Omni-channel ? Multi-channel ? Unified experience ? Just keywords or do they really mean something for a good Customer Experience


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Let’s dig into the world of confused customer experience where everyone defines it(including me) using the buzzwords such as Omni-channel, multi-channel, unified, etc.

What is customer experience?

Customer experience is how end users interact with a system. That’s it. Anything else about it would be attributes of it, or how good or bad it is.

What is a channel for customer experience?

Customers can interact with your system through different avenues such as website, mobile application, calling a number, talking to a smart device, etc. But, what I just mentioned, are these really channels? Maybe not, in my opinion, there are broadly five categories of channels that customers interact with a system. They are :

Digital/Visual channels :

A channel where customers interact visually mostly through digital screens. This includes websites, mobile applications, etc.

Voice channels :

A channel where customers interact through voice, they listen and speak to the system. Few examples are IVRs, Smart Voice devices such as Alexa, Google Home, Mobile apps, etc.

Text channels :

A channel where customer interacts through sending or reading text. Few examples are interactive SMS, bots, etc

API channels :

Now, this one is a controversial one, whether we call API a channel or not. It depends on, whom we consider customers/end users when speak about a system? Lot of systems these days are driven through API. Few examples of such interactions are Robotic Process Automation, etc.

Human channels :

A channel where humans interact with your end users, a customer representative, a salesman, a support agent. While we are moving towards AI enabled bots, there is no replacement of human as a communication channel. This is often put at the bottom when we are talking about technology but I would still consider it as an important piece of a good customer experience puzzle.

Multi-channel customer experience?

It is the ability of your system to let the end users/customers to interact through different channels. This allows more opportunities for your uses to interact with your system. Also it brings an option of switching to a channel that is easier to interact for a user in different environments.

Multi-modal customer experience?

It is the ability of your system to be used on more than one channel simultaneously. Multi-modal user experiences can be magical as long as the channels are aware about each other. Example of such experiences are Voice call and Digital channel multi-modal experience in an IVR environment. Also recently, Alexa and Google home have introduced multi-modal experience where you can either talk or touch the device for inputs.

Unified customer experience?

To provide similar experience on a variety of channels. Unified experience does not mean to provide exactly the same experience on different channels but it means to provide similar but channel adapted user experience. Channel adapted unified experience is necessary as the attributes of all the channels and user behaviour is not the same. For example, end users may be ok to read a long text on a channel but wouldn’t like to listen to a very long audio/video.

Omni-channel customer experience?

Is there such a thing called Omni-channel user experience? IMO, No!, what we claim as omni-channel user experience is just close to it but not absolutely omni-channel. As the channels are in-numerous there is always a negation for any omni-channel user experience. Although we can implement multi-channel user experience and can call it as omni-channel in a certain context. So we can define an omni-channel user experience as the right mix of multi-channel, multi-modal, unified experience, which allows seamless & contextual handoffs from one channel to another. The point here is omni-channel does not mean to technically provide user experience on every channel.

What makes a customer experience good or bad?

If end users find it easier and/or intuitive to interact with your system then it is a good user experience, everything else should fall on the bad side of it. The problem with user experience is, that, there are no grey areas to it i.e. somewhere between good or bad. The reason is that you lose your users when they have anything but a good user experience. And often, it is quite hard to bring the customers back to a system when the first experience wasn’t good. When we think about user experience, we should ideally think about one single chance to impress our end users so that they like to use our systems again and again.

Omni-channel ? Multi-channel ? Unified experience ? Just keywords or do they really mean something for a good Customer Experience

Defining a user experience through keywords does not make it good or bad. It all depends on what your system does? how end users interact with it?, and how they traverse the journey? A good user experience for the users is something that is easy to traverse, provides the functionality and is contextual when they switch from one channel to the other.

The best user experience for your system can be a simple user journey available on a single channel. Or it may be a multi-channel, multi-modal, unified user experience. Both of them in my opinion are omni-channel, as long as all the fronts are covered for the end users to interact with your system seamlessly.

Also apart from all the technological avenues that you use to interact with your customers, don’t try to use them as a de-facto replacements for humans. Humans interaction is important and still a most preferred way for lot of your end user. At the end of the day, you should know you customers well, what their preferences are, and how you can educate them on using non-conventional ways to interact with your system.

To conclude, learn about your audience before you build any user experience. Add the channels to help your customers and not to confuse them. Always keep in mind about unified user experience but channel adapted. And on top of that, add multi-modal wherever it helps. Keep things simple and build user experiences as your customers would like it to be and not how you would like it to be. Good luck!

Juned Ahsan
Delivering AI enabled omni channel & multi modal user experience for cloud, hybrid & enterprise architectures.


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