Omni-channel

What's the difference between omnichannel vs multichannel?

By Brendan CrawfordJuly 15, 2022

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are often forced to repeat information they have already provided elsewhere or worse, they are provided incorrect or outdated, or with different information in the different channels.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?

An obvious answer is what has already been outlined – while both concepts use multiple channels to communicate information, the latter is focused on integrating them. However, it is what that integration means where the true differences can be found.

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.

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.

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