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Omnichannel vs. Multichannel: What's the Difference?

Posted by David Lover on Apr 2, 2019 10:00:00 AM

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Omnichannel is a big buzzword when it comes to one of the latest trends in contact centers and customer experience. I’m hearing a lot of vendors, partners, and even customers initiating the discussion. I get really excited when people bring it up, but sadly, I very quickly get deflated once I realize everything they’re talking about is actually just multichannel. So, I thought I’d take a look at some of the big differences between the two.

Multichannel Communication

First of all, multichannel describes the ability for customers to communicate with a business in multiple ways (phone, email, web, chat, video, mobile apps, voice personal assistants, etc.). It doesn’t really describe the integration of these channels. In fact, the vast majority of customers don’t blend these channels together at all. Oftentimes, they use different vendors for each channel. This generally occurs because they have different business units picking the ones they like best at the time. Sometimes it starts as a proof of concept and just stays through production.

These siloed collection channels were never meant to be unified in their original strategy. The thought was that the customer initiating a communication on one channel would be responded to by an agent on that same channel. If customers start with an email, they get answered by an email. If they start with a call, they get answered by a call. The other interesting thing is that most of these channels have extremely short “transaction” times. A typical performance metric is to get this “average speed of answer” and “call duration” as low as possible, measured most commonly in seconds (maybe hundreds of seconds, but it’s almost always measured in seconds).

The big innovation in multichannel is this idea of “blending” and providing “contextual awareness.” This can happen by operating on a single platform—or the devices can pass information back and forth about the interaction. It could also be a single agent desktop that allows an agent to adapt to the next type of communication they receive. A single agent could take multiple types of contacts. But the reality is that it’s still somewhat siloed, especially when customers are trying to manually connect multiple channels together.

Omnichannel Communication

Omnichannel’s goal is not to just provide flexibility for individual communication transactions. It seeks to understand the entire journey that a customer goes through when doing business with you, and tries to find ways to streamline that experience and improve overall customer satisfaction. Gartner has one of the best definitions of omnichannel that I’ve found, describing omnichannel as “enabling customers and agents to easily shift between communication channels while maintaining context in the course of an interaction.” There are a couple of really important words in there. Besides the obvious “shifting between communication channels,” the first word I’m drawn to is “interaction.” The second is “context.”

Interaction is intended to describe the complete experience a customer goes through to do business with a company (replace the air filter on your car, have a medical procedure performed, buy a new laptop, pay a bill, have your kitchen renovated, etc.). Each of these have a process for starting and finishing the entire interaction or engagement. For some businesses, that interaction could still be measured in seconds. But for others, it could be days or even weeks. We know there are generally a lot of “transactions” involved in getting from the beginning to the end. “Journey mapping” is a common process that our teams go through with our customers to help identify that end-to-end customer experience. It can help us predict some of the things we might need to better understand “context.”

Context is this general awareness of everything relevant to the interaction. The goal is to make sure that all parties (customers and agents) have easy access to this context. In fact, we try to augment and automate as much as we can with this known context to make the experience more streamlined. We like to get the right information to the right place.

Context becomes critical to that goal. Maybe we want to get a customer to the same person that they’ve already been working with. Maybe the customer’s credit score is going to play into providing specific options or discounts. Maybe a patient’s blood glucose level should be factored in when prioritizing responsiveness of a nurse call hotline. Again, maybe we simply want to automate the collection of relevant information or context and make it easily available to the agent. Or, maybe we want to make intelligent, automated routing decisions based on this context.

An omnichannel solution gives you these capabilities.


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Topics: Customer Experience


David Lover
David Lover  -- David is a leader in our Office of the CTO and works with every part of the business. From Sales to Professional Services, from senior leadership to end-users, from overall business strategy to nuts and bolts technical understanding, his skills at identifying, articulating, and managing our strategic technology direction to customers, partners, and employees sets ConvergeOne apart as a leader in our industry. David is a former Senior Engineer at Lucent Technologies and Avaya and has applied communications technologies in a business environment for large Fortune 500 and Enterprise multi-site corporations. David is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and presenter at numerous industry conferences, forums, and seminars across the United States. He has built tremendous, strategic relationships with analysts and manufacturers alike, insuring relevancy and the best possible “future state” outcome for ConvergeOne and its customers.