Omnichannel has become one of those chronically overused terms in retail and marketing and we tend to throw phrases like 'omnichannel customer experience' around as though there is a broadly accepted common understanding for what it really means. For years it was 'multichannel' that everyone in marketing was obsessed about, and then at some point 'multi' became 'omni'. And yet when I ask the question about how these two definitions actually differ, many people look at me blankly. With the huge focus on customer experience as a source of competitive advantage it's an important distinction. So if we think of multichannel as being when a company/brand provides multiple touchpoints/channels/platforms through which customers might interact with them, how does omnichannel differ? For what it's worth, this is my version:
- Joining-up: interaction across touch-points is easy, seamless and intuitive. The principle here is never to make me do the same thing twice. If I stop watching a film on Netflix on my TV, and then later pick up my iPad to resume watching it, the film starts from where I left off. The challenge for brands here, of-course, is in joining up the back end of multiple systems and creating the single customer view that facilitates ease of interaction
- Amplification: the principle that the more frequently and widely (multiple touch-points) that I interact with a brand, the better the experience gets. This is, of-course, again facilitated by data. Taking value from one point of interaction and using it to enhance the experience at another point of interaction
- Neutrality: the brand experience is exceptional regardless of the channel I choose to interact on. In the bad old days large customer-facing businesses saw digital as a way of pushing customers onto more financially efficient channels. Quite a few still do. Yet those that understand the value of true omnichannel know that what it really means is that a customer's experience is equally as good regardless of how they choose to interact with a brand. The emphasis is on that which is most convenient or suitable for the customer, not for the business.
Most businesses make a big play out of being customer-centric and yet the reality of many customer experiences is that they are broken. Interfaces are clunky. Customers are forced through automated menus or onto channels they'd rather not use. Businesses are silo'd in ways that make sense for the company, but no sense for the end user. If you're genuinely serious about omnichannel, you need to be serious about re-orienting not just back-end systems but operational process, structures and culture to properly enable it.