The contact center industry has been using the term “multi-channel” for over a decade to describe the transition from communicating by phone only, to communicating by email, chat and social media. In fact, it was this shift that got the “call center” renamed to the “contact center”.
Meanwhile, retailers have been using the term “omni-channel” when talking about how the in-store customer experience relates to the experience on the phone and through web and social channels. Or more generally, connecting the physical to the digital.
At some point, those two terms were bound to bump into one another. It seems like the time has come. Last month there was a terrific thread on the LinkedIn Group, “Mobile Customer Experience” (one of our top LinkedIn Groups) that tackled this issue directly.
Let’s Ask an Industry Panel
If you’re confused about when to use “multi-channel” and when to use “omni-channel” don’t worry, you’re in good company. A recent panel of industry experts (organized by 7 ) concluded that the meanings are shifting and there is definitely some grey areas.
Elizabeth Herrell, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Constellation Research said there is no “formal distinction”. While, John Bowden, Senior Vice President of Customer Care, Time Warner Cable said,
Multi-channel is an operational view – how you allow the customer to complete transactions in each channel. Omni-channel, however, is … orchestrating the customer experience across all channels so that it is seamless, integrated and consistent.
Both terms represent visions of the customer care Promised Land… [but] omni-channel is more provocative and perhaps aspirational…
Why is this an important topic now? Because smartphones have radically changed consumer behavior. If shoppers are in a retail store while using the retailer’s mobile app, their simultaneously involved in a physical and digital customer experience. That’s a great opportunity to deliver omni-channel brilliance and win over a customer.
The dark side of this phenomenon is “showrooming”, where customers use a retail location to appraise an item, but then purchase online from the merchant with the lowest price.
Pandodaily captured this tumultuous situation in a recent article describing it as:
A pair of reciprocating revolutions that are migrating the features of physical stores to the virtual world of e-commerce just as mobile and other technologies are beginning to move Web functionality and instant payments to retail stores in the real world.
For more on this see: “Why Your Retail Business Needs to Deliver the Best Customer Service“.
Deloitte predicts that within three years “mobile influence” will be directly determining some $689 billion in US retail sales – a number 22 times bigger than anyone’s forecast of mobile e-commerce and more than twice the size of total e-commerce.
What does this mean for the voice channel?
As all these new channels of customer service emerge, you might think that the voice channel is losing its prominence. After all, if consumers are using email, chat, Twitter, and Facebook, they must be less interested in calling, right? Wrong.
Research is showing that the phone is still the most important channel when it comes to customer satisfaction. See this post: “Which Contact Center Technology Really Impacts Customer Service? One Chart Says it All“.
The bottom line is that the multi-channel / omni-channel nature of retail is already a powerful force reshaping the industry, and it’s influence will grow. Decision makers need to embrace this change and prepare their organizations to be masters of every channel.