Kevin Britt, country manager, UK and Ireland, at Infobip, explains the differences between multichannel and omnichannel, and why brands need to make the jump.
In April 2017, the number-one operating system accessing the internet was no longer Windows – it was Android. This was the moment when mobile devices undeniably became the dominant players online, turning the marketing world mobile-centric.
The immense popularity of smartphones has left brands trying to adapt to a generation of users that expect easy interaction across multiple channels, from SMS to email to an OTT app. This expectation means that, in order to stay ahead of the competition, it’s now essential for brands to deliver seamless communication when and how users want it. In short: welcome to the new era of omnichannel communications.
Omnichannel and multichannel: What’s the difference?
While the wisdom of reaching consumers in multiple ways is undeniable, the wealth of communication channels now available can be a double-edged sword, and businesses can struggle to live up to consumer expectations. This is where it might be useful to understand the difference between multichannel and omnichannel communications.
Multichannel communication is when you use more than one channel to connect with your customers – for example, through an email newsletter as well as a Facebook feed. However, in the multichannel world, those channels might not be linked together. You might not know if the customer you’re contacting has already emailed, phoned or messaged another department. As consumers, we’ve all experienced this when we have to explain our problem from scratch every time we reach a new person in a call centre.
This happens because, in many companies, different departments ‘own’ different communications channels. Marketing might be in charge of the product newsletter, while sales has the lead nurture flow, and support owns technical calls and emails. Nine times out of 10, replies to newsletters for support bounce back or, at best, receive an automated reply with a generic email address.
In an omnichannel world, companies can use multiple channels to engage with customers, but they are all interlinked, so every interaction becomes part of a single, ongoing dialogue — which customers already believe it is.
Implementing omnichannel isn’t complicated, you just need to understand what customers expect, and make it happen without worrying about breaking down communications siloes. No part of the communications flow or conversation matrix can operate outside of the system. Remember, customers already see communicating with you as a single conversation, regardless of how they do it. Omnichannel only works if you see it that way too.
Omnichannel platforms look for ‘trigger words’ and other data in incoming messages, and direct the message to the relevant person within the company. For example, emails with support-related trigger words get queued to support, while a reply from a customer to a marketing newsletter appears in the account manager’s inbox. Today’s omnichannel systems are sophisticated enough to learn and manage these kinds of tasks. They can automatically pull customer data up for representatives answering incoming calls, for example. An SMS from a certain number can be directed to an account rep or support, depending on the words it contains.
Starting slow is essential for companies dipping their toes into omnichannel. Instead of integrating every possible channel from the word go, start with the ones that you do offer and integrate them. If you only offer voice and email right now, integrate those before bringing in push and SMS. However, the eventual goal is to have a platform that straddles all of the popular communications platforms through a single integrated hub.
The new omnichannel model on the block
By far the most popular method of going omnichannel quickly is through the Communications-Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS) model. This is designed to overcome the challenges that businesses face when looking to roll out omnichannel, and it offers an array of benefits.
CPaaS delivers the geographical spread you need – top vendors have omnichannel frameworks in place across all key global markets. CPaaS vendors generally offer a one-stop shop that integrates messaging, user segments and reporting into one system. Being able to monitor, analyse and report on customer engagement is as important as having a functioning and professional omnichannel messaging platform in place. The CPaaS model supports this by helping businesses to better manage their communication flow from initial user interaction to customer feedback and beyond.
Nowadays, new messaging services gain popularity with bewildering rapidity and are as unpredictable as consumer preferences themselves. This is another area where CPaaS comes into its own. The model offers the fastest time-to-market for the integration of new messaging platforms, allowing fast and efficient integration of new platforms into a system, in tandem with consumer demand.
Process trumps technology
According to a study by the Aberdeen Group, companies with strong omnichannel strategies retain an average of 89 per cent of their customers and see an average 9.5 per cent year-on-year increase in annual revenue. Approached correctly, omnichannel offers increased brand visibility, more routes for interaction with new and existing customers and much-improved customer satisfaction. It’s a win-win for all involved.
Omnichannel communications solutions are designed to make the technology part of the equation easy. However, all customer-facing departments need to realise that they all have a stake in getting new customers and keeping existing ones happy. This isn’t a problem that technology can solve – people have to clear this hurdle first. The sooner your employees realise that customer communications are everyone’s responsibility, the easier it will become to integrate all your channels into an omni solution.