Opinion

What exactly is the meaning of omnichannel?

6 min read

27 September 2016

As ecommerce continues to grow at a rapid pace, every major company worth its salt is leveraging new technology and marketing strategies to blur the lines between online, mobile and in-store experiences.

But do we understand what “omnichannel” actually means? When I’ve referred to omnichannel delivery I’ve typically talked primarily in terms of content – making sure that we deliver the right content or messaging across multiple digital platforms, be that websites, social media channels or web stores.

However, that’s really only one piece of the omnichannel puzzle – it’s also delivering a consistent experience, suitably tailored for every device consumers use.

Add in more traditional or physical touchpoints – printed media, brick-and-mortar stores or call centre interactions, and we start to see the scope and scale of the challenges involved in delivering a truly omnichannel customer experience.

Frost & Sullivan says omnichannel is about “seamless and effortless, high-quality customer experiences that occur within and between contact channels”. That makes it sound deceptively simple. But does it go one step further than that? Is there more to omnichannel than just these definitions we have become accustomed to?

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The prefix “omni” conveys something “all-encompassing” or “universal”. But if a company says it is delivering an omnichannel experience, is it really managing and delivering a good customer experience across every possible channel that a customer can interact with the business?

What about those channels outside our direct control that still add to the overall experience with our product, especially when it is sold, implemented, or supported through resellers, dealers, retail stores and third-parties? 

Think of a disgruntled delivery driver who may have received the wrong information about where he was going, or even the wrong product to deliver. Upon arrival, his frustrations impact the “complete omnichannel experience” the company wants to deliver, as the customer would not receive the level of customer service they expect.

This kind of behaviour cannot be anticipated and feels out the business’s control, but it’s just as much a touchpoint with your customers as any other – perhaps a more critical one, since it’s often the make-or-break for delivering physical goods. But often such actions and behaviours are the culmination of other interactions, through monitored channels that have failed. 

Viewing information in channel siloes can not only be inaccurate, but ineffective. Only by using the right tools to monitor, manage and collate the multiple channels that businesses use to interact with their customers, can a single customer view be achieved and benefited from.

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Omnichannel is a two-way process. Companies might use every conceivable channel to deliver their message or reach their customers, but it’s a dialogue, not a broadcast. Are they completely aware of every single channel through which the customers are talking to them?

Dissatisfied customers express their frustrations and disappointments via letters of complaint, telephone calls, emails. Many are now accustomed to complaining in public through Twitter or other social channels. But customers don’t always communicate the bad experiences; some are also keen to feed back the good experiences too.

Many companies, of course, monitor these channels, but handling every channel in isolation is not the same as delivering good omnichannel experiences – businesses have to be able to join the dots between this different touchpoints to get a cohesive view of their customers, as well as their own business.

Transcripts of phone conversations and tweets from customers represent unstructured data that businesses need to see as crucial parts of getting omnichannel right.

The importance of effectively capturing all types of information – both structured and unstructured – and being able to deliver it in context, across any application or platform has never been more valuable to achieve the ultimate customer experience.

Only by properly managing communication channels across all stages of the customer journey does it become possible to deliver a true, powerful omnichannel experience, and today, it’s the ability to deliver the best customer experience that sets one company apart from the competition.

It is critical that businesses equip themselves with the tools to deliver a continual, connected customer experience across every channel – inbound and outbound – if they want to survive and thrive in the era of omnichannel.

Alan Porter works in customer experience management at OpenText

When it comes to the evolution of ecommerce, condoms and pet food now only a button away, literally, as Amazon Dash comes to the UK.

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