With today’s demand for improved customer experience, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the advantages of omnichannel versus multichannel. The main reason for this is there are many multichannel environments where providers — but likely not customers — think they are delivering an omnichannel experience, when in fact they are more multichannel.
Can you say with 100% certainty that your company is offering an omnichannel experience? If not, these guidelines can help you differentiate between multichannel and omnichannel.
Seamless Customer Engagement
The main difference between the two approaches is that multichannel makes use of a series of silos – chat, email, voice, social, in fact, all engagement platforms – that are not fully in sync. This inevitably means that multichannel environments have gaps in communication, which present a higher risk of losing a customer, along with the relationship.
A key thing to remember here is that if the customer isn’t always at the center of the engagement then the experience is not truly omnichannel.
Omnichannel satisfies and retains customers because they begin their journey using the engagement method of their choice and can move across channels seamlessly as part of a single, unified conversation. This is low effort for the customer, with context maintained to keep things personal and meaningful.
To get the most value out of omnichannel, a provider must do a lot more than simply synchronize across engagement platforms; it has to provide visibility for customer service agents, too.
Omnichannel offers a continuous, ongoing, and easy-to-access view of the customer journey and, therefore, also allows for multiple agents to have full visibility into the relationship. This way, as a customer engages with an organization, there’s an immediate understanding of the person’s complaints, their feedback, and their purchase history. Typically, critical support comes from an enterprise dashboard that contains all of this essential customer information.
To get to omnichannel, a business must embrace the micro level of the customer experience while also attending to the macro level of the organization. They must embrace business rules that are effective and consistent while also being agile and nimble.
Where Does Omnichannel Stand Today?
Despite all the chatter, omnichannel is by no means the norm these days. Research firm Gartner estimates that a mere 5% of companies offer true omnichannel. Worse, nearly 60% are completely siloed. That isn’t only a problem for customers; it also means that companies must allocate more resources to support their customer base, training internal experts to navigate their own labyrinthine systems.
How, then, can companies get to a true omnichannel environment?
First, they must acknowledge that omnichannel is a necessary component of digital transformation and a digital business is not genuinely enabled until each employee is also a digital worker. With regard to engagement, the customer can only be at the center of the experience if the correct agent can see the necessary steps in the customer’s journey.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see some of the pitfalls on the road from multichannel to omnichannel. The first is that multichannel often prioritizes different channels, with escalating handoffs, all under the assumption that the customer journey is linear. But a non-variable multi-stage approach is merely a hierarchical linking within multichannel and not true omnichannel.
First Steps in Switching to Omnichannel
Whether a company has discovered they are not fully omnichannel, or they have decided to embark on a new omnichannel journey, the challenge for most brands is centralizing their use of a variety of platforms, such as a call center platform for voice, a chat platform, and a social platform, all of which need to be siloed.
A brand faced with this challenge has two choices. First, they could invest in a new platform that allows for a true omnichannel experience, which is expensive in most cases, because of the licensing costs and the time-intensive process of remapping important connections, such as the company website, ERP system, point of order system, and vendors, among others.
The second choice is to partner with vendors who can provide omnichannel capabilities, or something close to it. The vendor has already invested in the technology, so the cost burden is vastly reduced. They have also done the hard work of remapping and connecting certain channels, lowering the need to use expensive time and resources.
Certainly, it also makes sense to begin by aligning a website with top channels, but keep in mind that you’re not working from your world out toward the customer; instead, this is an “outside in” approach that always thinks in terms of the customer experience.
Remember that if the customer is indeed at the center of the experience, then their chosen mode of interaction immediately takes priority, with all other channels functioning as support.
Continuous Digital Journey
Although we can safely say that some organizations deliver omnichannel and others multichannel, the distinction between the two is also that multichannel is static, whereas omnichannel is always evolving. The ability to embrace this kind of change is a function of digital enablement.
That leaves many organizations faced with a tough decision: Does the journey to omnichannel involve a rip-and-replace approach to current technology, or can the approach be based on incremental change?
It’s true that there are applications that provide visibility into the customer journey across silos, allowing for agents to deliver better service based on enhanced context and awareness. The challenge is that bolt-on solutions don’t deliver on the promise of the digital enterprise, which is the ability to adapt along with customer behavior and preferences continuously.
For example, Gartner has found that although 67% of large companies track journeys, most do so manually and after the fact. That delay can be costly. The critical thing to remember in the context of omnichannel is that digital technologies should be used to embrace the business moment — which is to say, the point of interaction with the customer. And though many smaller customer service applications and widgets can help here, the larger journey usually involves a holistic approach that embraces transformative technologies, such as cloud-based infrastructure and software.
Looking to the Future
Omnichannel is forever — you need to be prepared to adapt to the kinds of cutting-edge marketing campaigns that your clients’ customers will be responding to. This means looking to partner with high touch, high quality vendors that can guarantee solid human interactions, as well as thinking toward new technologies that can assist agents in handing asynchronous responses in high traffic environments.
The notion of continuous transformation can be intimidating but take solace in the fact that, yes, with regard to omnichannel there is a real and definable goal. Ask yourself: Can your customers engage via chat, voice, IVR, and email as part of a continuous conversation without having to repeat information?
Keep in mind, too, that the goal is not a static place but is, instead, rich with opportunity. An omnichannel environment is much better suited to the dynamics of the market and changing customer behaviors and preferences. And though the path to omnichannel can be incremental, the vision should be one of customer-centric transformation as opposed to a series of bolt-on digital tools.
This combination of seamless customer engagement, exceptional agent interactions, and preparedness for future platforms, is the end zone you need to be sprinting toward.