How Customer Service Is Changing from Multichannel to Omnichannel (and What to Do Now)

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Many modern brands have already adopted a multichannel approach to customer service. They incorporate many methods of communication, and many touchpoints for customers to use, such as email, phone calls, and in some cases, face-to-face interactions. But as physical and digital interactions start to blur even further, a multichannel system may no longer be enough—brands will have to optimize for an omnichannel setup, instead.

So why is omnichannel more important, and how can brands start to make the transition?

Multichannel vs. Omnichannel

First, you need to understand the core differences between multichannel and omnichannel. A multichannel strategy is one that simply utilizes multiple modes of interaction; for example, you might have a physical retail store, and an online version of that store. A customer can purchase an item from either location, but is typically locked into place from there; if they want to return an item they bought at a physical store, they have to go back to that physical store, and if they want to return an item they bought online, they have to ship it back.

Omnichannel strategies strive to smooth out this segmentation. The goal is to harness the power of those multiple channels to provide a single, consistent, and coherent customer service experience. A customer should feel empowered to choose any mode of communication, or any method of purchasing a product, and still count on the same overall brand experience.

The Advantages of Omnichannel

Ultimately, companies using the omnichannel approach are hoping to see the following benefits:

  • Brand consistency. Hosting an omnichannel experience means ensuring the customer’s experience with your brand is similar no matter what channel they pursue. A customer calling a representative with a defective product is going to be met with the same brand voice and attention to detail as someone emailing a representative with a question about services, or someone visiting your retail location to return a product.
  • Real options for consumers. Many customers feel trapped once they choose a channel; they see the online world and physical retail world as inherently separate. Creating an omnichannel environment means they’ll have real options for who to contact and where to go whenever they need to purchase something (or contact customer service).
  • Customer focus. Multichannel approaches tend to focus on building more infrastructure and creating more opportunities for the business. Omnichannel approaches focus on making the customer experience as valuable and easy as possible; accordingly, omnichannel systems tend to encourage more customer satisfaction and loyalty.

How to Make the Transition

So what steps are necessary to transition a company from merely “multichannel” to truly “omnichannel?”

  • Technology. You may need to upgrade or restructure your current technology; for example, if your email-based customer service reps and phone-based customer service reps are using two different systems, it will be nearly impossible to guarantee your customers will have a consistent experience engaging with either one. Try to get all your departments using the same systems, and if you can, ensure your customers have a similar experience with any communication mediums or technologies they’re using.
  • Culture. Next, you may need to make a culture change. Guaranteeing an omnichannel experience means your team can’t be dragged down or segmented by corporate silos. That may mean making a drastic internal culture change, and reinstating a central team mentality.
  • Documentation. It’s also a good idea to formally document some of the consistent guidelines you expect your employees to follow, such as the brand voice you expect to be present in every channel. Without a central document to dictate these standards or be available for reference, it’s easy for even a well-intentioned omnichannel customer service system to devolve into a free-for-all.
  • Customer insights. Finally, you’ll need to have some method to measure and analyze how your customers respond to your new approach. That means using surveys to quantify customer satisfaction, and possibly using “secret shoppers” to gauge the consistency of the brand experience across multiple channels. No omnichannel system is going to be perfect in its first iteration, so you need customer insights to guide your evolution.

If you want your customers to have a streamlined, consistent brand experience, and you don’t want to fall too far behind the competition, it’s imperative that you start investing in the transition to a truly omnichannel experience. It may require overhauling some of your processes, and tearing down your existing silos, but it’s worth the time and money you’ll spend in the meantime.

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