The Deadzone: Why omnichannel is dead

3rd Dec 2015

In the first of a new series where industry experts bust buzzwords and puncture hyperbole, Max Ball attacks 'omnichannel'. 

The term 'multichannel' has been superseded by 'omnichannel'. This conveys a viable way to talk about smarter, more personalised interactions and how you need to serve customers as they move between channels. However, the term is confusing and off putting, and moves us further away from the conversation we should be having.

Customers really do see many different interactions with a company across many disparate channels as a single conversation with a single entity - regardless of how many departments or organisations those interactions represent within a company. Add one part millennial entitlement and it starts to bring a fascinating, new level of expectations to these customer interactions.

Originally coined by the retail sector, ‘omnichannel’ is the latest term that describes the idea that a customer may use any and all types of media before finally purchasing a product or service. However, most people hate the term, and it doesn’t really embody the great customer experience ethos that most customer centric organisations are looking to attain.

My epiphany on the challenges of the term ‘omnichannel’ came about during a sales training event, after explaining the term three different times and hearing my definition start to drift from one explanation to the next, and therein lies the problem! The term ‘omnichannel’ can mean everything and nothing.

What do people typically mean with they use the term? Omnichannel encompasses a real-world phenomenon today that organisations are woefully unprepared to deal with - the seamless movement of customers from one channel to the next. The most common case of this is a customer who starts online but cannot solve their problem there. This happens during the sales cycle, and this happens when they need support. According to Forrester, 69% of online customers move to another channel because they are not able to solve their problem on the web. Or perhaps, a customer has spoken with someone and now they want to know that their package is shipping - a simple text message fits the bill there.

What about someone who is talking on the phone to an agent, and the agent can push web pages to them? Or send text messages with URLs? What about co-browsing? What about EPOS devices or stores or bank branches?

All of these fall into different definitions of omnichannel, and the complexity of the ‘what if’ game that goes with the term takes us away from what really matters - the customer.

The term ‘omnichannel’ can mean everything and nothing.

What if we just agree that customers want to talk when they want, on the most convenient channel they prefer in that moment? And that every interaction should use as much context as possible to be as smart and productive as possible. Wouldn’t that be much simpler?

So let’s just drop the term ‘omnichannel’, it doesn’t describe what we mean very well, and focus on what customers want and how we can best accommodate them. That’s the objective of every business - not to mention the price of admission for loyal customers and a thriving, sustainable company.

Moving to ‘any media’

If you want to deliver an amazing customer experience, you need to think about what you customers really want and how you can deliver that, using ‘any media’.

First of all, is it easy to transition between channels? Can your clients escalate from the web or a mobile app to a person that will be able to help them.

Secondly, when your customers call, do you know who they are? Can they speak to the person that they spoke to last time, can they resume a conversation with the same person. Do they need to hold or can you call them back?

Thirdly, can your contact centre respond to these customer requirements? Can your agents move seamlessly between channels, with access to the on-going customer conversation? Do they have all the tools they need at their fingertips to respond in real-time to customer requests? 

If you want to deliver an amazing customer experience, you need to think about what you customers really want and how you can deliver that, using ‘any media’.

Customers simply want their issues resolved as quickly and easily as possible, in a fast and intelligent manner using whatever media they happen to be using at the time. It is this intelligence that is the key difference and what makes an ‘any media’ approach a significant step up from omni or multichannel. The customer information, or intelligence, needs to move seamlessly with the conversation.

Taking an ‘any media’ approach means putting the customer in the centre of all that you do - eliminating disconnects between different media, and giving customers a smart, efficient and consistent experience on the channel of their choice. Lest we forget, that includes voice, so don’t let all the noise about multi/omni/cross-channel distract you from providing good service on the channel that customers still use the most for service inquiries.

If you make every interaction smart and efficient, you can truly start to build strong customer relationships that are enduring. These memorable customer experiences can ultimately be the biggest differentiator. In a world where it is increasingly difficult to differentiate on price and your competitors are only a click or a call away, differentiating on great customer experience is clearly the smartest way to increase sales, margins and profitability.

Max Ball is the senior product marketing manager for 8x8 Virtual Contact Center.

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