omnichannel customer experienceMore than 420 years ago, William Shakespeare wrote the classic Romeo and Juliet and penned the famous line, “What’s in a name?” This single question, posed by Juliet, delves into the true meaning and importance of names, and encapsulates the struggle of the star-crossed lovers. Flash forward to the 21st century. We’re all bombarded by technical names and terms every day, and many of us struggle with their meanings. When it comes to contact centers, executives and other decision-makers often mistakenly interchange the terms “omnichannel” and “multichannel.” There are, however, substantial differences between these two descriptive names. Knowing the difference is fundamental to being able to exceed today’s growing customer expectations.

More Than Offering Multiple Channels

Multichannel simply refers to the ability to engage with customers across multiple channels. If you offer your customers service via phone and email, you have a multichannel contact center. Whether you have two channels or twenty, there’s no assumption with multichannel that the services offered or information received across the different channels is integrated or consistent. There’s also no assumption that the customer can seamlessly shift between channels.

In contrast, providing an omnichannel customer experience means having the ability to consistently deliver seamless service throughout a customer’s journey. Because channels are integrated, customers can shift between channels while context is maintained to deliver low-effort interactions. With a customer experience platform that supports omnichannel customer experience, journeys can be designed, managed, and continuously optimized over time to proactively help customers reach their goals.

One source of confusion between the terms omnichannel and multichannel is that some contact center vendors tout solutions as omnichannel when they really just support multiple channels in silos. In fact, the vast majority of contact centers today are just multichannel. According to the 2016 Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, the average contact center today has nine communication channels. Yet, fewer than 25% have their channels integrated. The critical difference between multichannel and omnichannel is the ability to bridge systems and break down silos between channels to holistically manage customer context.

Doesn’t CRM Provide Omnichannel Engagement?

Another confusion related to omnichannel has to do with CRM solutions. Omnichannel typically has a different meaning for CRM vendors. With a comprehensive CRM solution, customers can be serviced on any channel. However, delivering omnichannel customer experience requires identifying and tracking customers across channels. For example, the customer can start a journey on a website, shift to chat, and then escalate an issue over voice, and every interaction is linked together to preserve context.

With CRMs, contacts are managed at the contact level, and not truly at the customer interaction level across multiple channels. What CRMs actually provide is better defined as multimedia rather than omnichannel engagement. With an omnichannel approach, you’re able to track where the customer has been to inform the current, real-time engagement. You’re also able to proactively engage customers throughout their entire journey across multiple channels. This is a different capability, in terms of understanding customer history, needs, and intent. Simply put, CRMs don’t automate and optimize interaction management. They require a human being in the loop to assess the available context and then manage the interaction intelligently.

What Role Does CRM Play in an Omnichannel Engagement Center?

With clear differences between the capabilities of CRM and a customer experience platform that supports omnichannel engagement, many ask how the two coexist and interoperate. CRM stores a common set of information about customers, hence it’s a critical supporting component for omnichannel engagement. That information is leveraged within an overarching system of engagement to orchestrate customer journeys in real time to deliver omnichannel experiences.

Omnichannel in Action

There are many ways that companies are leveraging omnichannel engagement to improve their customer experience. In the case of a global event ticketing provider, making the shift from multichannel to omnichannel resulted in customers being able to obtain a significantly better experience with reduced effort and greater personalization. For example, information about a customer’s web activity or an email submission is available in real time so that when a customer calls, the agent has full visibility into their prior interactions. Data is pushed and pulled from the CRM during the engagement orchestration to determine who, when, where, why, and how to engage. This is real-time dynamic engagement informed by omnichannel journey management.

Want to learn more about how omnichannel can dramatically improve your CX? Read the executive brief 6 Reasons Why the Modern Contact Center Must Go Omnichannel.

Chris Horne

Chris Horne

Chris Horne has been in the software industry for more than 20 years, building and marketing products for enterprise content management, business process automation, cloud management and enterprise customer engagement. Serving in various roles within startup ventures such as RightScale...