Customers want to be able to talk to businesses whenever and however they prefer. A decade ago, that meant through call, email, and in-person, but these days it means text, social media, and even robochat and interactive voice response.
Most companies have met this customer demand by now by offering these multiple channels, but many have done so in an unintegrated way that leads to inconsistencies and miscommunications between channels and to poor quality, frazzled interactions between agents and customers.
Aware of how this can negatively affect their customer experience, not to mention their employees’ job satisfaction, many businesses have switched to omnichannel approaches in marketing, sales, customer service, and other departments.
In this article, we’ll tell you exactly how multichannel and omnichannel differ, why omnichannel is generally better, especially for contact centers, and which is right for you.
Omnichannel is the use of multiple customer communication channels in an integrated manner. Businesses that use omnichannel approaches in marketing, customer service, and other departments can connect with customers via different channels — social, email, text, etc. — all from one online platform. It’s essentially the evolved version of the multichannel approach.
In the contact center space, agents operate from the same database and information regardless of which channel they’re currently using, and they don’t have to switch tools when they change channels. In short, they can access important customer information and various communication channels from one tool, which is often a CCaaS platform.
Here are some of the main traits that define CCaaS-powered, omnichannel contact centers:
For an illustration of how omnichannel works in customer service, imagine that a customer recently filed a complaint through email and is now calling the company to talk with an agent.
If the company uses an omnichannel approach, the phone and email channels are integrated, and midconversation, from the same platform that the agent used to answer the phone call, they can find and read the email for context.
This story highlights one of the top benefits of omnichannel customer service: personalization. Customers talking to agents often get a sense that the company has an outstanding memory for their prior conversations, like some excellent friend.
Because of this and other reasons that will be made evident throughout this article, omnichannel is known to improve customer experience and boost your customer base’s loyalty to your business.
Multichannel is the use of multiple, but separate, customer communication channels. Businesses can interact with customers across various channels, from text and social to call and live chat, thereby providing that convenience and choice customers want.
However, agents have to constantly switch tools, screens, or apps to do so. The channels don’t operate in a unified way. And customers have to start from scratch every time they use a new channel.
In the contact center space, this segregation of both the communication channels and the conversational data that is collected can lead to poor experiences for customers, especially when they start to feel like the customer service team is disorganized and uninformed about their history or situation.
No one wants to have an email discussion with an agent and then have to retell the story via phone to another agent. It just feels like a major waste of time. That said, a multichannel approach is typically still better than a single-channel approach, as it helps you serve your customer’s communication preferences and capture a larger market.
Across all departments, multichannel and omnichannel differ mainly in that omnichannel strategies integrate the various marketing channels and enable employees to access each one from one single location, while multichannel approaches keep each channel separate and force employees to hop onto different tools when switching methods.
Omnichannel also places a greater emphasis on customer experience than multichannel. It places the customer at the center of communication. Each action a customer takes is tracked in a centralized platform and influences how employees, or automations, across all channels interact with that customer.
For instance, if during a chatbot conversation a customer said they preferred to communicate with the business in Spanish, the customer would start to receive all messages in Spanish, across all channels, because each one is drawing from the same customer data source.
Many businesses are switching their customer service, marketing, and other departments from multichannel operations to omnichannel ones, as this change has been shown to increase customer retention.
In fact, according to a survey by Aspect Software, companies that start using an omnichannel approach accomplish a 91% greater year-over-year customer retention rate compared to those that do not. Additionally, a change can also boost sales and decrease costs via efficiency gains.
The main difference between a multichannel and an omnichannel contact center boils down to whether or not they integrate their communication channels.
Both types of contact centers enable their agents to communicate with customers via various channels, but only the omnichannel contact centers connect and unify those channels, enabling agents to use each of them from the same online platform. Multichannel contact centers, on the other hand, keep each channel separate and often silo each channel’s data.
Often, an omnichannel contact center is powered by cloud-based contact center software that facilitates this rather technically challenging integration of the various channels a business uses. This technology makes omnichannel easy to adopt for even small businesses with limited resources.
From the customer’s point of view, companies using omnichannel contact centers appear more consistent, personalized, and cognizant of little details than their multichannel counterparts.
The experience feels more seamless, as if no matter which channel the customer decides to use or which agent they talk with, they’re always interacting with the same brand, a brand that remembers their past interactions.
Let’s walk through two examples of customer communication with two companies: one that is using an omnichannel contact center and another that is using a multichannel contact center. This illustration should show, rather emphatically, how omnichannel approaches typically provide a better, faster customer service experience.
Imagine that a retail brand’s customer calls into customer service because they are having trouble figuring out how to set up a tent they recently purchased from the company. The agent walks them through the steps of the process, and after hanging up, the customer attempts to follow the instructions but fails again.
Thinking that it may help the agent to have a picture of the tent issue, the customer sends an email to the company’s customer service department, saying, “This is the part I can’t get past.”
A new agent, in need of context, asks the customer what the problem is. This annoys the customer, who now has to explain the issue all over again. The agent then types the exact same instructions as the first agent, further exacerbating the customer’s agitation.
Finally fully up to date, the agent tells the customer that it’d be smart for them to hop onto a live chat platform, where the agent can share videos the company has of the setup process. The agent then exits out of email, finds the messaging app, launches it, and continues the discussion to a resolution.
A week later, the customer realizes the tent is faulty and asks for a refund over text. A third agent, unaware of the past interactions, asks the customer if they set it up correctly. In response to this ignorance, the customer launches into a diatribe against the brand, causing the agent, at their wit’s end, to quit the next day and the customer to declare they will never buy from this brand again.
Now let’s look at how things change when the channels are unified and the agents have easy access to multiple channels and customer history and data.
Imagine that a bank’s customer emails with questions about their charges, and an agent responds via email. Unsatisfied, the customer decides to place a call and talk it through in real time.
The agent, with quick access to CRM data and conversational history on one platform, gains context, tells the customer they are up to date on their situation, and then walks them through the fees.
The customer is happy with their preparedness but still confused, so the agent recommends that they hop on a video call. The rep initiates this channel switch seamlessly from the same computer screen on which they answered the call, then shares their screen, and walks through the charges line by line.
The customer understands and is happy with the quick, comprehensive service. The savvy agent, looking over the customer data, even asks the customer about their birthday plans, wowing the buyer and receiving a five-star rating, which is also tracked on the platform. She gets a promotion, and the customer becomes a lifelong buyer.
As you can see from these two examples, the customer who came into contact with an omnichannel contact center had a much better experience, as did the agent who helped them.
So who should use omnichannel contact centers? The answer is every business trying to build out a highly effective, digitally focused contact center.
In general, regardless of your industry or business model, an omnichannel contact center is better than a multichannel one because it provides an enhanced customer experience while also reducing operating costs over the long run via increased agent productivity and decreased agent attrition.
Some customer service leaders hesitate because they think it may be too time-consuming or expensive to set up, but that’s simply not the case anymore.
Thanks to technological advancements and the rise of affordable contact center as a service (CCaaS) solutions, a customer service team can easily integrate its communication channels, CRM, and other systems and create and maintain a cloud-based, omnichannel contact center at an affordable rate.
As a refresher, omnichannel is an evolved, more efficient form of multichannel. It not only allows businesses to communicate with customers across many different channels but also integrates those channels and enables agents to use every one from the same online location.
Agents can also access all the data from each channel needed to support the customer, instead of having to go into different tools to find the information. As a result, customers have a better experience, and businesses see increased retention and revenue.
To start forming an omnichannel contact center today, start by checking out Contacto, a cloud contact center software solution that makes it simple to integrate your various support channels and even to add new ones to the mix.