Defining the difference between a multi-channel and omnichannel customer experience

14th Aug 2013

Just as organisations were getting accustomed to being multi-channel companies, along comes omnichannel and a whole new set of challenges emerge. But what exactly do people mean when they talk about 'omnichannel' and what is the difference between that and multi-channel customer service?

We spoke with a panel of industry experts to get their take on it:

John Bowden, Senior Vice President of Customer Care, Time Warner Cable 

We must offer a multi-channel strategy that allows customers to use the channel of their choice.  Multichannel is an operational view -  how you allow the customer to complete transactions in each channel. Omnichannel, however,  is viewing the experience through the eyes of your customer, orchestrating the customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated and consistent. Omnichannel anticipates that customers may start in one channel and move to another as they progress to a resolution.  Making these complex “hand-offs” between channels must be fluid for the customer.  Simply put, Omnichannel is Multichannel done right!

Elizabeth Herrell, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research

Although there is no formal distinction between multichannel and omnichannel there is a perceived difference. Multichannel, a more traditional term, conveys customer support for voice, email and Web channels.  Omnichannel includes the addition of social and mobile channels and suggests fully integrated support to deliver a continuous and consistent customers experience.  Customer data from Web sites flow to agents, so there is no need for customers to repeat information.  Omnichannel optimizes customers’ experience with a rich media cross channel experience.

Dan Miller, Senior Analyst, Opus Research, Inc.

"Multi” means “many,” and “omni” means “all.” Both terms represent visions of the customer care Promised Land. “Multi-channel” feels more modest and doable. Even when taking “cross-channel” interactions into account, it puts constraints on modes of communications that are supported: phone, face2face, text, Web “clicks” and so on. Omni- channel is more provocative and perhaps aspirational because it hints at “omnipresence” and “omnipotence” – which are attributes each individual customer would welcome gladly.

John Casaretto, Contributing Editor, SiliconANGLE

An omnichannel experience is the expectation nowadays – the closer you can get to it the better. Consumers benefit when they are well connected to the product or service. So the challenge in the industry is to track and tailor across all the channels for the best experience – retail, web, mobile, text, phone – the good ones get this notion  and do it well.

Daniel Hong, Senior Director of Product Marketing, [24]7

Omnichannel means supporting all channels and having a holistic view of the customer regardless of communication method. This is vital as customers are increasingly dictating how they want to be engaged and serviced. Unlike multichannel, omnichannel interactions are not siloed but integrated providing for richer customer experiences that are connected (digital), continuous (consistent across devices, channels, and time) and contextual (relevant) no matter how many times a customer may transition from one channel to another for one task or during an entire journey.

Mike Hughes is the Managing Director for European Operations at [24]7 . He has over 20 years of experience in Customer Management, Change Leadership and IT and is passionate about raising the standard of industry best practice using technology to create a smoother customer experience and lessen customer effort.

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