Not only do customers wish to utilize a variety of channels within the buyer-seller relationship, they frequently use multiple channels to complete even a single, specific transaction. A frequently cited example of this may be found within the airline industry. Customers may contact an airline customer care center or consult with a travel agent for trip planning counsel, hence consuming valuable time and resources, only to turn around and purchase the actual ticket from the lowest price point channel, such as a discounted Internet travel site. This can be costly to any organization as the purchaser is using up considerable resources not dedicated to their actual point of purchase.
Nunes and Cespedes (2003) refer to this behavior as “value poaching.” Given that channel choices are expanding, there is almost an infinite set of paths that a customer can take through a set of channels to complete a transaction. Therefore, organizations need to create enticements that draw customers through profitable paths. This is much different than shifting customers to low cost channels. Rather, this involves adding value to elements of the channel structure to encourage customer use for specific activities. It does not assume that some customers can be confined to specific channels.
Given that adding new channels rarely means taking old ones away, there needs to be careful planning and consideration to provide order for both customers and sales organizations in a state of ever-increasing complexity. This includes a supportive data infrastructure, skilled managers, guidelines for conflict resolution, and a customer-focused usage strategy. Organizations that are successful at this are those that are managing the use of channels to meet not only their individual expectations but also to fulfill the promise of a multichannel structure.