Definition: omnichannel experience
A strategically-planned user experience that extends across all channels, devices, modalities and timeframes, incorporating design, customer service, brand values, messaging and tone of voice in a way that’s consistent and seamless.
When you get the same kind of experience from a company, whether you communicate with them online, in a store or branch, on the phone or anywhere else.
The terms ‘omnichannel’ and ‘multichannel’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re slightly different things:
- A multichannel experience works across more than one channel, for example phone and email.
- An omnichannel experience covers every possible channel, so there’s never a ‘gap’ perceptible from the customer’s point of view.
A multi-channel experience is like dealing with a team of people who, although they all work at the same place, may or may not know the details of each other’s tasks, and have different styles and personalities. An omnichannel experience is like dealing with one person who is great at their job and can take care of all your needs while you sit back and relax.
What does omnichannel look like in practice?
Let’s say you bought a new laptop in a brick-and-mortar store called TOPLAPS, part of a national chain. If there’s an omnichannel experience in place, the TOPLAPS Twitter account handler should be able to locate the details of your order and help you with a customer service query about your machine 6 months later, with minimal delay. Without the strategy in place, you may need to contact the original store or the manufacturer of the laptop, or produce paperwork and receipts before your problem can be solved.
Or, to try another example, you’re browsing in a clothing store and see a shirt you love, but it’s not in stock in your size. If the brand uses an omnichannel strategy, you will be able to open the store’s app or website on your smartphone and check the availability of the shirt – in your size – online or at another branch. Without that investment from the brand, you’ll have to search other stores, ask a store assistant to re-order the item, or more likely, just sigh and walk away.
Setting a standard
Customers aren’t just embracing omnichannel experiences – they’re expecting them. Typically, consumers undertake buying journeys across multiple devices during multiple sessions.
66% of customers prefer to choose their own journey through a brand’s channels when completing a task, and those customer journeys are rarely linear. A basic ecommerce transaction includes an average of 5.5 touchpoints, but can rack up as many as 20 as the customer compares, considers and explores the factors relating to a purchase decision.
These stats tell us that customers are behaving in ways that make distinctions between channels almost obsolete, and it follows that they’ll expect companies to do the same. The kicker? Consumers say they’re willing to pay up to 16% more for a great customer experience.
Why build an omnichannel experience?
If we haven’t convinced you already, here are 5 reasons to move towards an omnichannel model.
- Happy customers
From a customer’s perspective, the benefits of an omnichannel experience are self-evident. Dealing with the company is smoother, simpler and more intuitive. The customer doesn’t have to take responsibility for finding the right person to talk to or retaining and repeating information about their previous contact with the company. There are fewer hoops to jump through, and the business does the work for them.
- Saving time and money
For businesses, the smooth efficiency of an omnichannel strategy immediately delivers a return on investment by saving money and cutting down on time and resources associated with a less joined-up approach.
- A better view of the customer journey
An omnichannel experience strategy gives you a bird’s-eye view of your customer’s journey, however they choose to interact with you. With more and more ways to get in touch, customers are choosing their own journeys and the points of success or failure – what made them decide to purchase, or where their interest dropped – are harder to pinpoint. An omnichannel approach puts everything inside a single system that’s visible and trackable, so you can gather insights and take granular action to improve aspects of your business as required.
- A stronger brand
Over time, a powerful and lasting benefit develops – a stronger brand. Happy customers are more likely to develop brand loyalty and recommend the business to others. That means repeat sales, a preference for you over your competitors (even if the products or services are comparable) and a perception of trustworthiness and quality.
- Better employee experiences
Meanwhile, employees have better experiences at work and feel more empowered in their jobs, because they’re working within a system that’s robust, flexible and effective. They’re easier to retain and more likely to be engaged, which means their contribution to your business is richer.
Omnichannel benefits that scale
An omnichannel experience really comes into its own where there’s a complex customer journey that happens over an extended period of time.
Here, the omnichannel setup joins the dots, taking the weight off manual clerical processes that would otherwise be subject to human error and create extra effort for employees.
A mortgage application is a great example. A typical mortgage journey might include:
- Reviewing and comparing products online
- Using a mortgage calculator
- Visiting a branch to speak to a representative
- Applying online
- Receiving a decision in principle via email
- Sending and receiving documents by post
Coordinating a single customer journey across these touchpoints would require a lot of effort, and be error-prone when it is done manually. Worse, the work often falls to the customer as they are the single point of commonality across the process. They may find themselves explaining the steps they’ve been through already, providing printouts or copies of documents, and being passed from one person to another in a highly siloed organization.
It also leaves you in the dark about the components of the journey and how each one is performing. Did the online calculator crash the customer’s browser? Was the branch environment warm and welcoming, and did the appointment answer all their questions? What about the online application process? Did it feel like part of the brand or more like a bolted-on third-party system?
You may have teams collecting feedback and working towards KPIs on their own sections of the journey, but without a joined-up overview it’s nearly impossible to find out where a positive or negative experience originated, or how it could have been prevented.
How to develop an omnichannel strategy
Create a cross-functional team of all-star stakeholders
Achieving buy-in from across your organization is a crucial first step, as it will help drive the strategy forward and harness a broad range of skills and experiences to support implementation. Depending on the organizational structure of your business, you may need to begin with a C-level champion for your plans. Stakeholders from marketing, operations, IT, UX, customer service, sales and fulfillment are also valuable players in most businesses. Your team should work together to develop goals and methods for your omnichannel transition, and act as advocates for the process in their respective areas of influence.
Bring your measurement programs together
Unify your channels and the ways you measure them on a single platform. Use a service that brings together your website analytics, social media management, CRM and email systems and customer contact centers to create a single point of view. If you can’t find a service that supports all of your channels, opt for one that can integrate with third-party systems via API.
A platform designed to support omnichannel business practices will provide a solid backbone for your strategy and make it as easy as possible to move siloed data and processes into the new centralized space.
To successfully measure and track customers across their journeys, you need a common currency. Unless you’re able to compare like with like, you won’t know if one part of the system is performing better or worse than another, or what language to use to set business-wide goals. Bear in mind that some of the most useful data for improving experiences is qualitative, deriving from sources like online reviews and social media. Look for a platform that can collect and interpret experiential data in an actionable way.
Take a journey-level approach
Working on a journey-first basis is really another way of saying ‘start from the customer’s point of view.’ Rather than dividing goals and projects according to organizational silos, a journey-level approach groups together elements that form part of a single customer’s experience. For most businesses, there are a few common types of journey, such as onboarding (becoming a new customer, setting up a savings account, taking out a policy), using (operating a mobile device, driving a car, playing games on a console) and renewal (re-subscribing to a service, renewing insurance cover). It’s also a good idea to include the broader context – why a customer came to you, and where they’ll go next. Find out more in our guide to customer journey mapping.
Apply analytics to the entire dataset
Case studies: brands moving toward omnichannel (and what you can learn from them)
Amazon is one of those companies that seems to have almost infinite reach, so it’s no surprise that they’re masters of omnichannel strategy. A big part of their success is the use of customer data, an area where they’ve always been at the leading edge. It’s used to provide personalized recommendations, serve relevant promotions and allow customers to review and re-order simply and quickly.
It also means Amazon customers can use the same account in different countries and across various sub-brands like Audible and Goodreads. Whatever you buy on Amazon.com, there’s a single, clearly explained returns process. Even the delivery experience is specifically Amazon, with branded packaging and ‘sorry you were out’ cards, even when it’s fulfilled by third-party couriers.
Perhaps most impressively of all, Amazon’s ecosystem manages to include third-party marketplace sellers who communicate with customers via Amazon’s own channels, and extends the brand values of simplicity and speed to these experiences too.
What you can learn:
Omnichannel is about smooth experiences, but that doesn’t mean glossing over and obfuscating the way things work so that different parts of the system are invisible to the customer.
Amazon’s ability to work smoothly rests on the clarity of their communication about which rules apply and their ability to set expectations. For example, Amazon Prime customers receive free shipping on items bearing the Prime logo, while regular customers don’t. And third-party sellers are identified clearly with a profile page and their own review scores, so that the customer can make an informed choice.
At first glance, Uber doesn’t seem a likely candidate for omnichannel excellence. After all, it just exists as an app, not a store or even really a website. But the company has excelled in uniting two channels which rarely mix well, and doing it with a seamlessness that’s so perfect you barely notice how great it is.
Uber uses technology to integrate real-world interactions with digital ones, combining them to eliminate the limitations and points of friction in traditional taxi-taking. Knowing whether a ride is nearby, how much it will cost and where to hail one are all taken care of. From the driver’s perspective, there’s a map and navigation instantly available, and even a passenger rating that helps sift out problematic customers. Payment happens automatically, and there’s no fumbling with change or issuing receipts.
The app-taxi symbiosis improves the experience by removing unknowns – passenger and driver have clarity on names, license-plates and each other’s previous journeys, so there’s an instant sense of familiarity and ease. There’s also total transparency about the route taken and the cost breakdown.
What you can learn:
You don’t need a vast network of channels and complex customer journeys to make an omnichannel strategy worth doing. Even with a small and relatively straightforward set of touchpoints, there’s immense value in having complete integration and visibility – not least because it helps you measure, refine and improve the service you offer.