Moving from Omnichannel to Channel-less Support

Customers shouldn’t need to know how your customer support channels work to get help. They don’t need to know that Twitter feeds into your help desk and that your chat channel offers self-service solutions using a friendly chatbot. Customers, in other words, aren’t interested in your omnichannel solutions. 

What customers need is to be able to get help easily, when they want it. This is why some people, like Shep Hyken, are pushing forward-thinking customer support teams to ditch the channel from their customer support strategy1 altogether. Instead of thinking about customers coming through channels, we should be offering channel-less support – the same great support no matter where customers come from. 

Multichannel vs Omnichannel

There are so many terms going around, how do you know what channel strategy you’re even using? Channel is actually a short-hand term that support has adopted to mean “communication pathways.” When we offer new channels, what we mean is that we are adding new ways our customers can communicate with us. Multichannel is just another way of saying we offer multiple ways for our customers to talk to us. 

In theory, omnichannel is a little different from multichannel. As Shep Hyken explains in the article in Forbes, omnichannel comes from the word “omni” meaning “all,” which doesn’t sound that separate from multichannel. But as an industry, we’ve put even more meaning on omnichannel. Where multichannel simply means offering multiple channels, omnichannel means having all of those channels interact seamlessly together. It means that even if a customer starts talking to the company over Twitter, but then moves to chat to add more information, the conversation continues. Agents have all the context they need to wrap up the issue effectively. 

What Customers Want from Omnichannel

Omnichannel evolved because customers were often frustrated as they had to keep repeating themselves while they were moved from agent to agent across different channels. Especially with the growth of customers using social media as a way to talk to companies, it became all too common for customers to be told to call a 1-800 number, or email the help desk to get their questions responded to. They’d call in, only to be asked the same question and to respond with an exasperated “As I was already saying to your colleague on Facebook…” 

Customers hate having to work hard to do business with you. When you make them jump from channel to channel and repeat themselves, it’s incredibly frustrating. Fortunately, some smart people in support noticed how frustrating this “channel switching” is for customers and started the omnichannel trend. When customers write in on one channel, all of their past history comes with them so the agent doesn’t need to ask the same five questions as the last agent. 

It also means that customers can contact you in a way that makes sense for them. If they are on the go, they know they can pull out your mobile app and start up a conversation. They’ll hopefully get the exact same support they would have got through email or by picking up the phone. Omnichannel allows you to support a wide variety of users, exactly how they want to be supported. 

However, when the focus is on “all-of-the-channels” it can be tempting for companies to just keep duct-taping more and more channels into their customer support workflow. The focus becomes the channels, and not the conversations. This is why support teams need to drop the channels, and keep the focus on resolving customer problems, regardless of where they come from. 

Frictionless Support Means Not Siloing Conversations

Separating customer conversations into channels makes support easier for the company – not for the users. We tend to think of each medium of conversation as a separate channel because we create different processes for each in our tools. And so, each customer becomes a specific type of customer – a phone customer, a self-service customer, or a social customer. Each type of customer might receive a very different type of service, especially if your department has divided agents into teams based on what channels they support. 

But in reality, customers aren’t only a phone customer or social customer. Depending on where they are (whether they are on the go, or at home seated at their computer) and what type of help they need, they could reach out in any number of ways. With omnichannel support, even if we’re integrating our channels together, there is still a separation between each contact method. 

Instead, we should seek to blend channels together, to remove any perception of switching between conversations. This allows your company to be more proactive because conversational data is all in one place, and to build a stronger relationship, because the customer feels taken care of. By making communication channel-less, customers feel like they are having one ongoing conversation with your company – even as they switch from phone to chat to email and back again. 

Implementing Channel-Less Support

So what does implementing channel-less support look like? At first glance, it might sound like utter chaos – throwing every conversation and every message from customers into the same big pot? Madness! But in reality, there’s a balance to be struck between a complete lack of organization, and funneling conversations into strict, siloed channels. 

Walk through each of your customer support channels as a customer would encounter them. At any moment do you feel like you’re being shuffled from queue to queue or having to repeat yourself? Note this down and see how you can blur the line between channels from the customer’s perspective. The important part of the experience is how the customer feels – not what’s actually going on behind the scenes. If you have automated emails going out for every conversation, do they make customers feel more like a number than a person? The only way to tell is to experience your support process from the customer’s perspective. 

I’m not sure where I heard this story before, it might have been on a webinar or a podcast. One time, in the long queues of Disneyland, visitors were being moved from one line-up to another to make room for the growing crowds. The cast member in charge of the line-up was guiding people along a walkway when a couple of people started mooing! They felt like they were being treated like cattle, gently prodded in the direction they needed to be. That’s not the experience Disney wanted their guests to have, and they’ve since paid more attention to the way they treat people in line-ups. Customers aren’t cows! This can be a good lesson for teams to re-examine a process that seems normal and mundane. How can you provide a better experience for customers at every turn? 

Customer focused, not channel focused

“All the customer wants is to connect with a company. It’s not about a channel. It’s about making a connection. So, make it easy. Make it seamless. Make it ubiquitous. Make it channel-less!” 

– Shep Hyken

Omnichannel, multichannel or channel-less. You can really call it whatever you want. The important thing is to take the focus away from the internal, behind-the-scenes process and put the emphasis back on making it easy for your customers. 

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