When it comes to building relationships, every interaction matters – and this is especially true when businesses interact with both new and existing customers. How customers are treated, how convenient and personalized their experiences are, and how effectively their issues are resolved all determine how likely they are to be loyal and recommend your business to others. Conversely, negative customer interactions can also determine how likely they are to be frustrated and find another place to do business, leave a bad review, or go fight club on you.

While many industries have adapted to the digital age by opening up new channels of interaction with their customers, this “multichannel” approach is only the first step in providing a truly modern, convenient service. Rather than just relying on multiple channels of interaction, companies need to consider the possibility of an omnichannel approach…this word or concept may seem completely nebulous but please read on.

What is Omnichannel Support?

Today, customers have multiple touch points of interaction with a business (internal and external), including emails, live chat, Internal communications, social media platforms, phone, and in-person contact. Traditionally, these different points of interaction would be separate, siloed between different departments.

For example, traditionally a customer service agent who takes a phone call would not be aware of that customer’s unsatisfactory experience with a salesperson earlier that day, or the angry comment the customer left on the company’s social media accounts. The agent must take time to research and understand the problem. We have all been in this situation and its totally not a fun process.

This not only frustrates the customer who doesn’t feel like explaining the entire issue and chain of communications for a 3rd, 4th or 5th time that day.

The idea of omnichannel support is to tear down the Berlin walls between these different channels of interaction. Instead of being separated out into different systems, all interactions are logged as part of a larger, single system that shares information between channels. The key advantage is that an omnichannel customer experience is connected AND consistent no matter how many different channels a customer has used.

This enables the ability for customers and customer service agents to jump across different channels to resolve an issue.

Consider first sending an email, then following up with a chatbot, and closing out by displaying a customer service survey. Not only are Issues resolved but you are given the opportunity to get Information based on that Interaction; which Is priceless; as long as your customer Is not Jeff Spicoli (If you were born after 1990, Bing it)

When the customer finally makes that call to the customer service center, the agent can easily access and review those previous interactions to get an instant understanding of the issue. Even more importantly, the agent has multiple avenues for future interactions to ensure that continued support is timely and effective.

What makes omnichannel customer service so exciting is that it provides a seamless experience for the customer and provides employees more power to solve issues and take advantage of opportunities. So why isn’t every modern system omnichannel? Implementing a centralized system requires a deep understanding of points of interaction for the company and more time and resources to implement than a multichannel approach

What is Multichannel Support?

A more traditional multichannel support system allows customers to have a touchpoint to the company on multiple separate channels. The channels are usually across different mediums of communication, such as direct calls, email services, mobile applications, and in-person support. In this system, the context of the communication, the information that can be accessed, and customer history are often unique to each channel.

For example, some purchase options might not be available through a phone app, so a customer would have to engage through the website or talk directly to a salesperson. Or, a customer’s recent chat history might be logged within the chat program, but not be accessible to a CS agent through their customer management system when the customer later calls direct to the call center.

Customer service agents and other employees might be able to access records of customer interactions within a system, but such information is likely to be specific only to their department. The sales team and the marketing team might both have files on the same customer, but the files would be only accessible through those specific platforms, each would contain different information relevant only to that department, and it would be difficult (if not impossible) to share or consolidate that information.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Support

The real benefit of an omnichannel system is that companies can position the customer as the center of focus for every touchpoint. Rather than simply designing individual channels for engagement (though matters of access and usability for customers should always be a priority), every channel becomes part of a continuum for the customer to engage in. Communications are carried through different channels seamlessly, and outreach is customized and personalized based off all previous interactions.

So, if both multichannel and omnichannel engagement allow for multiple points of interaction for a customer, but only omnichannel has the capacity to provide seamless customer support across different systems, why hasn’t everyone adopted it?

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Customer Service   

The simple answer is that a multichannel approach is easier to implement and less expensive – at least initially. Companies across industries have realized the advantages of implementing an omnichannel system, but the perceived cost of implementing and the daunting complexity of making the attempt has prevented many companies from fully succeeding. Some companies even get a little too ambitious, attempting to overhaul their entire system to account for every point of interaction, but without providing the training and support that their employees need in order to effectively use the new system.

Despite the initial challenges of implementing omnichannel support software, the necessity for doing so is increasing over time. Every industry has its own specific reasons for moving forward.

Why Omnichannel Support Is Important for Today’s Industries

Every industry engages with customers, no matter if it’s a wide group of consumers or a handful of multinational corporations. Different studies across industries have shown why an omnichannel approach is increasingly important.

Retail

The rise, and recent rapid increase, of ecommerce has led a growing amount of retailers to embrace the belief that an omnichannel engagement with their customers is necessary for increased growth. The understanding is that customers are largely “channel-agnostic,” and will gravitate towards whatever channel is immediately available or most convenient.

Today’s customer journey moves throughout multiple channels – web, mobile, and in-person interactions – as customers research products, make purchases, request returns, and leave reviews. They expect the process to be seamless, as a transaction started on one channel should be able to be continued on another. They believe that even new interactions should be contextual and relevant to their interests, without them having to provide lots of background information. Additionally, they anticipate that the retailer will assist in guiding them towards a desired outcome, based on past purchase history or personal preferences.

Insurance

Insurance companies are facing their own challenges for providing omnichannel services to their customers as more online and digital purchase options become available. Consistency is the issue as customers find that not all insurance products are available for both in-person and online purchase, limiting their options and reducing the opportunity for sales. The issues stem from how the product journey for some types of insurance – like health, disability, and life – can be more complicated and require more interactions with agents and exchanges over many forms of communications.

Not all companies are either able or have the level of integration to offer an effective means of communication across channels.

The ability to move effortlessly between offline and online support is essential, as one in two customers will still seek offline advice before purchasing an insurance product. However, routing online customers to an agent is usually a one-way street, as most companies don’t have effective means for allowing the customer to continue the transaction back online. There continues to be a greater need of support for digital technology, like easy-to-use video conferencing, that provides consultants the features and flexibility to move across channels.

Finance

Financial institutions are also finding that an omnichannel approach is the best means of reaching out to their customers due to the varied nature of their interactions. Up to 80% of customers’ touchpoints with their finances are digital, but just 25% of sales occur on digital channels. This is part of a larger trend where customer willingness to engage with finances on a digital channel varies greatly due to different factors, such as products, demographics, and regions served. If larger financial institutions are to be consistent in the services, they provide for all of their customers, they need to be flexible and secure in how they manage customer information and what they offer for points of interaction.

Omnichannel capabilities aren’t just solving problems; they allow financial agents to be proactive on leads, opportunities and offering improvement. Analytics on customer financial data and personal history can help identify sales targeting opportunities, but it’s only truly effective when there’s unfettered access to the largest possible number of resources. Combining the institution’s data with information pulled from social sites and public data sets is possible, with a high degree of confidence, through a customer relationship management (CRM) system that’s fully omnichannel integrated.

Cross Industry

The issues and opportunities that come within an increasingly digital environment are echoed across all industries, whether it’s healthcare, manufacturing, or service. Having omnichannel capabilities means that:

  • It’s easier and faster to access customer history and information, allowing for more convenient and personalized service. More sources of information can also be integrated into the system, for a more comprehensive view of the customer.
  • There are no more silos of data. Interaction between departments in order to share knowledge or provide updates can be seamless, allowing for less employee downtime and the ability to mitigate customer frustration.
  • A greater amount of connected data can also power greater customer insights and predictive analytics. This creates greater accuracy in predicting trends, highlighting future issues, or identifying unique opportunities for engagement.
  • The customer is empowered to engage in any way that’s convenient for them. A process started in one channel can seamlessly continue on an entirely different channel. As much as this works to satisfy the customer, this also works to empower the employees in choosing their best possible means of outreach.

Examples of Omnichannel Support

How does omnichannel support work in actual practice? Here’s an example of some typical cases:

  • Personalized communications are made easier through templates with fields that can be autogenerated based on customer information pulled from different channels. This allows for mass communication to be deployed faster across more channels while sounding consistent and feeling directly targeted towards the customer.
  • Progressive campaigns that reach out and continue through different channels. For example, a retail company wants to better engage customers via instant notifications and updates delivered through their preferred channels:
    • Following the initial online sales interaction, an auto-generated email is sent to the customer
    • Opening that email and clicking through the embedded links targets specific social media ads
    • Clicking those ads further tailors a customer’s future experiences on the company website
    • Customers then receive real-time, contextual offers and coupons based upon the parts of the website they engage with the most
  • Unification of data from across departments unifies teams in their efforts to reach customers. Setting CRM and Automated Marketing software to access the same Microsoft Dataverse database to better cross-utilize data would unify the customer view of both the sales and marketing departments.
    • Sales conversions would help to inform marketing teams which campaigns or details were more effective.
    • Sales teams would receive instant updates on the newest marketing initiatives.

Modern Omnichannel CRM systems offered through cloud-based SaaS platforms include features that allow your teams to stay on top of current trends and evolving technology. These featured benefits can include:

  • Better scalability to handle a larger number of customers and channels.
  • Automatic updates to improve functionality and allow the addition of new channels.
  • Easier third-party integration to seamlessly incorporate new channels.
  • More secure interactions that keep information private and convenient.

Choosing the Solution That’s Right for You

No matter the industry, any business that wants to provide the highest quality customer interactions should provide omnichannel customer support. However, it can be a challenging system to adopt correctly; according to a 2016 McKinsey report, 39% of digital retailers said their digital channels suffered a lack of internal coordination and faced difficulty in properly utilizing customer analytics, breaking down silos of data, gathering high quality customer data, and successfully identifying customers across different channels.

The challenge can be intimidating, but the rewards are high when correct implementation is achieved on the first try. According to McKinsey, early applications of sales tools combined with analytics and personalized insights for call center agents led to significant increase in marketing returns in investment and a 20% conversion rate lift for U.S. banks. Before starting the process it’s important to understand your customers’ needs and preferences, the data you have available, and the most effective means of adopting an omnichannel solution.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is becoming the proven platform for superior omnichannel support and Hitachi Solutions is a partner that can enable that integration through unified business operations and differentiated experiences. It’s more than a simple upgrade; it’s a true digital transformation that brings together all the different teams in your organization to increase efficiency, empower your employees, and cater to your customers. Internal and external.

The bottom line

If you already have a significant Investment in the Microsoft business applications platform, Azure, or any 365 product; Omnichannel for Dynamics 365 Is worth exploring If not wholly embracing and making an interment in. As a value proposition this is a product that will only add value back into your capital investment and into your new and potential customer base.

FAQS

What’s the biggest difference between multichannel and omnichannel support?

Fundamentally, omnichannel support combines all the different channels of a business into a single system that allows seamless access to customer data from any channel. While multichannel can account for all possible points of contact, those different elements all remain separate – data is siloed and there is difficulty in accessing or sharing information.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel Customer Service

What are the benefits of omnichannel customer service?

CRMs with omnichannel capability allow for faster response time from agents and salespeople, provide a more comprehensive view of a customer, and decrease overall reliance on direct agent interaction thanks to chat bots and other automated responses. Omnichannel-informed customer service also allows for a more proactive outreach – for example, an autogenerated email can follow-up with a customer if they’ve abandoned their online purchase.

Is an omnichannel experience only digital?

No – a true omnichannel experience also extends into the real world, whether in a brick-and-mortar shopping experience or BOPAC/BOPIS convenience. Physical mailers, Printed QR codes, and even the good ole facsimile can also be a part of the system.