ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


What Omnichannel Can Do That Multichannel Cannot

Freedom of choice is important. Applied to customer service, this means allowing your customers to talk to you when and how they want, on the channel of their choice. You might think that "multichannel" customer service achieves just that. The term has been around for a while and generally implies that businesses give their customers multiple avenues into the contact center: voice and email being the most prominent ones, with Web chat, social networks and SMS typically next in line. (What’s interesting in this context is that the most advanced environment for customer service, the mobile app, only exposes the most antiquated channel available: the phone call. It typically lists several phone numbers to call for human help. I call that broken.)

While multichannel customer service is a great step forward, it doesn't pay tribute to how connected mobile consumers are today. With a full-fledged computer in their pockets that is constantly connected to the Internet, they have ubiquitous access to information and communications.

Two things should be considered when thinking about B2C customer care:

  1. Your customers don't think in "channels"
  2. They increasingly expect to communicate with you in the same ways that they communicate with friends and family: switching channels as they please and not having to "start over" in their dialogs

The first point was convincingly made by Neiman Marcus recently when they announced the consolidation of their brick and mortar and online customer service organization. To quote a spokesperson: "Our customers do not differentiate between channels [...] and now neither will we. [...] [To] them, Neiman Marcus is Neiman Marcus, regardless of whether they are in-store or shopping on our website."

In their 2014 customer service trends list, Forrester makes the point about omni-channel customer care being a practice you cannot shy away from any longer. But what does it mean? It means that channels become "mutually aware." Omnichannel could also be called "cross-channel."

A customer should be able to take a conversation started in one channel over into another one without having to repeat herself - ever. But it doesn't just apply to switching channels. It also needs to apply when shifting from a self-service interaction to agent-assisted live service. IVR systems often do that today within a call when transferring the customer to an agent, but not when the customer is calling again within a short time span - say when they couldn't finish a transaction, or when the call got dropped. Furthermore, self-service journeys often fail when switching from IVR to a mobile app, or from a mobile app to the contact center, as alluded to in the observation I made earlier.

Going even further, businesses shouldn't wait for the customer contact. When they know something that is relevant for the customer to know, or when they can remind their customers about a specific business process, they should engage proactively. This is yet again a main trend identified in Forrester's report.

The distinction between self-service and agent-assisted live service will not evolve itself and neither will inbound vs. outbound service. As for the channels, they will continue to pop up - or did you know what Snapchat was until recently? Darwin is still right: only those that know how to adapt will survive.

How omnichannel is YOUR customer service?

More Resources