The Difference Between a Multichannel and an Omnichannel Customer Experience

Most organizations offer a variety of ways for customers to reach out for assistance, but an omnichannel support solution connects those channels for a streamlined customer experience.

Articles published February 13, 2017

Do you offer many different types of channels for customers to reach your company? Better yet, do you know what channels your customers prefer to use to reach you? Even more importantly, do you know if your customers prefer to reach you via several different channels?

Most organizations offer a variety of ways for customers to reach out for assistance, but there are still many that really don’t think about how those channels work together. They simply view them as independent ways for a customer to get service when they need it. First-class customer-focused organizations know that it is not just important to make multiple communication channels available to customers (multichannel support), but it is equally important to think about how those channels are integrated together to build a seamless, consistent customer experience (omnichannel support).

Many organizations believe multichannel and omnichannel mean basically the same thing. This is, however, not the case and both are becoming more critical as consumers choose to interact via several channels, sometimes simultaneously, to get service. 

What is Multichannel Support?

Let’s start with multichannel first. Multichannel support is the idea of providing your customers with the ability to connect with you via several communication methods, such as phone, live chat, email, social media, and others. While all of these methods may be available separately to customers, they don’t necessarily work together. Each communication method is viewed as an independent contact channel, often resulting in a slightly different customer experience across each. This means consistency of branding, policies, and quality can vary depending on their preferred method of contact.

Internally, these channels are sometimes managed by completely different groups of customer service agents, which means there is not a lot of cross-pollination in terms of knowledge and expertise about how one channel works with another. It is important to have a multi-channel approach, for sure, but thinking about how all of these channels work together with today’s customer is critical. 

What is Omnichannel Support?

Omnichannel support is the same as multichannel in the sense that several methods of communication are available, including phone, email, live chat, social media, and others, but there is one very significant difference: the channels are set up and managed in a way to create a consistent customer experience at all times, no matter how the customer chooses to interact with your brand. This is critical because today’s consumer is likely to interact with your organization using several channels, rather than picking just one preferred method. What’s more, today’s consumer may even communicate via several channels at the same time. 

For instance, the other day I was online looking through some information on my mobile phone account. I ended up calling customer service to get more information, but remained with my account online. The agent was able to tell me exactly how to find the information I needed online and even shared some other helpful information about the site to make my experience better in the future. This is just one example of effective omnichannel customer support, and I can give you endless examples of this. This is what the consumer of today expects out of a customer service interaction. He or she expects to get the information they need wherever they want it, and they expect it to be consistent across any channel.  

Research Shows Efficacy of Omnichannel Support

According to research conducted by the Aberdeen Group, omnichannel contact centers had 55 percent less customer complaints and a 44 percent increase in customer retention on an annual basis, compared to multichannel contact centers.

Additional research shows an omnichannel approach is increasingly beneficial to contact centers, however, the biggest task is having to handle and manage all of the channels at the same time. Since omnichannel support requires that the customer experience must stay the same throughout every channel, there has to be constant management to ensure consistency.

Providing an Omnichannel Customer Experience

An effective way to determine what specific communication channels are most important to your customers is to look at your contextual support. See how your customers prefer to contact you and how they get to that point. Looking at customer context can help your organization with prioritization as you ease into an omnichannel solution. You might determine a few disparate channels are sufficient for your customers, or it may be that an omnichannel approach would improve the customer experience.

Moving to an omnichannel approach is no easy task. It requires a strategic approach to customer care and the ability to execute on all of the tactical components associated with it day in and day out, but this approach can pay off in the long run. Omnichannel solutions provide agents greater insight into the customer request, ultimately leading to more efficient agents, faster resolution, and more satisfied customers.

Does your organization need to implement an omnichannel approach?