The shiny new buzzword that has been bouncing around for the last six months is omni-channel. In a world where jargon tends to obscure the real value of innovation (see Tony Fish's point about Big Data) it is an interesting exercise to dig down a little to try to find real meaning.
In my mind the difference between omni-channel and multi-channel is rather the difference between baking a cake and eating the ingredients on their own. You might be able to survive eating eggs, raisins and milk, but ultimately you're going to have a far better time of it if you make the effort and cook it all together.
Multi-channel seems to be all about silos, with an executive running mobile, another running online, another running the call centre. Whilst this works okay and certainly ensures that sufficient time is put into each channel, it does mean that the following are extremely difficult to achieve:
1) Achieving a common voice
2) Tracking the customer across touch points
3) Understanding of how the customer interacts with the business
Omni-channel is the antidote to this. It's about fitting together all the channels and applying them as one to better engage the customer in a personal way. It's about breaking down silos and combining social, web, in-store and call-centre at the very heart of the business. It's about giving the customer the same quality of experience however they connect with the business.
It's also incredibly difficult to achieve. It requires an intimate understanding of who, how and why customers interact via a particular channel. Do men and women interact differently? Do different age groups prioritise a particular channel? How does time of day or weather or season affect interaction? There's a hell of a lot of subtlety that businesses need to get a grip on really quickly.
Following this, businesses need to face the challenge of creating a consistent message and level of service across channels. This is more difficult than it sounds. The level of formality and the expectations of process are different via each channel – a casual/jokey approach that works well on Twitter could be met with uproar in a call centre. Brands therefore need to create a consistent message that is flexible enough to be adapted to meet multiple needs.
It also comes down to analytics. If you can track a customer across the channels and understand how each and every one of them engages, you can offer a made-to-measure experience however they interact. I love the idea of contacting a business via social media and then having a personalised experience the next time I go in store. The technology to achieve this is available today, but businesses need to completely adapt processes to make it feasible.
The promise of omni-channel is really very exciting. What is equally clear though is that this has a long way to go before it becomes reality
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