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Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Experiences: Who is at the Center of Your Universe?


By: Chris Murphy, VP Product Marketing at Smart Communications

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published a crazy theory he had been working on for over 30 years. He proposed that the Sun was the center of the universe. Why was this considered crazy? Because the prevailing wisdom of the day was that it was the Earth, not the Sun, that everything revolved around. And while that difference may not seem massive to us today, at the time, the “Copernican Revolution” propelled scientific thinking forward, influencing thinkers from Galileo to Isaac Newton.

At this point, it’s fair to ask – what does this have to do with omnichannel vs. multichannel customer experiences? As the title of this post suggests, it’s really all about deciding at a strategic level: who is at the center of your universe? You, or your customer?

This post will examine the key differences between omnichannel and multichannel customer conversations, revealing the best strategy for leading enterprises going forward. And if you find this discussion interesting, you’ll want to review our ebook, The Omnichannel Advantage, which provides even more insights.

Because every customer interaction is an opportunity to shape their overall experience, there is more pressure on enterprises than ever to orchestrate interactive, two-way conversations. As we review omnichannel vs. multichannel experiences below, you will uncover the benefits of omnichannel conversations and why this approach delivers more engaging, personalized customer interactions.

Multichannel Approach: Your Business at the Center 

Just as with thinking that everything revolved around the Earth, a multichannel customer communications strategy starts with a somewhat business-first (opposed to customer-first) approach. In most instances, a business has something it wants or needs to communicate out to customers, whether that’s marketing messages, transactional notifications or responses to individual customer queries. 

It’s pretty simple and straightforward. Messages are distributed out by the company, and customers separately reach out with questions. Unfortunately, both are one-way streets and the customer is caught watching from the sidelines. This approach also assumes that customers fall neatly into a single channel – whether that’s “email customers” or “print customers.” Unfortunately, that’s not the reality we live in. Today’s customer moves between channels throughout their journey with a company and expects interactions to carry over seamlessly from one channel to the next.

In a multichannel approach, there are disadvantages that affect some of the most important aspects of the customer experience. When the business is at the center, communications often are missing personalization, mostly because the business may lack the data and technology infrastructure needed to execute on individualized interactions.

Ultimately – and perhaps most importantly – a multichannel communications strategy severely limits how and where a customer can interact with a business. This approach makes it very difficult for customers to initiate conversations from their preferred channels because the business is at the center. 

Omnichannel Approach: The Customer is the Center 

An omnichannel customer communications strategy represents a paradigm shift as big as the one Copernicus set forth. While every business claims the customer is the center of all they do, the ones who organize their entire communications processes and infrastructure around the customer prove that they mean it.

With an omnichannel approach, every touchpoint leads to a carefully curated experience. Every interaction has the potential to be a two-way conversation, and each touchpoint builds off the previous one. Omnichannel conversations provide the right information at the right time in ways that are easy to understand and act upon.

And while there are still many channels in an omnichannel approach, they’re all connected, scalable and centrally managed – and customers can move effortlessly from one channel to another. In a word, communications are orchestrated across all these channels.

In a multichannel approach, the goal is often to simply add more channels. In reality, however, it’s much more important to deliver a quality and connected experience across channels. So, it’s about how well the channels work together, not necessarily how many there are. With a powerful customer conversations platform, enterprises ensure consistent, compliant communications across brands and geographies on whichever channel the customer prefers.

And when it comes to personalization, omnichannel communications outshine multichannel here yet again. Because the customer is in the center, everything is designed around them. With the right technology partner, it’s easy to collect information from the customer in an engaging way that can then be used to shape the rest of their communications experience. When they express a channel preference for specific communication types, it’s easy to put that into practice. If it changes, it’s easy to update. Omnichannel conversations offer the possibility for truly personalized interactions that are contextually based on every other step they’ve taken – across channels and devices.

It’s important to keep in mind that as a customer moves from channel to channel, context is key. Understanding the context of specific interactions is important and further emphasizes the importance of personalization. Getting context right lends itself to ensuring a company is choosing the right content – the right tone, the right language, the right sentiment – to deliver an amazing customer experience. 

An omnichannel approach also helps strike the balance between managing customer support across time zones and allowing for self-service options. As chatbots and other interactive technologies become more sophisticated, a strong technology foundation will be more important than ever to ensure customer needs and expectations are met.

Dive Deeper 

It’s clear that omnichannel conversations are the path forward for leading companies, but getting it right requires the proper technology. For a more in-depth look at omnichannel vs. multichannel experiences, strategies and information on how Smart Communications can help, we invite you to download our ebook, The Omnichannel Advantage.