What is Omni-Channel Customer
Service?

 

Omni-channel customer service aims to provide a seamless customer experience across multiple channels by integrating them within a single system. This gives customer service agents a comprehensive view of a customer’s interactions; enabling them to answer queries more effectively and efficiently.

In other words, if a customer sends an email on Monday, they expect the phone call on Tuesday to pick up exactly where they left off. Context is preserved across all channels to create a harmonious experience.
 

What is the difference between omni-channel and multi-channel customer service?

The multi-channel experience is, by now, well-established. Even “traditional” organisations are now likely to have at least a website, a blog and a social media page, and use these platforms to interact with their respective target groups. Because of this, it’s important to understand what sets omni-channel apart.

While both approaches involve selling across a range of physical and virtual channels, the key difference lies in the degree of integration.

  • In multi-channel customer service, the channels function as stand-alone entities.
  • In an omni-channel approach, the touchpoints are linked such that the customer will perceive the brand as a seamless unit, regardless of their chosen route.

Serving the Connected Customer

Though the multi-channel approach certainly still has merit — not at least as the first stepping stone on the way towards an effective omni-channel strategy — customers are becoming increasingly likely to engage with a retailer via multiple touchpoints, making it necessary for organisations to adapt accordingly.

What’s more, the trend towards omni-channel customer service — who now allow customers to reach them instantly via social media chat, live chat and SMS in addition to traditional phone and email channels — has heightened consumer expectations and placed the onus on smaller companies to keep up.

Why is omni-channel customer service so important?

The reason for this is that today’s consumer has the opportunity to design their own journey across an organisation’s touchpoints. Forcing a customer to a stick to a single lane or to go back to the beginning every time they switch, has a negative impact on their experience, and may even result in them never making it to the point of purchase.
 

Take the example of a traditional multi-channel retailer, which will likely sell their products via a website (the online channel), as well as via brick-and-mortar stores (the offline channel). These two channels typically have very little to do with one another. Both have their own stock and sell directly to customers, and it is often the case that items purchased online cannot be returned in store. The two channels function as completely separate entities; in effect, they may as well be separate businesses.
 

The problem with this is that modern consumers do not see brands as siloed entities.
 

They live in “real time” and are accustomed to receiving real-time responses within their personal communications. In their commercial interactions, they expect the same: they want to be able to interact instantly with a brand online, via mobile and in the physical store, and for context to be preserved with each interaction such that the experience has a consistent feel.
 

This has given rise to concepts such as unified retail, which seamlessly links the online and offline segments of a business.

 

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What are the benefits of omni-channel customer service?

If implemented effectively, this form of customer service can bring good returns on investment.

Benefits of omni-channel customer service include:

  1. Obtaining greater customer insights
  2. Improving the likelihood of purchase and increased customer satisfaction
  3. Increasing the productivity and job satisfaction of your customer service agents
  4. Cost-saving
  5. Differentiating yourself from the competition
 
 

Obtaining greater customer insights

Channels such as social media, chat, forums and webinars leave a written trace of customer interaction.

When companies place these streams of data in a broader context they can get a feel for how their customers’ needs vary across the different channels, allowing them to tweak their operations accordingly.

Improving the likelihood of purchase and increased customer satisfaction

Many consumers will simply abandon an online purchase if they can’t find quick answers to questions about the product. Customers appreciate when companies give the impression of valuing their time.

Many customers now prefer self-service channels such as chatbots and virtual agents to resolve their queries and issues. Allowing them to seek assistance in the way that suits them best will increase their level of satisfaction with the brand.

Increasing the productivity and job satisfaction of your customer service agents

Being able to respond to simple queries via more time-efficient channels (like live chat, webinars, FAQs, moderation of community forums and more) frees up agents’ time to undergo training, handle more complex issues and produce added value for the organisation.

This increases their level of job satisfaction and helps them feel empowered and valued, making them more likely to remain loyal to the brand.
 
Saving costs
Differentiating yourself from the competition
 

What channels and services form an omni-channel customer service strategy?

It’s important to note that an omni-channel solution doesn’t necessarily mean implementing every physical and digital channel available – you might, for example, survey customer preferences to determine your top three choices.

These might typically include the following:

  • Retail Store: For most businesses, brick-and-mortar stores were the original channel for distributing their products to the end consumer. Many customers still value the ability to look at products in person, so retail stores do still have relevance in a digital world – but they need to be incorporated into the customer journey in a unified fashion.

  • E-Commerce: Online retail was the first channel to truly shake up the brick-and-mortar world. Enhance its effectiveness by ensuring that it ties in seamlessly with other channels – for example, by offering an instant chat service that is accessible directly from the website.

  • Mobile Services: Mobile customers are used to maintaining ongoing dialogue via text, voice, social and instant messaging channels, and to having access to information at the touch of a screen. This means that omni-channel capabilities are particularly important in the context of mobile services – and have a huge potential impact, with the vast majority of phone buyers now opting for internet-connected devices.

  • Email Communication: Email support is more cost-effective than telephone support, and much easier to monitor and analyse.

  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are ideal for providing quick answers to customer questions.
 

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How can organisations best implement omni-channel customer service?

There are a number of tools and key considerations organisations can keep in mind when seeking to implement an omni-channel service experience.

  • CRM:
    A CRM (customer relationship management) system records customer data, tracks customer interactions and manages customer accounts. Since a 360-degree view of the customer is essential for tailoring customer experiences across all channels, effective CRM is an integral part of the omni-channel experience.

  • A single platform for customer data:
    If an omni-channel strategy is to succeed, customer interactions must be transparent and connected. Customers should be shown the products they want to see, when they want to see them. This necessitates the sharing of data on a single platform, with visibility for key stakeholders such as marketing, ecommerce, sales and customer service.

  • AI-powered customer journeys:
    Predictive intelligence helps brand marketers to determine whom to target, when and where to target them and which offers they would most like to see. In other words, it enables more accurate customer experience mapping, a cornerstone of the entire omni-channel experience. AI-powered automation is also a great way of removing the operational load associated with the more complex processes of unified retail, enabling agents to deal with customers in a more timely fashion.

  • Scalability:
    To adapt to changing needs, businesses need a platform that can be scaled as needed, enabling them to launch new websites and applications and establish themselves in new markets without rethinking the entire system.

  • Creating a customer-first culture:
    While technology has been the enabler of growing customer expectations, it’s not the only aspect of the solution. When a company starts transitioning to an omni-channel system, it’s crucial that their culture is willing to embrace change; specifically, to be prepared to prioritise the customer at every level. This begins with ensuring that the leadership team is committed to a customer-first philosophy; working from top down, the company can then begin assimilating customer prioritisation into each and every aspect of the organisation.

How to differentiate your organisation with omni-channel customer experience

In a broad sense, we can think of omni-channel customer service as the next evolutionary step after multi-channel customer service. Building on this, we should remember that while all omni-channel experiences use multiple channels, a multi-channel experience is not necessarily an omni-channel one.

This has nothing to do with the quality of the individual channels. Even the slickest website and most engaging email communication cannot be part of an omni-channel experience if the touchpoints are not connected.

In contrast to a multi-channel sales approach, an omni-channel approach maps the customer journey and takes into account every platform, device and method a customer might use as to pass through the journey. It uses this knowledge to provide the customer with an integrated experience, ensuring greater customer satisfaction and a better brand image.
 

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