via the post and telephone long before the internet was even invented.

Emerging technologies allowed organisations to do away with door to door salesmen and catalogue selling, but this was effectively just a means to swap some channels for other more effective ones.

With the advent of these new channels organisations were now forced to acknowledge that they needed a multichannel strategy. It is not enough to just swap old channels for new, what was needed was a way to combine, control and ultimately harness the power of these new channels in a way that enabled them to offer their customers a seamless and consistent experience.

Organisations still perceiving themselves as multichannel, on the basis that they trade via multiple channels, need to realise that without a full multichannel strategy this will never be enough.

The core difference between the old channels and the new channels is most new channels are as a result of technology. As a result the CIO is now the enabler of new channels.

The business cannot rely on the CIO to come up with their multichannel strategy, as CIOs are not responsible for the promotion or trade in the new channels. But CIOs make trade happen, thus CIOs need to feed into the multi-channel strategy. Sometimes CIOs need to take a lead and guide colleagues and partners through the possibilities and opportunities available to them.

My multichannel journey led me to my current role at Encore, a company that has utilised a number of online and offline channels to become the biggest player in the UK Theatre market. My multichannel journey began at traditional retailers entering online and digital channels - Dixons Group and then Blacks Leisure Group.

At Encore the prospect of working with and adding value to a company that already embraced and actively traded in a multichannel way was both exciting and daunting. Two years on and having doubled in size and turnover, it is clear that this multichannel approach continues to bear fruit.

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Channels are utilised as a means of reaching different customers, through different localities, touch points and technologies. Multiple channels are used interchangeably, in combination with other channels or as unique and targeted methods of promoting our product. Encore takes its lead from its customers and each channel is treated with respect and given the time and focus that it deserves.

Encore does not open any channel just because they are available. When a channel is opened or continues to be traded, Encore is determined that it fits into the overall strategy, is executed well, and the use of technology is maximised to guarantee this. Encore has invested heavily in a home built web platform, which has allowed us to build launch and trade a new flagship brand, TheatrePeople.com. Encore used this platform to then power 300+ partner websites. The call centres is enabled with quick and flexible booking systems, likewise physical stores, and even offline partners, such as the hotel concierges are provided with the ability to find, sell and even print tickets. Encore aim to ensure that customers receive an equally good, seamless experience regardless of the channel they came in from, and where they end up.

What Encore has not done is to dive into new channels like mobile and kiosks just for the sake of it. Encore is passionate and determined about launching a suit of mobile solutions, but this will be done only once we can be assured that we can provide ourselves and customers with a world class solution.

Encore has a management team that embraces technology. While there are different levels of technical abilities, the CEO and Chairman down, are active supporters of technology. IT reports directly to the CEO and sits on the board of the company. To Encore, being a multichannel company is the key to our success, and having the right technologies is the key to being multichannel in today’s world. The profile of IT within the company reflects all of this.

Finally all the members of our talented and committed IT department are encouraged to think like customers, and to take a commercial view. Enabling and empowering a multichannel strategy means we need to appreciate the value of each channel, and how the customer will relate to each touch-point by which they communicate with the company. Encore put usability and customer experience at the heart of what we do. This extends not only to the theatre-goers but to partners and affiliates too. We do not always get it right, but we aim to every time. The technology itself is nothing unless it is usable, helpful and intuitive.

Encore acknowledges that it is on a journey and still has a long way to go. Likewise, the reason why so many companies, especially retailers still have multi-channel on top of their agenda, is because so few have yet committed to let alone executed a real multichannel strategy. Being multiple-channel is not being multichannel and people are starting to realise this. So the buzzword is dead, but hopefully it has done its job, and forced retail and CIOs to consider how to move multiple channel businesses on to the next level. As IT leaders, in a world where almost every new channel requires a technological solution of some form or another, we can now ensure that the concept of satisfied customers in a multichannel world lives on.

Chily Fachler has been CIO of Encore Tickets since May 2011 and was Group IT Director for outdoor fashion retailer Blacks for three years.