Omni-channel strategy is a heavily abused corporate buzzword now-a-days. It’s a synonym for “brick and click”. In layman’s terms, it’s a combination of online and off-line presence which work together to deliver the “ultimate customer experience”. The corporate world defines it as a “seamless” integration of the physical and digital world. In a multi-channel strategy, you have multiple formats but they don’t “talk” to each other. A very dangerous futuristic example of an omni-channel experience is as follows.
You are sitting in your commode and browsing your phone. Google baba tracks your commode habits and your commode is geo-tagged. You suddenly figure that you need a change of commode as it has become old and got cracks in it. Google baba also see you searching for “stylish and smooth pink color” commodes. This information is fed to the commode company, which has tied up with Baba for an omni-channel integration via an analytics agency. You have also clicked “I agree to all kinds of stupid shit as it’s a pre-requisite to use your app. I have understood that you can access my contacts, photos , location, messages and have the time of your life at my expense. You can do anything you want by using my data. I accept usage of your cookies”. These online cookies are extremely distasteful, unlike the real tasty ones which grandma used to make for us. As you have again sold your data to these cookie-based websites and apps for free ( which is the equivalent of “ I have paid ..to get laid”), all your browsing habits rest with Google baba and the whole world. A few days later, when you go to the nearest showroom to buy your dream commode, the receptionist asks for your mobile number and email id at the entrance. In two minutes, you will see the salesperson arriving and directly talking about a pink commode and mentioning about it being “stylish and smooth “. This is a highly futuristic scenario of omni-channel integration for the Indian consumer.
A few companies globally are already doing this but for many organizations, this kind of integration is a distant dream as trying to get to speak to their customer care itself is an achievement. Take HDFC bank for example. “Dial 0 for loss of credit card and for 1 for all other things which we don’t bother “. If you have any other issue like upgrading your credit card etc, then they will ensure that they keep you waiting long enough that you feel it’s a dream come true if you get to speak to their customer care. Thinking of an omni-channel strategy is a strict no-no as they only want to adopt a “we manage only lost credit cards” strategy. The tagline in their ads is aptly titled“we understand your world”.
Then, there are a few diamonds like our very own “Airtel” which are so bad at basics that they should be banned for life for using words like “omni-channel”. Not so long ago, it advertised about being an “open” network and a feedback driven organization. I think the folks there are “open” only about their “collections from consumers”. The moment my data card postpaid bill got overdue by a day, their collection department would call every few hours. I had asked them to discontinue my data card in November, when their collection agent called the first time. They had even imposed a late payment fee for delaying. I told them that I can only pay the bill amount and asked them to disconnect immediately as i was no longer using it. The tele-callers asked me to pay and they said they would immediately disconnect. To my horror, every month they kept charging me for the next three months and called me up to pay the overdues. I did not respond. Finally, one brave collection agent called me and said he’s coming to my house to collect the money. I had to tell him that I would call the police if he comes without my permission and file a case of harassment. He then took me on conference call with his boss. His boss threw a googly which even Shane Warne would be proud of. He said that only collections were his responsibility and to get a connection termination request, I had to call on their customer care. It took 120 days for someone to explain me this simple process. I told them that I was filing a legal complaint and they could do whatever they want. After that, the monthly bills keep accumulating till date but the collection agents would have tagged me as a “NPA” and that’s the reason why the collection calls don’t come. No wonder the Airtel girl in their ad keeps harping “Sab kuch try karo, phir sahi chuno”
The lifetime achievement award for a mismanaged omni-channel, however, should go to ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. Upon my financial planner’s advice, I decided to opt for a “hassle-free online” experience. So, I paid the premium amount of 20 odd grand and submitted all my documents online. The next day, I got a call from their customer care saying they have not received the documents. I mailed them again. This exercise repeated twice in two days. Fed up, I decided to go and submit the documents at their branch office in Jayanagar. I quoted my document reference number at their branch location. The folks there told me that online complaints could “only” be resolved by the online team “online”. Their department had nothing to do with “online” applications. I was flabbergasted. In the same company, there were two departments which behaved like India and Pakistan. Based on the offline team’s advice, I cancelled my online application at the offline branch. The money would be refunded and then I could apply again offline in the branch. I was asked to fill a form stating reasons for the online cancellation. The reason for cancellation “personal reasons” was pre-ticked in the form. Before I could give my piece of mind and use the words “legal notice” and “mental harassment” again, the branch manager intervened and counselled the employee to issue a new form. Then, I was asked to provide a blank cheque along with my bank account details. I had paid through my credit card and I couldn’t understand why they could not credit it to the same account and do a simple credit reversal. The front desk employee again repeated “ Sir, online and offline are two completely different departments and we have this SOP” I cursed myself for applying online. I was told it would take 20 working days for the money to be refunded to my savings account. I waited for 25 working days, but my account did not show any refund. When I called the call centre, they replied “Sir, this is handled by the offline department so please sort it out there”. I went to the branch next day and asked them about my status. They had no clue and told me it was the “claims” department job and they had already given instructions. I followed up regularly for the next two weeks but nobody had any clue where my refund was stuck. I was ready to write a long rant on their social media handles but before I could do that, I received my credit card statement. Guess what? The amount had been reversed in my credit card statement and no one had any clue. Ironically, ICICI Pru’s tag line is – “We cover you. At every step in life”
So friends, the next time you read about a company boasting about its “omni-channel” strategy to provide a best-in-class customer experience, you know which case studies to refer to.