Beyond multi-channel: The rise of the omni-channel consumer experience


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Over the past couple of decades the Internet has changed the game for consumers, and companies. It’s been fun following the rise of web self-service, social customer care and mobile—all new interaction channels that consumers now expect their favorite brands to support.

The trouble is, most companies are still approaching this proliferation of channels in a piecemeal, uncoordinated way. In 2009 I found nearly 8 out of 10 consumers experienced “touchpoint amnesia“—forgetting info the customer had already provided. The impact was severe: consumers were 50% less likely to recommend (after a service experience) and 24-35% less likely to complete a purchase (during a buying experience).

OK, that was nearly 4 years ago. By now, it’s all good, right?

Um, no. According to a recent Avaya BT consumer study, delivering omni-channel experiences is still a work in progress.

Omni-channel is a term I’m seeing a lot more lately. It’s about time. Simply put, omni-channel means orchestrating multiple channels to provide a seamless customer experience. For example, when I order an e-book from, it’s downloaded and ready to review on my laptop in less than a minute. If I browse a few pages, then head out of the office with my Kindle, the book opens up to where I left off. Perfect.

But if you call a call center, try to use an IVR and then bail out to speak with live agent, odds are the agent won’t have any indication of your prior interaction — unless you say something. You’ll experience the same touchpoint amnesia on most web-to-agent transitions.

Anyway, the Avaya/BT study found there’s an opportunity to stand out from the competition by delivering an omni-channel experience:

  • 68% say they expect the information they give an organization in one place (e.g., through its website) to be available in another
  • only 17% say organizations make it easy to switch between different channels.
  • 94% say they want to be able to email the same agent they speak to.
  • 91% want organizations to make their phone number clearer on all communications.

What this says to me is that you shouldn’t assume that “omni” is code for “digital.” The human contact is still important, and the phone is still the most trusted and highly used channel overall. Nearly 8 out of 10 consumers still use a call center.

Not surprisingly, social media has seen the most growth. The study found that 55% of consumers interact with social media (20% with Facebook alone), with 1/3 using it to get special offers and vouchers, 12% for customer service and 8% to complain.

Single channel dominance? Don’t wait for it.

Some (including me) have theorized that eventually we’ll all just use our smartphone as a primary communication channel. After all, with the advent of high-speed (4G) wireless connections, a smartphone can support any channel you like—audio, social, video, apps, whatever—all in one handy device you carry around.

While it’s true that some channels (mobile, social) are growing faster in terms of usage rates, the study concludes that “customers are using them alongside rather than instead of some of the old channels.” Even among young (16-24) shoppers (who one might assume would prefer digital experiences), 48% say they prefer going to shops.

No word whether these same consumers are just going to stores for “showrooming.” I’d say this is a glimmer of hope for retailers like Best Buy who are struggling to find the right balance between bricks and clicks, while competing with online retailers like Amazon.

One final point, and this is important. Channel preferences vary by interaction type. Internet self-service is the most popular option for research and getting help, but the phone is tops when consumers have a question about their account or bills, and email is used most commonly for complaints. There is no sign of any one-size-fits-all channel emerging.

Bottom line: Consumers are expecting omni-channel experiences, but few companies deliver it. That’s a golden opportunity to differentiate.

The full report is excellent. You can download it (free registration required) from Avaya.


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