Omnichannel is not an end, it’s an opportunity, says Steve Halford, Group Managing Director of The Crystal Group. It’s on the way to an easier, quicker, friction free customer experience. End to end.

Markets are changing more radically than at any time in our lifetimes. Personally, we are all becoming big online shoppers: 77% of adults bought goods and services online last year (up from 53% in 2008) and 73% accessed the internet with a mobile or smartphone.

Business to business markets are different in many respects from business to consumer markets, but the more people buy online in their personal lives, the more they buy like consumers. That’s particularly true for small businesses and individual tradespeople, builders and installers. Not surprisingly, the trade behaves more like a consumer when they have a smartphone in their hand.

Whether consumers are online or not, how good is their customer experience?

A recent Bain & Company survey found that only 8% of customers believe they are getting a great customer experience, while 80% of organisations believe they are giving customers a great experience!

Despite all the talk and marketing grandstanding, it seems that companies have a lot to learn about keeping customers happy. We all tend to see and hear what we expect to see and hear. And we find it hard to put ourselves in customers’ shoes and be truly objective. Without doubt, customer experience (Cx in marketing lingo) is the final frontier for any company, and it’s important to recognise its impact on sales and profitability, positively or negatively.

Trust in brands and organisations is declining generally, but while research shows that 63% of people in the UK have stopped doing business with a brand because of poor customer service, builders’ merchants enjoy a high level of trust. Like all of us, builders and installers search for products and product information online, and they ask their mates, but they trust merchants to know about the products they sell and to be there when they need an expert opinion. And most are there for them.

What constitutes a good customer experience? What do people want?

People want to be able to engage and buy from all the available channels, on and offline. They expect two-way communication through them too, and research from MindMetre shows that 84% of consumers say they tend to stay more loyal to, and do more business with companies that offer a choice of ways for getting in touch.

They want it easy, and the slicker and quicker the better. Once we’ve taken the decision to buy, we want it now! The days when we were happy waiting for weeks are over. And the more we personally buy from companies like Amazon that offer almost instant availability, the more we personally want it. Asked do we really need it now, we may say no. But asked would we like it now, we say yes.

How can you improve your customer experience?

The trends are clear. By making every step and touchpoint on their Omnichannel journey easier, quicker, more convenient and friction free – from searching online and initial engagement, to instore product viewing, helping them narrow the choice with informed advice and knowledge so they can decide and buy, to offering home-fitting using trusted and independently verified tradespeople - the customer experience you offer gets closer to what customers really value.