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The omnichannel customer experience is poised to take off in regulated industries

TechCrunch TechCrunch 26/05/2016 Clara Shih

The omnichannel customer experience is nothing new, especially in the consumer and retail industries. Many companies and brands are using data and automation technologies to engage seamlessly with their customers at any time and place and across any device.

At the same time, omnichannel doesn’t mean digitizing every aspect of the customer journey without regard to which channel is best-suited for customer needs at each stage. The recent news of Google Compare shutting down is a great example of this.

The search engine giant’s entry into — and quick exit from — financial services proves one thing: Even with all the data and insights in the world, customer value is not based solely on price or convenience. Rather, “comprehensive answers” related to insurance, mortgage and other financial products are largely best served by professionals who can provide high-touch interactions with customers across channels, online and off.

But that doesn’t mean high-touch industries such as financial services, healthcare and government are completely immune from being profoundly affected by the new digital economy. Fundamental shifts in consumer expectations and behaviors, coupled with new technologies, are poised to accelerate their evolution — even in the face of regulatory pressure.

The new omnichannel customer

A new crop of consumers is emerging. They are more informed, empowered and connected, demanding complete control when making purchase decisions. For instance, it’s no longer uncommon for consumers to roam the aisles of stores with a hand-held device in tow to comparison shop, read product reviews and ask their social media connections for advice and recommendations in real time. Consumers are increasingly relying on anytime access and interaction with products and services from retailers that provide continuous online and offline customer experiences.

To ride this sea change, retailers such as Target and Macy’s began studying different habits of consumers across devices and found that tablets offer easy browsing; phones are for research (though mobile sales are increasing); and purchases ultimately take place on a computer or in the store.

Even today, however, online revenues account for only a small fraction of business. But omnichannel is more than sales — it means delighting customers in person, connecting seamlessly between visits via social, mobile and web, and being able to immediately reference both store and web interaction history when customers call for help.

Regulated industries face unique hurdles

Think about the last time you interacted with your financial advisor, doctor or government representative. You probably had to communicate with them in person, by phone or through an antiquated Web interface that required you to set up (and remember) a password. But chances are you’d much rather engage with them more seamlessly on your terms, because you’ve grown accustomed to this in your experiences with consumer brands.

New technologies are emerging that enable these regulated industries to innovate and still remain in compliance.

In all of these examples, there are regulations that dictate how and where a financial advisor, doctor or government representative can communicate with you. Regulations designed to protect consumers from privacy concerns, fraud, malpractice, conflicts of interestor lack of transparency have the unintended consequence of making it difficult to connect in new, more efficient ways.

Yet in each of these worlds, customers expect a personalized, concierge-like experience. You need your advisor to know your life situation and to be readily available if something unexpected happens; you need your doctor to know your medical history. Customers increasingly expect an omnichannel experience — both in how they communicate and what their advisor or doctor knows about them to provide the best course of action.

We’re at a tipping point

Fortunately, these ensconced industries have made significant strides to bridging compliance concerns and changing consumer expectations. Thanks to the unique intersection of technology innovations and expectation shifts, we are today at a tipping point where, if done right, these industries could succeed in creating a world-class omnichannel customer experience.

In healthcare, records are moving online and patients are demanding care 24/7. The Mayo Clinic has begun to recognize the importance of omnichannel, given that many patients are self-diagnosing their conditions and may need help online before they physically see a doctor. At the recent Health IT Conference for 2016, Oracle debuted its Oracle Healthcare Foundation platform to “treat each patient with a personal touch.” And with more than 13,000 health and medical apps available on mobile devices and through wearables, mainstream medicine will have to integrate itself further with the online experience.

In financial services, robo-advice technology is trying to disrupt the industry, projected to manage 6 percent of all U.S. investments by 2020. Clients are demanding the type of simple, digital interactions roboadvisors make possible, yet they still crave that personal, unique relationship that only a human advisor can offer.

In government, agencies are pursuing and promoting approaches to communication that will lead to increased efficiency and citizen engagement. The General Services Administration has partnered with Yelp to officially recognize ratings of federal agencies. And the good old United States Postal Service is looking to make direct mail digitally enabled.

A new crop of consumers is emerging. They are more informed, empowered and connected.

New technologies are emerging that enable these regulated industries to innovate and still remain in compliance. For example, in the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s electronic health record mandate, countless vendors and consultants have emerged to ensure compliance. last year doubled down on its vertical cloud solutions, starting with financial services. And government agencies now offer specific certifications — such as FedRAMP for cloud vendors — to balance the need for innovation with compliance.

The result? True, individual-level personalization. Retailers may argue they tailor experiences at the individual level, but because of the sheer scale of customers, they have to bucket them into manageable categories.

Instead, financial services, healthcare, and government have the opportunity to use insights gleaned across both physical interactions and digital channels and consolidated in a unified manner to truly understand and best serve the unique individual — rather than those with shared characteristics. This will result in more personalized, high-touch communications and advice, as well as unprecedented customization of when, where and how to engage with consumers.

That’s precisely why the financial services industry is poised to transcend the marble buildings of Wall Street, the healthcare industry has a real opportunity to turn the traditional patient experience on its head and government agencies are set to transform the way they interact with the public.

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