The stakes have risen for distributors to provide an excellent customer experience across all channels: digital, in person and print. While many distributors have started offering a more robust experience beyond just field sales and customer service, the experience is not always seamless. Ecommerce initiatives, for example, aren’t always aligned with the sales team’s efforts in the field. It’s also surprising how many distributors don’t show a customer’s offline purchasing history on their ecommerce websites. And if a distributor doesn’t have CRM, communication between departments about a customer’s buying habits or needs is limited.

So, while multichannel is a step in the right direction, what distributors really want to accomplish is an omnichannel shopping and buying experience for their customers.

The difference is subtle: Omnichannel is really an integrated version of multichannel. In other words, the customer’s experience is the same no matter how they interact with your business. Everything is linked from the pre-sale to post-sale and beyond; nothing exists in a silo. For example, with an omnichannel approach, a customer service rep can see everything a customer has purchased or requested and how your company has responded, whether it was via EDI, fax, ecommerce, in the store or after the purchase in a service call.

An omnichannel approach must support how the customer wants to interact with the distributor – not just in shopping and buying but in other points in the customer journey.

A common example of a post-sale omnichannel experience is a repair. The customer may go onto your website and start chatting with a customer service rep to troubleshoot the issue. The CSR may determine that the case is too complex for chat, so she escalates the chat to a distributor support expert to resolve the issue. That expert then may need to view the customer’s history, including a real-time view of the customer’s inventory. They then may initiate a video chat session to see the problem and help to pinpoint the solution.

These kinds of experiences may happen before the sale, as well. For example, a customer could start configuring a product on a manufacturer’s website. That bill of materials then would seamlessly get dropped into a shopping cart that is processed by the appropriate distributor’s ecommerce solution. A handoff is made to the distributor’s CSR to provide pre-sales expertise through phone, chat and email until the sale closes. A confirmation is then delivered to the customer by email or text.

Providing a true omnichannel experience requires an investment in the right technology, training and processes, including, at minimum, an ERP system, CRM, marketing automation platform, and chat functionality on your website.

To determine what you need to meet your customers’ needs, start with customer research to learn how your customers prefer to interact with you and your sales force throughout the shopping and buying journey. Read our research, What Customers Want, to start, and contact us to learn more about surveying your own customer base.