The Internet of things (IOT) and omni-channel have something in common: both are concepts that are elusive when it comes to describing what they are and how to use them. When those at the forefront of technology discuss them, they tend to focus on advanced ideas that are difficult to articulate to the average person.

To get to the future, the present and the past need to be dealt with first.

But, there’s an application for both of them, which is bringing them together in a way that makes sense to companies and their customers: retail.

At first glance, IOT can make the layperson think of Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix”, in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality, created by sentient machines to subdue the human population. However, it’s hardly as sinister as that.

It’s best described as a vast network of devices connected to the Internet, including smartphones and tablets and almost anything with a sensor on it. These devices contain embedded technology that allows them to communicate, sense and interact with their internal states.

Omni-channel is the goal of a seamless approach to communication that seeks to provide the customer with an ordered, consistent experience, whether the customer is communicating online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone or in a bricks-and-mortar store.

Within the contact centre environment, omni-channel is there to bring down the silos of different channels so information is accessible to everyone who needs it, allowing agents to deliver on customer expectations, and cutting out various pain points that exist outside of an omni-channel experience.

It’s early days still, but both of these advancements in technology are in harmony with each other in the retail environment. Since omni-channel was originally developed to enhance e-commerce, it’s fitting that IOT is facilitating this goal.

Mobile devices driving the revolution

With the advent of mobile devices becoming the primary medium of interaction, companies are able to personalise the way they do business. Besides being able to reach customers wherever they are, businesses can now access fantastic amounts of data describing in infinite detail who their customers are, what they want, how and when they want it. Companies can build profiles around their customers about how they’ve done business with them in the past, profiles that provide insights into the ongoing customer relationships.

In retail, IOT can bring to life this omni-channel experience: based on customer activity, companies can find out when they enter a store, connect them to staff best suited to assist, locate them in the actual store, or receive notifications when they arrive to pick up a product ordered online, among many other useful applications.

It’s all interconnected: customers may start out by contacting the company via phone and then end up in the store or communicating via chat, e-mail or social media: the point is, omni-channel brings all these lines of communication together (potentially facilitated by the connectivity of the IOT) to create a seamless customer experience (CX) across all channels.

Slow and steady

This may sound intimidating to devise and implement, but not all companies need to have such high-end technology driving their workflow. Depending on the nature of the business, a company may not need to operate with it. Yet. It takes time for consumers to adapt, but once they do, the demand for this kind of customer service will become the norm.

If a company is not even close to this kind of approach, don’t panic. Rushing into adding applications may not be of benefit to the company; since both omni-channel and IOT implementations are still considered fairly new and emerging approaches, companies can move towards these gradually as the technology develops, matures and begins to make sense for business.

In a customer service environment, for example, start with a business-wide analysis that takes into account all of the pain points that customers and contact centre agents may experience during the customer journey, and see if there are ways of addressing these that don’t require rolling out an entirely new system. I’ve found spending some time examining current processes, technology and overall CX can provide immense insights into how to drive business improvements.

There’s no doubt remarkable solutions such as omni-channel and the promise that IOT has will have great influence on how business is done in the future, but to get to the future, the present and the past need to be dealt with first. What has the company been doing wrong, and how can it be fixed? Conversely, what is the company doing right?

Change is inevitable, as competitors roll out various options designed to attract and keep customers that are needed to stay in the race. What seems otherworldly now – perhaps even from a sci-fi movie – may become the norm in future… are you ready to meet the challenge?

This article was first published by ITWeb on 8 September 2017.