Difference between omnichannel vs multichannel in contact centres

By Brendan CrawfordAugust 7, 2023

Almost a decade ago, Google released research that reinforced just how quickly people were adapting to the new world of constant connectivity. Just a few years after Apple had released what is considered the first fully realised smartphone in 2007, the study found that 90% of multiple device owners were switching between screens to complete tasks, using an average of three combinations every day.

Rather than consigning separate tasks to separate screens, it had not taken long for people to embrace the freedom and convenience that comes with starting a purchase, enquiry or application on a desktop computer before continuing it on their mobile and finishing up on their tablet. Seamless movement between devices had fast become a reality and led to the rise of a concept that shows no signs of waning in popularity – omnichannel.

Having first been coined as a term in the early 2000s, omnichannel quickly joined multichannel as a buzzword of choice for business professionals, all the more so when a 2013 study revealed companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retained an average of 89% of their customers, compared with 33% for those with weak omnichannel strategies. Such numbers could not be ignored and many executives and managers rushed to worship at the altar of omnichannel.

The only problem was many could not tell their omnichannel from their multichannel and that remains the case to this day. While both involve the use of more than one physical or digital channel to communicate with customers – hence the confusion – they are each unique and that is why it is essential that organisations know the key differences and which best suits their needs to ensure the success they are searching for.

Fortunately, that is where this article is ready to help.

What is Multichannel?

Multichannel is defined as the use of more than one channel to market and communicate information but with the clear distinction that they are not integrated. In a multichannel environment, each channel exists in a silo and that means contact centre agents are not as well equipped with information to handle interactions efficiently and, in turn, customers are often forced to repeat information they have already provided elsewhere or worse, they are provided incorrect or outdated, or with different information in the different channels.

What is Omnichannel?

Omnichannel also refers to the use of more than one channel to communicate but with a key difference – all channels are fully integrated, which in a contact centre means information can follow customers as they switch between them. It is all about offering convenience and choice and an omnichannel contact centre may include social media, SMS, chat, async messaging and email, not to forget traditional phone support. The contact centre can then funnel each interaction a customer has with the business into one location, thus putting the information at the fingertips of agents and centralising data for use in sophisticated CX strategies.

What are the key differences between multichannel and omnichannel contact centres?

A multichannel contact centre uses multiple channels to communicate with customers. An omnichannel contact centre provides a seamless, consistent experience across all channels by unifying customer interactions and data

Tech Integrations

Omnichannel contact centres are typically hosted in the cloud, which is a much better environment for enabling effortless API integrations. This makes it easier to add new technologies such as analytics, which can then tap into the centralised data source. AI tools are becoming more prevalent across the contact centre industry and sophisticated cloud-based omnichannel solutions like Oration by Convai are playing a key role in delivering results.

Agent Capabilities

Multichannel agents tend to be specialists who may be extremely strong on one channel but lack the digital savviness to seamlessly switch to other tools or platforms. Conversely, agents in an omnichannel contact centre are highly skilled practitioners who are across every channel’s best practices and extremely familiar with the likes of customer relationship management (CRM) systems that power the ecosystem. Given the need to keep pace with the complexities of an omnichannel environment, they tend to have quality communication skills and multitasking abilities.

Channel Shift

The ability for both agents and customers to seamlessly switch between channels in an omnichannel environment cannot be overstated. Take the example of an agent who steps in when live chat is experiencing a particularly challenging call. With the click of a button, the call can be flicked to a voice channel to facilitate a faster resolution and, while on the call, the agent can even send an SMS to the customer from the same platform. Likewise, omnichannel contact centre solutions like Convai’s Intelligent Call Routing (ICR) are ensuring the huge volumes of call received by contact centres are always matched to the right outcomes and intelligently routing calls between multiple channels.

Technology Requirements

Omnichannel contact centre technology operates on a single-invoice, single-vendor model, with dedicated tools such as omnichannel routing and unified dashboards usually integrated via the cloud. This not only makes the ecosystem easily scalable but avoids the headaches often found in multichannel contact centres due to the need for separate technology infrastructure for each channel and the resultant multiple invoices for various licences.

Personalisation

Omnichannel allows agents to access data from previous conversations and purchases, which not only enhances their ability to problem-solve but personalises CX. While multichannel contact centres operate in a siloed environment, omnichannel agents can tap into key insights from across platforms to make customers feel valued and proactively engage with them based on purchase histories and channels of choice. This can benefit future sales and make it easier to develop more intimate personalisation strategies.

Financial Costs

Multichannel contact centres may be cheaper to initially establish but businesses should be wary of the long-term impact before rushing to do so. Many multichannel solutions require licences for each individual channel, which lead to cost increases over time. Likewise, multichannel contact centres often find it more costly to scale as their associated businesses grow.

Quantity vs Quality

Multichannel contact centres may be able to offer a wide range of channels but a lack of integration means it can often be a case of quality suffering at the hands of quantity. Without an effort to link the channels, customers are forced to start over when they switch from one to another, which can hinder the quality of support they receive. In contrast, customers seeking support via an omnichannel contact centre will find the quality of support they receive will be the same no matter which channel they choose. An omnichannel approach also means contact channels are varied to deal with different levels of support a customer may need. For example, the most basic of queries can be addressed via chatbots and slightly more complex queries can be dealt with via a live webchat, leaving agents to spend their time on issues that require a truly personal interaction. The integration of all the channels ensures the quality of the engagement.

Real world examples of omnichannel versus multichannel contact centres

Here are three real-world examples highlighting the key differences between omnichannel and multichannel in contact centres:

Customer journey continuity 

A customer starts a support enquiry through live chat on a company's website. After a brief chat, the customer decides to switch to a phone call.

  • Omnichannel contact centre: the agent seamlessly transitions the conversation from live chat to a phone call, without the need for the customer to repeat information or start from scratch.
  • Multichannel contact centre: the customer would need to start a new conversation when switching channels. They would have to repeat their issue or provide the information again.

Integrated data and context

A customer contacts a bank's customer service through social media, enquiring about a specific transaction.

  • Omnichannel contact centre: the agent has access to the customer's account history, recent transactions and previous interactions across all channels. This integrated data allows the agent to provide a comprehensive and personalised response to the customer.
  • Multichannel contact centre: the agent might not have immediate access to the customer's account information or previous interactions. They would need to ask the customer for additional details or transfer the conversation to another department.

Channel consistency and branding

A clothing retailer offers customer support through various channels, including phone, email, live chat, and social media. 

  • Omnichannel contact centre: the retailer ensures consistent branding and messaging across all channels, maintaining a unified customer experience. The customer receives the same level of service, tone and brand identity, regardless of the channel they choose to communicate through.
  • Multichannel contact centre: each channel may have its own unique tone or style, potentially leading to inconsistency in customer experience and brand representation. For example, phone support might have a formal tone, while social media responses are more casual, creating a disconnect for customers.

These examples demonstrate how omnichannel contact centres provide a seamless and integrated customer experience across channels, while multichannel contact centres often struggle to maintain continuity and consistency in customer interactions.

Is multichannel or omnichannel best for your contact centre? 

When deciding between a multichannel or omnichannel approach for your contact centre, consider factors such as customer expectations, the need for a seamless customer experience and resource allocation. Understanding your customers' preferred communication channels and delivering a consistent experience across channels can guide you towards an omnichannel strategy. However, if your customers primarily use a few preferred channels and you have limited resources, a multichannel approach may be more suitable. Assessing these factors will help you determine the best approach for your specific contact centre needs.

Summary

Customer experience should always be at the heart of any business decision, which is why an omnichannel contact centre reigns supreme over a multichannel approach. Expanding the number of channels to communicate with customers is vital but ensuring seamless integration between them is what will deliver the long-term results you are looking for. An omnichannel strategy is essentially a multichannel approach as it offers multiple contact channels but the difference is those channels are part of a greater operation, rather than being an isolated form of communication.

With 89% of today’s consumers expecting an omnichannel experience, it has never been more important to know the technology needed for a modern contact centre to thrive. Discover what such an environment looks likes like and the technology being used to meet customer expectations and maintain operational efficiencies.

How AI-powered technology can help transform your contact centre

Watch Demo Book a Demo