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How do multichannel and omnichannel environments differ?

Omnichannel is the evolution of the multichannel environment; however, they do work together. Learn how these two terms differ and where they intersect.

The terms multichannel and omnichannel, while related, offer two different capabilities.

The best way to understand the relationship and difference between the two is to think of multichannel capabilities as the foundational component of an omnichannel environment.

Organizations that offer multichannel communications interact with customers using a number of different chat channels, which may include voice, email, SMS, video and social. Communications via these channels can be for the purposes of sales, retention, service and more.

The problem with a multichannel environment is each of these channels of communication operates in a silo, and there is no guarantee of consistent CX if a customer uses different communication channels within the organization.

Migrating from a multichannel to omnichannel environment should have the goal of minimizing customer effort by adding two key elements.

1. There must be a consistent experience across all channels

Regardless of the channel a customer is using for communication, the look and feel of the interaction must be consistent. Specific examples include the following:

  • consistent branding across all channels;
  • easy-to-navigate websites on hand-held devices; and
  • consistent information across all channels.

For example, when a customer explores a website on a laptop and then their wireless device, the website must be navigable in a consistent manner across both platforms. Moreover, the information provided to the customer must be the same regardless of the channel used. This is also a requirement in multichannel environments, but is not always true as a result of siloed channels.

2. There must be a seamless experience across all channels

There will be cases when a customer interacts with an organization via a specific channel, then decides they need to use another channel, also called a pivot. When a customer pivots from one channel to another, they don't want to repeat the actions that they previously took.

For example, a customer browses a website for a specific item, decides they need additional information and initiates a chat session. In an omnichannel environment, a record of the specific steps the customer took on the web will be available to the chat agent, and they do not have to ask the customer to repeat any information.

To keep things simple, think of a multichannel environment as the foundation that provides a number of ways for customers to communicate with an organization. The next step is to build capabilities that provide a consistent experience across channels and the capability to easily pivot between channels, which is the definition of an omnichannel environment.

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