What’s the Difference Between Multi-Channel and Omni-Channel?

Today’s consumers expect companies to support them in the service channel of their choice. These channels include traditional modes of communication, like phone and email, along with more modern technology like live chat, SMS, social media and knowledge bases. To some professionals, multi-channel and omni-channel customer service are interchangeable phrases. The truth about how each type of service works, though, shows a major chasm between the two.

The Etymology of Multi-Channel and Omni-Channel

Multi- means more than two; omni- means every. While both terms sound all-encompassing, one is much more limiting than the other. Multi-channel businesses may be able to provide more than two channels of communication, but only omni-channel companies offer the same level of customer service across every channel.

The History of Multi-Channel Customer Service

Companies were slow to adopt multi-channel customer service. It was confusing and cumbersome. There wasn’t any type of streamlined integration between different channels. It didn’t seem to service the customer or the contact center as well as the industry expected.

Even businesses that did adopt a variety of service channels struggled to handle all of them in an organized and efficient way. Separate groups were designated to each support channel without any communication between the various departments. Customers had to start over when they would switch communication modes. For example, if a customer spoke with customer service on the phone, then sent a follow up question via email the next day, the customer would have to explain everything from the beginning. The agent didn’t have any way of finding out what happened during the phone call the day before.

The Birth of Omni-Channel Customer Service

As it became increasingly obvious that multi-channel support wasn’t making the customer service process easier, omni-channel support emerged. Having various ways to contact a business wasn’t enough – customers needed to switch between those channels without losing ground. Omni-channel was able to close the gap between customer needs and contact center capability.

What is Omni-Channel Customer Service?

Omni-channel customer service takes the basic idea of multi-channel customer service – to offer support to customers on a variety of platforms – and seamlessly integrates each platform so that problems are solved quickly and efficiently. For example, a customer can contact an agent via web chat to explain their problem, get on a phone call to speak in-depth with a specialist and then Tweet a quick followup question. Each time the customer contacts support, they may be connecting with a new support agent, but that agent has access to all past communication and progress. The conversation can be picked up exactly where it was left off.

In order to encourage brand loyalty, outstanding customer service is a priority. In omni-channel contact centers, not only is information synced across all channels, but the quality level of customer service remains consistently high. To some customer service vendors, multi-channel failed, while omni-channel is succeeding and has the potential to continue evolving.

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