Article | 9 min read

What omni-channel really means

Learn how omni-channel differs from multi-channel, as well as what a good omni-channel experience looks like.

By Dan Levy, Content Marketing and Editorial Strategy, @danjl

Last updated July 13, 2021

High-performing customer experience teams are more than twice as likely as underperforming teams to be taking an omni-channel approach, according to Zendesk’s Customer experience trends report, 2020.

Yet Zendesk findings also revealed that only 35% of Benchmark companies have an omni-channel strategy in place. This gap represents a sweet spot where businesses can rise above their competition and differentiate on the basis of customer experience.

Success starts with understanding how omni-channel differs frommultichannel multi-channel – and why it matters. It also requires a business to determine how an omni-channel strategy can create a better experience for its customers, agents and other teams across the organisation.

What does omnichannel mean?

Omni-channel, or omnichannel, is a customer experience strategy that creates connected and consistent customer interactions across channels.

When businesses take an omni-channel approach to the customer experience, they end siloed conversations by consolidating channels and customer context coming from these channels under a single source of truth. This enables teams to reference the customer information that they need, when they need it, regardless of channel.

What is the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel?

Many companies today boast about providing ‘omni-channel’ experiences, but what they usually mean is simply ‘multi-channel’.

  • Multi-channel means being everywhere your customers are. That’s table stakes.
  • Omni-channel means going a step further and providing a consistent communications journey for your customer, one where the conversation history and context travels with them from channel to channel.

Context – about who your customer is, where they’re coming from and what they’ve talked to you about in the past – is crucial for delivering the sort of messaging experiences that customers have grown accustomed to in their personal lives.

Omni-channel and multi-channel are different. Omni-channel is better.

But context is frustratingly tricky to maintain in a world of countless disconnected communications channels, from chat apps such as Facebook Messenger, Line and WhatsApp to email, SMS, mobile and web chat, not to mention the growing legion of voice assistants.

While it’s tempting for businesses to view the proliferation of channels as an inconvenience, the truth is, not all channels are created equal. In real life, a crowded pub might be a good place to start a conversation, but it’s nice to be able to move somewhere quieter for more privacy.

In other words, every conversation has its proper place.

True omni-channel means giving businesses the ability to talk to the right customers, in the right place, without sacrificing context along the way.

Keep context at the centre of every conversation

Back in 2016, we introduced the ability for end users to move conversations from Sunshine Conversation’s Web Messenger to a more mobile-friendly channel like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber, Telegram or SMS with the click of a button.

Today, businesses have the tools to invite users to move a conversation to a channel that is better suited to the topic at hand.

By posting a link or call to action into the conversation, businesses can invite customers to join them on a more secure channel, a cheaper channel, one with a richer experience or one that’s simply more convenient for the user.

This new set of APIs allows businesses to transfer the conversation easily from a chat app to in-app or web chat, from an email to SMS – or any other combination that makes sense. In fact, businesses can provide customers with a set of choices for where they’d like to continue the conversation or be notified of a reply later on.

When the conversation moves, the chat history and context moves with it, so both the business and its users benefit from a single, continuous, cross-channel conversation thread. With an omnichannel customer journey, the user’s identity is unified in the business’s software, allowing brands to provide a truly omni-channel, personalised experience.

Advantages of an omni-channel strategy

When companies know who they’re talking to and what information the customer (or prospect) has already shared with them, they can:

  • Resolve problems more quickly
  • Deliver a more personalised experience
  • Identify opportunities to satisfy customers more effectively
  • Reduce churn or increase revenue

An omnichannel experience is a better experience for everyone..

When does a business need an omni-channel strategy?

It’s not difficult to imagine why customers and businesses would be interested in having seamless conversations across channels, but it’s perhaps less obvious why they would proactively move a conversation from, say, Facebook Messenger to their own mobile app or from their website to WhatsApp.

Here are a few scenarios where changing channels might come in handy:

  1. When businesses want to authenticate customers to carry out sensitive operations

    Consumer chat apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are great because they’re so accessible, but sometimes brands need to have private conversations with their customers.

    Let’s say that you’re a bank or insurance company and need to authenticate your user before exchanging sensitive information. Using a call to action, you can prompt the customer to sign in to your own mobile app and continue the conversation there.

  2. When a user wants to be notified that the business has replied to their message on a more convenient channel

    Let’s say that someone is browsing your business’s website and pings you with a question via your custom web messenger. Perhaps your agent isn’t able to answer straight away or perhaps the user has a little chat with a bot but has to leave before the problem is resolved.

    Rather than hang around your website, the customer would probably prefer to receive a notification via Messenger (or email, or SMS) when you’ve replied to their message.

    Most web messengers prompt users to enter their email address, but in the modern messaging age it’s nice to give customers more options, both online and offline. . And if the customer is available to keep chatting, they can do so on the new channel without skipping a beat.

  3. When businesses want to move the conversation to a channel that costs less or to provide a better user experience

    Being wherever your customers are is important, but this doesn’t mean that channels are interchangeable. Chat apps offer richer user experiences than SMS and they’re also free (depending on the country, SMS costs can really add up for businesses and consumers alike).

    Email conversations may beat phone calls by a long shot, but they don’t hold a candle to the rich messaging experiences that users have come to know and love. And in some cases, the secure, branded environment of a business’ mobile app or web chat may be the best place for a conversation to flourish.

    Whatever the case, Sunshine Conversations lets you move a conversation from email, to web messenger, to messaging app, to SMS with the click of a button. You never lose track of who the customer is, where they came from and why they came to you in the first place. Because that context is precious.

  4. When a business doesn’t want third-party platforms eavesdropping on the conversation

    Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Twitter are great channels for discovery, but they’re still Facebook’s Messenger, Tencent’s WeChat and Twitter’s Twitter. Many businesses aren’t keen on sharing conversations with the big tech companies for them to mine and monetise.

    You can now engage customers on a popular platform and then get down to business on a more private one.

Examples of a good omni-channel customer experience

There are different kinds of omni-channel experience, depending on your customers’ requirements and expectations. Beyond communications, the term omni-channel is used in retail and marketing as well. Although the specifics are different, the concept is fundamentally the same: one consistent experience regardless of channel.

An e-commerce company might enable customers to purchase via channels beyond its website, such as inside the messaging thread of a social channel or mobile app, while a SaaS company might provide technical support over a selection of channels, such as email, the phone and via a chatbot.

But what all good omni-channel experiences have in common is that they create a cohesive journey for the customer as they cycle through channels and interact with your brand.. Here are three examples.

  • UGG® creates a winning omni-channel retail experience
  • ‘Click and collect’ and ‘Click and reserve’ services are one example of how a retailer can build an effective omni-channel shopping experience.

    UGG® enables a customer to purchase boots online and have them delivered to their local shop.

    Since digital channels are integrated with a customer’s visits to a bricks and mortar store, customers receive a text message to their mobile device when their order is ready and are sent an automated customer service survey after they collect it.

  • LimeBike implements a customer-centric, omni-channel marketing strategy
  • Omni-channel marketing requires a business to connect customer data from touch-points and departments across the organisation to ensure a consistent experience that genuinely benefits the customer.

    At LimeBike, customer support information is centralised throughout the company. This allows marketing teams to use customer service data to drive engagement via segmented campaigns over a variety of marketing channels. As a result, both existing and potential customers only get offers relevant to their experience with LimeBike.

  • Wrike delivers excellent omni-channel customer service
  • One benefit of omni-channel customer service is the ability to offer both live and asynchronous channels – and create an integrated experience across these channels.

    Wrike offers real-time communications channels such as live chat and the phone, as well as channels like email and social media, that allow customers to pick up a conversation at their own convenience. It also has a Help Centre and community forum to enable customers to search for answers themselves.

    All these channels are connected under Wrike’s customer service software, which consolidates reporting and ensures that agents don’t have to switch context.

    In other words, agents have the customer information that they need to resolve every problem quickly and effectively however or whenever a customer contacts the business. That way, a customer doesn’t have to repeat information such as their account type, phone number or previous problem every time they interact with an agent on a different channel.

    For more examples of how brands are creating an omni-channel experience, read our blog.

    Bring true omni-channel conversations to your customers

    Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of hype around messaging technologyand how it’s transforming customer experience. But the fragmented nature of the space makes it complicated for businesses to harness the full potential of messaging.

    With Zendesk, you can turn the promise of truly omni-channel experience into reality.

Let's get conversational

Learn more about providing omni-channel customer experiences with Zendesk

Let's get conversational

Learn more about providing omni-channel customer experiences with Zendesk

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