"A bad system will beat a good person every time" (W. Edwards Deming, Total Quality Management).
You’re planning your eCommerce strategy: you’ve shortlisted technology platforms, found a 3PL that’s a perfect fit for your needs, screened marketing agencies, and have a customer care team already in place. Your launch road map is fitting together and you have confidence in the plan. Is there anything that could send your operation sideways down a path of unforeseen costs and missed timelines?
Don’t leave the page yet. For many people, integration is a boring and tedious subject. It might have a lot more interest for you after you consider how it can impact a digital commerce business. Like a real landmine, it can be an unexpected hazard with dire consequences.
Integration and the Customer Experience
"Customer dissatisfaction is usually the result of a breakdown in established business systems." Anonymous Sage
Have you ever called a support number for follow up on an outstanding issue for which you already have a case number or ticket, only to have the representative ask you to repeat the details of your problem all over again? Off to a bad start? Accenture found that 89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives. And this has consequences for businesses - over 80% of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service. RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report.
Customer experience is the new battlefield for establishing differentiation and winning and retaining customers. A study showed that nearly 90% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago. Gartner
Digital commerce places a greater burden on organizations to provide great service. In a physical store environment, the customer has a tactile experience with products and face to face contact with store personnel. With online shopping, authority and trust must be established via the website and interaction with virtual agents. This is challenging and leaves little room for error when a customer reaches out. And it’s easy to make mistakes when customer service is reacting based on inaccurate or out of date information.
Poor integration is at the root of these mistakes.
Several Pieces, Many Connections
These are the essential components needed to launch and execute an end to end eCommerce solution:
- eCommerce Website
- Digital Marketing
- Customer Service
- Warehousing and Fulfillment
- Payment Processing
All the components rely on technology, and sometimes multiple systems within an individual component.
To eliminate the broken links and inefficient processes that can handicap your operations, there are core systems/functionality that should be integrated with your website:
- Gives customer service real time visibility to accurate inventory levels
- Consumers can see which items are in stock, reducing or eliminating orders that can’t be filled and the problems associated with managing refunds.
- Generation of tracking numbers enables customers to use self-service to track their own orders
- Gives customer service the ability to provide fast and accurate status updates to customers
- Gives the support agent access to outstanding service tickets, orders, and buying history, facilitating better service and a personalized experience.
- Multi-channel support – phone, chat, email, social media.
- Self-service – many consumers prefer to resolve simple issues and find answers on their own. This saves you time and money too.
- Connect browsing & purchase history data to marketing campaigns
- Track abandoned cart patterns and mine this data to improve transactions
- Combine abandoned cart info with data about purchased items to make product recommendations, such as an accessory or a newly-trending item.
(Note that some Customer Service software has CRM features, and vice-versa. Depending on your requirements, one solution may suffice.)
Marketing – At the minimum you’ll need to integrate your e-mail platform. The others may come as your business scales:
- Personalization – product recommendation engines can enhance the personalized shopping experience and increase average order amounts.
- Social Media Management
- Analytics – analytics programs can deliver insights to optimize inventory levels, increase customer lifetime value, and develop pricing strategy, among many other things.
There are robust digital commerce platforms that provide much of the functionality mentioned above. But as your business grows, you’re likely to find that no all-in-one platform provides everything you need. A survey conducted by Forrester showed that 74 percent of merchants don’t think that their current e-Commerce solutions will scale to support their planned growth. (Forrester) It’s inevitable that you’ll need 3rd party software in addition to your platform, whether at launch or as your business scales. These integrations can be costly, time consuming, and disruptive.
What are some ways to navigate the integration minefield and survive intact?
Mitigating Risk and Costs
“We build our business systems the way we build our cities: over time, without a plan, on top of ruins” (Gene Brown)
- Pre-built integrations – when evaluating technology that touches on processes connected to your online strategy, one of the considerations should be whether they already have a gateway to your platform. Depending on the company, there may be a one time or monthly fee, but the cost of a custom integration will be much higher, and take longer.
- Planning – involve key stakeholders early and get their input to help define and document processes and requirements.
- Training – if staff doesn’t receive quality training on systems and processes, adoption will suffer, and so will your business.
- Consider a turnkey provider – there are a few companies that provide complete end to end digital commerce and managed services. They already have proven systems and processes in place, as well as people and infrastructure. Some will build and manage operations on a revenue share basis, so startup costs are minimal, and you’re partnering with a company that has a vested interest in your success, rather than contracting with vendors.
Now imagine calling customer service, and the agent has instant access to complete up to date information: status of outstanding issues, previous orders, shipping status, and browsing history. In addition to quickly resolving problems, the agent is also well positioned to advise you on special offers, promotions, and products that are a fit for your preferences.
In this case, the CRM, order management, and inventory systems have been integrated with the website, and the agent has been provided with actionable real- time information and trained to use it to resolve any issues and propose cross sells and upsells.
Integration involves more than just the exchange of data between systems. Complete end to end ecommerce relies heavily on processes and people grounded to physical infrastructure. These systems, people, and processes need to communicate seamlessly. If they don’t, one weak link in the chain will cause breakdowns which can impact productivity, customer service, and ultimately your bottom line.
By developing launch and growth plans that account for this you can easily avoid the integration minefield.
For more insight on end to end eCommerce strategy visit this resources page.