OmnichannelThe word “omnichannel” first entered common business lexicon several years ago from the retail industry. With the rapid development of eCommerce, many big box retailers began to focus on developing multi-path purchase experiences for their customers. Yet, they soon discovered that to truly leverage the wealth of opportunities in online sales, they would have to deliver a seamless or “omnichannel” shopping experience across in-store touchpoints, online storefronts, and mobile applications.

Because the number of multi-channel shoppers only continues to increase, adopting an omnichannel strategy has now become the goal of nearly every leading retailer worldwide. UK-based retailer and Genesys 2015 Customer Innovation Award winner Marks & Spencer has proven the potential of this strategy by connecting its digital channels in time for the peak holiday season, and gaining visibility into non-contact center interactions. Now, the idea of a seamless experience has also branched out beyond just retailing into the broader realm of customer experience.

Moving Beyond Retail

As in retail, omnichannel customer experience (CX) spans multiple channels. However, it doesn’t stop at just facilitating a purchase. Omnichannel CX is driven with the goal of gathering context and information across all engagement channels throughout the course of the customer lifecycle to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and sales.

Omnichannel CX makes use of multiple channels within a given interaction, including voice, text, email, chat, social media, and more. For example, a customer may first request help with an issue by asking a question over web chat. He or she may then choose to call the company’s customer service line to get additional technical or billing help while simultaneously reviewing FAQ on the company’s website.

In an omnichannel interaction, a contact center agent can access the initial chat conversation and pick up where it left off so that the customer doesn’t have to repeat the issue. The agent can then guide the customer journey in a seamless way to deliver a more personalized, beneficial customer experience.

The Difference Between Omnichannel and Multi-channel

You may be thinking that the concept of communicating with customers on multiple channels is nothing new. This is true. The trend toward companies offering customer service via multiple channels has grown tremendously in the last decade.  According to the Forrester report Trends 2015: The Future of Customer Servicemore than half of consumers now using live chat, email, FAQ, or online forums for customer engagement.

Yet, there is a big difference between offering a variety of single channels to customers and actually orchestrating engagement across them.

We all take for granted the ability to communicate in an omnichannel way in our personal lives. We effortlessly shift between in-person conversations, phone calls, text messages, and email without missing a beat. However, this hasn’t been as easy to manage within a contact center. Technological and/or organizational obstacles have been hindrances to effectively combine support between channels and orchestrate interactions to effectively manage the customer journey. These challenges have only become more complex as new self-service and assisted-service channels have been introduced.

Achieving the Goal of Integration

With customers creating streams of information across two or more channels, the big challenge is integration. It’s no simple task to connect data and follow the customer across channels. Breakdowns in communication are common and are a primary cause of customers shifting brands.

The solution requires a single system of engagement that spans previously siloed channels, touchpoints, and interactions so you can design, monitor, and tune the entire customer journey for an optimal experience.

The Benefits of Omnichannel 

With more than 75 percent of consumers considering customer experience as a differentiator between brands, and digital engagement continuing to rapidly accelerate, personalized, omnichannel customer engagement will only become more necessary for staying competitive, reducing customer churn, and delivering superior customer experiences.

Want to learn more? Check out the collection of best practices in The Contact Center Manager’s Survival Guide to Omnichannel Customer Service.