‘Omnichannel’ Customer Engagement isn’t Just ‘Multichannel’: Here’s Why That’s Important

You’ve probably heard the hype about “omnichannel” and “multichannel” selling and customer support by now. It’s all over every blog, and for good reason.

But with the onrush of information, there’s been an equal amount of misunderstanding – and the consequences of these errors can be severe.

I want to help uncover the differences between “omnichannel” engagement and “multichannel” engagement and why the difference is important for your organization. You’ll learn that the differences aren’t as small as you might have thought – and which is better to implement in your business.

The Difference Between Omnichannel and Multichannel

Omnichannel and multichannel engagement as a whole are a response to a single trend – the growth of hybrid online and offline shoppers in almost every industry.

But while they share a common driver and sound identical, there’s plenty of divergence between the two approaches.

So what are they?

The difference between omnichannel and multichannel engagement seems like mere semantics at first. For instance, when you look at the prefixes “omni” and “multi,” they have somewhat close definitions:

– Omni: all
– Multi: many, numerous

On the surface, this makes it seem like the definitions parse into a simple discussion of how many channels you have. This leads to the concept that the only difference in these two is that omnichannel engagement uses more channels (or all available channels) instead of just two or three.

But the differences are much more severe than such a simplistic breakdown indicates. Counting channels is only a surface-level difference. The true distinction is in the application of these approaches.

A better definition for “omni” in this instance is “all-encompassing” instead of just “all.” So when you break them down in their application, which creates a new multichannel and omnichannel definition:

– Omnichannel: all-encompassing, a unified look at sales, marketing, and support that creates a single brand experience.

– Multichannel: less integrated, but still offering numerous ways for customers to find you, shop, or get customer support.

Those are two vastly different definitions from terms that many people boil down to “mere semantics.” But they do share a few similarities, and each has utility for your brand.

Either option will allow you to expand your services and support through a wide variety of channels. You can offer self-service, automated support capabilities, better customer service analytics or even outsourced service options.

But as you take on more options and increase your abilities, it’s easy for the lines between these channels to blur. Multichannel approaches seek to minimize this blurring and will keep your lines of support as distinct as possible.

Omnichannel support seeks to utilize this blurring and make it an asset instead of a weakness. Again, this focuses on providing a unified experience no matter how many times a customer contacts your organization. This allows you to track every interaction a customer has with your brand and empowers your customer support team with useful information from previous experiences.

So in their fullest application, the multichannel approach puts your customer on the outside looking in – and it puts the onus on them to find solutions.

Omnichannel puts your customer at the center of your organization, and seeks to build experiences, products, and support around their need at all times:

The application is totally different, and the technology required to make each succeed will differ as well. But by transitioning to omnichannel, you can start a conversation on social media and then continue it with a phone call. You’ll keep the data and context through your backend, and won’t be forced to rehash issues with already frustrated customers.

So while multichannel and omnichannel do share many commonalities, it’s clear that omnichannel is the next step in the evolution of support. You can provide quality service across every channel and ensure that customer needs are always put first. That’s why omnichannel is such a huge part of building customer success efforts. The more information that’s your team has access to, the better equipped you are to act accordingly.

When you get omnichannel engagement right, it’s proven to help your bottom line. 86% of customers say they’re willing to pay extra for better customer service, which works in favor of omnichannel customer service.

This allows your customers and support reps to build genuine relationships through always-present information. It also helps stave off some major customer frustrations, and possibly revolutionize how you think about support.

But which of these approaches is better? In most cases: omnichannel. I want to use the rest of this article to show you why that’s the case.

Omnichannel Saves You Time

Multichannel has one glaring issue that makes it hard to recommend for most organizations.

With multichannel support, if a customer contacts you through more than one channel for the same issue (or even a different issue), whichever rep picks up the phone or thread will be unaware of previous conversations.

That means you’ll have to start over from square one with each customer call.

This wastes precious time, as you’ll need to re-establish each customer in their context, and could be incredibly frustrating to your customers. 50% of customers will abandon brands that don’t offer quick answers to their questions.

No matter what approach you take, you’ll always have to deal with angry or dissatisfied customers, but you should head this off where you can. Omnichannel support gives you the ability to provide proactive customer service based on real-time data.

This reliance on data does mean one thing though – you’ll need a solid technology to back up the omnichannel approach. Instead of hoping that customers get in touch with the same rep (and hoping that rep takes notes), you can ensure that all past customer info is in your system.

While multichannel does allow you to cut costs by not paying for an integrated system, the frustration that you put your customers through isn’t worth it. You risk losing your customers for a little savings on the backend.

Despite this, very few companies say they lack the current ability to execute omnichannel support. It’s a clear area of growth and a powerful way to save time for your customers and service reps.

Omnichannel Provides a Unified Experience

The difference between multichannel and omnichannel isn’t just about maximizing efficiency. It’s also about putting the customer at the center of your brand experience.

Omnichannel engagement allows you to use the information you gather from customer experiences and re-work your outreach initiates. This, in turn, helps you provide a more cohesive brand experience across marketing, sales, and support.

So therein lies another difference. The need to be versatile and change with customer expectations is a huge part of omnichannel engagement though, whereas multichannel engagement allows you to “stay the course.”

Restructuring your business and your support for omnichannel to put customers at the center of every decision can be difficult. Even small, agile businesses are often slow to adopt this type of change, as it goes against many common business ideas.

But if you want to see growth through omnichannel engagement, you can. Start by mapping your customer journey, and try to find out where you place your brand and your customer at each step along the way.

Consider how they approach you through each channel, and try to evaluate your ability to create a unified experience. Then, you can work with your technology, channels, and teams to improve your customer experience.

Brands that approach omnichannel engagement with this type of customer-experience orientation see 42% more customer retention and 33% more customer satisfaction.

Building a unified customer experience comes at a price though. It forces your culture and your engagement processes to change, and failing to bring one or the other over could ultimately hamstring your engagement efforts.

But when well-executed, the omnichannel engagement approach allows you to be dynamic, ROI-focused, and interactive. Implementing it may be uncomfortable, but it provides superior customer service when compared to the multichannel approach.

The result will be a more customer-centric company and a unified brand experience no matter where your customers contact you.

Conclusion

Omnichannel and multichannel engagement aren’t the same thing, and that’s good for your business.

Multichannel still uses a wide variety of options for customer outreach and support but lacks a backend system to unify your efforts.

Omnichannel has that backend and can help you utilize all of your channels to ensure a single, unified, and helpful customer experience.

You’ll save your customer support reps and customers time and frustration, especially when you’ve got a solid helpdesk that makes engagement easy. You can also utilize omnichannel engagement to help provide a customer experience that boosts loyalty and revenue in the long run as you build a customer-centric company.

However you look at the differences between these two types of engagement, the signs are clear. Omnichannel is the future of e-commerce and online support, and it’s worth your time and money.