Over the past several years, the multi-channel customer experience has become widely recognized as the quintessential model of interaction between consumers and brands. Whether via email, live chat, social media or traditional call center phone support, customers have grown accustomed to engaging with representatives across a range of channels, depending on their personal preferences and available technology platforms. The multi-channel standard quickly swept the e-commerce environment, offering more options and touch points for quality interactions.
Soon enough, customer experience strategists raised the bar even higher, introducing omni-channel services that placed the customer at the center of every interaction and focused on seamless transitions from one channel to the next. This new standard of consistency and quality has delivered remarkable results for organizations that have invested in upgrading their multichannel strategy. Here is a closer look at the omni-channel shift and how it has impacted today’s customer experience.
Understanding the distinction
Many experts have attempted to articulate the differences between multi-channel and omni-channel customer experience. Satisfactory definitions have only recently emerged, offering decision-makers a reliable framework from which to build their programs. Channel integration is the core differentiator in the omni-channel conversation, as a report written by Omer Minkara, senior research analyst of contact center and customer experience management at Aberdeen Group, explained.
Minkara pointed out that a true omni-channel engagement initiative not only promotes seamless service across phone, email, chat and social media channels, but also delivers consistent value over mobile devices and during the in-store experience. The concept that the customer remains at the center of these diverse interactive touch points is the essence of omni-channel, an idea that John Bowden, senior vice president of customer care at Time Warner Cable, touched upon in a blog post from Fonolo.
“Multi-channel is an operational view – how you allow the customer to complete transactions in each channel,” revealed Bowden, according to the source. “Omni-channel, however, is orchestrating the customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated and consistent.”
Have a closer look at some more key differences that separate omni-channel strategies from their multi-channel predecessors:
- Multi-channel support tends to be limited to voice, email, chat and web channels, while omni-channel includes social media and mobile
- Omni-channel anticipates that customers will move from one channel to the next, and prepares for this by integrating those services as necessary
- While multi-channel communications exist in silos, omni-channel systems share data across all platforms, improving customer interactions and acting as a single repository to document order history, personal preferences, product inquiries and customer service issues regardless of channel.
- In a well-tuned omni-channel setup, agents access customer information from any channel, boosting service speed and effectiveness
Recognizing the potential
The differences between multi- and omni-channel services may be subtle, but the impact of integration is undeniable when compared with less connected alternatives. As Minkara revealed in his Aberdeen research, companies that employed integrated customer service methods noticed an average 7.1 percent increase in customer retention rates, compared with a 5 percent drop in organizations that did not update their programs.
Additionally, omni-channel best practices brought organizations a 5.5 percent increase in the generation of positive social media feedback, as well as a 4 percent spike in customer lifetime value. The latter statistic showed an especially large gap versus multi-channel strategies, which left operations with a 23.3 percent drop in this metric. Omni-channel also encouraged more consistent service-level attainment, fewer call transfers and reduced agent overtime costs.
“Companies with this integration in place enjoy a far greater reduction in non-compliance… as well as a reduction in supervisory time spent assisting contact center agents,” wrote Minkara in the Aberdeen report. “By reducing the occurrence of both results year-over-year, companies enjoy incremental savings that boost their bottom-line.”
Implementing the solutions
While today most customer service strategists recognize the power of an omni-channel program, best practices for operationalizing omni-channel integration are still very much a work in progress.
“The contact center is still the nucleus of an exceptional customer experience.”
Since the call center is often the focal point of a multi-channel program, strategists must examine their processes and system configurations, and consider whether or not they are performing up to omni-channel standards. Many experts, including Minkara, have pointed to data as the differentiating factor, explaining that agents must be empowered with relevant, real-time information to successfully stay in front of the fast-paced, ever-changing consumer demands. A blog post from TeleTech emphasized this point by placing a premium on accessible, accurate data, as well as the role of predictive analytics tools to forecast these dynamic expectations.
“There are numerous ways that organizations can use customer data to gain deeper insight into customer behavior and customer sentiment to drive improved outcomes,” said Niren Sirohi, vice president of predictive analytics and consulting services, according to the source. “Predictive analytics help determine the reasons why people prefer certain channels. Executives can utilize these insights to craft the best intra- and inter-channel experiences.”
Clearly, organizations stand to benefit in a variety of powerful ways by leveraging omni-channel approaches to customer service. With integrated call center solutions and plenty of up-to-the-minute data for representatives to draw from, decision-makers can maximize these benefits and continue to delight the customer.