Omni-channel vs. Multi-channel: What’s the Difference?


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As customers, we’ve reached a stage where we now expect to be able to interact with our favorite brands wherever, whenever and however it best suits us. 

Whether it’s to find information about that new gadget you’ve been eyeing, buy concert tickets for that band you’ve dreaming to see or speak with a customer support representative when your new phone starts going haywire, we want the flexibility to do these things our way. 

These blossoming expectations have sprouted the need for brands to be ‘everywhere’ their customers are. As a result, this has pushed discussions of ‘multi-channel’ and ‘omni-channel’ experience strategies to the forefront. 

But what exactly are these terms ‘multi-channel’ and ‘omni-channel’? Are they the same or entirely different from one another? Why are they important? In this post, I will look at the differences and the importance of multi-channel and omni-channel experiences. 


What is ‘Multi-channel’?

As customers, we all have different ways we prefer to communicate with our favorite brands, particularly when it comes down to what we are hoping to accomplish and where we are in our customer journey.

Multi-channel refers to a strategy where brands have a presence and are operating on multiple marketing and service channels where customers and prospects can interact with the company to meet their needs. 

Some of these channels include: 

Omni-channel Marketing and Service Channels

  • Desktop websites
  • Mobile websites
  • Mobile apps
  • SMS / Text
  • Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, etc.)
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR) / Call center
  • Email
  • On Location / In-Store

Naturally, brands should identify their customers’ preferred channels and assign the resources necessary so customers can communicate with them through these channels. 

However, simply placing resources to support these channels is not enough. Customers expect more from brands nowadays – Customers expect the next interaction with a brand to feel like a continuation from the previous one, as opposed to feeling like a series of fragmented interactions. 

Enter the “Omni-channel experience“.

What is the “Omni-channel experience”?

Omni-channel is a strategy where brands intertwine these different channels in a way that provides customers a simple, smooth and seamless experience across their customer journey, regardless of the channel they use. 

So what’s the difference between Multi-channel and Omni-channel? As John Bowden, senior vice president of Customer Care at Time Warner Cable explains: 

“Omni-channel anticipates that customers may start in one channel and move to another as they progress to a resolution. Making these complex ‘hand-offs’ between channels must be fluid for the customer. Simply put, omni-channel is multi-channel done right!”

Essentially, the omni-channel approach is based on the knowledge that your customers leverage multiple channels (sometimes simultaneously) to accomplish certain tasks.

Today, an omni-channel approach is a necessity. Deloitte found that:

But what does this look like in practice? That depends on individuals’ shopping preferences, and the channels they wish to use at different stages of their customer journey. Let’s take a look at one example of what an omni-channel experience could look like for a specific shopper. 

Example of the Omni-channel experience: The ‘in-store digital shopper’

Linda has been thinking about getting a new TV for a while. One day while out running errands, she sees that her nearby Electronics store is having a sale on TVs, so she heads inside. 

She looks at the different TVs set up around the store. A few TV models catch her eye. These models are within her budget and would fit perfectly in her living room, so she digs a little further into these models by taking her phone and looking them up online. The omni-channel experience begins: 

As you can see, each of these together channels delivered the information Linda needed at each point across her customer journey. This ensured that Linda had a seamless experience that not only helped her feel in control of her own experience but also helped her move down the purchase funnel.

Keep in mind that everyone has their own research and purchase preferences – for certain items, some shoppers may prefer to start their customer journey in-store like Linda, while others may have preferred to start via the store’s online website or mobile app.

However, a well-designed omni-channel experience should ensure a seamless experience across the different channels regardless of these different journeys. 

What can you do to move towards an omni-channel experience?

Break down departmental silos

As we’ve seen, the omni-channel customer experience requires a lot of coordination between the different channels for it to be beneficial and create an experience that stands out from the crowd. To be able to put all the puzzle pieces into place, you need all your teams working together – this includes your C-Suite, client-facing members of your organization, and anyone working behind the scenes.  

For example, it’s essential that each team has access to the relevant customer data points that will help them gauge what they’re doing right or wrong, and what can be improved. As part of breaking down departmental silos, you should look to integrate your different data sources whenever possible so that each team can get a more comprehensive overview of the Customer Experience (CX)

Customer feedback, web analytics, session replay, CRM – are just some of the key data points that, when integrated together, can shed a brighter light on the experience. By sharing this information across different departments, key stakeholders can better determine what they can do next. 

A great omni-channel experience requires everyone to be on the same page, have the same strategy and work towards the same goal. Otherwise, there may be kinks in your customers’ experience that may defeat the entire purpose of your efforts. 

Close the loop internally

The omni-channel experience is not a ‘set it and forget it’ strategy – it’s something that should continually evolve along with your customers’ expectations. It’s one thing to collect data, but it’s quite another to act on it. You need to make sure you always close the loop on the data you collect by leveraging it not only to keep improving the experience but also to keep improving your research and data collection. 

How do you do that? You and other key stakeholders at your company should frequently review your customer data and discuss findings and key takeaways. Setting up a governance structure, as well as putting in place the infrastructure to make it easy to share key data and findings across your organization, is key to ensure you design and maintain a great omni-channel experience.

Set up listening posts

You always need to listen to what your customers have to say. The surge of different devices and channels has made it harder to track how your customers measure the customer journey.

However, something that hasn’t changed is the need to understand your customers’ needs, wants, expectations, preferences and perceptions across each stage of their customer journey.

At iperceptions, our guided approach to measuring the customer experience allows brands capture this infinite number of customer journeys by installing listening posts at each touchpoint, from in-store to online to in-app. 

What’s a ‘Listening Post’?
A self-contained research project that has three distinct elements – a research map, an engagement method and the destination of where the feedback will be actioned such as in a report or integrating with other systems.

By mapping out these different listening posts across the experience landscape, you can quickly see if you have gaps that you can fill to design an optimal omni-channel experience.

Collect the Voice of the Customer To Help Build Your Omni-Channel Experience

Designing and managing a great omni-channel experience requires a lot of work, research and coordination. This isn’t something that can be built overnight. As with most major projects, start slow, do your due diligence, identify the resources and insights you need, and then determine your next steps from there.

What’s a good place to start? Implementing a Voice of the Customer (VoC) program is a great place to start. With a VoC program in place, you can collect customer feedback at each of your channels allows you to keep a finger on the pulse of your customers’ experiences as they move along their customer journey.

These insights can provide you and other key stakeholders at your company with the context you need to help you determine how you can better intertwine your different channels to offer a superior omni-channel experience that your customers will remember. 

Banner image source: Pexels

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Duff Anderson
Duff Anderson is a visionary in digital Voice of the Customer research with over 20 years' experience. As SVP and Co-founder at iPerceptions, Duff is responsible for providing expert advice to organizations on how to gain a competitive advantage across the digital customer lifecycle and become more customer-centric.


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