One way to think about the difference between omnichannel and multichannel in the context of customer experience is to picture the classic game of telephone tag. An omnichannel customer experience is unbroken, consistent messaging marked by a complete understanding at every touchpoint. A multichannel experience, by contrast, more often than not reaches a disjointed, frustrating conclusion. The parties involved know that somewhere along the line there was one or a series of misunderstandings, but they can’t pinpoint the breaking points.
Of course, delivering an omnichannel customer experience is not a game play, not when 82 percent of consumers surveyed say that they are loyal to brands that demonstrate a thorough understanding of them as a unique customer, according to results of a recent Harris Poll survey commissioned by Redpoint.
To further make a distinction between omnichannel and multichannel, an omnichannel customer experience goes far beyond engaging a customer across a few retail channels such as a mobile app, email and in-store. It’s one thing to understand a customer across three or more channels, it’s another to have a complete contextual understanding of a customer irrespective of how the customer engages with every part of a brand, even via a call center, service, returns, etc. With a full contextual understanding, a brand moves in the cadence of the customer throughout an entire customer journey. It’s a natural, free-flowing holistic experience where a brand is communicating to a customer with one consistent voice, unlike a multichannel CX which too often feels to a customer as if there’s an entire committee involved.
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The reason for the all-too familiar trial by committee brand marketing experience, is that brands largely operate centered around channels instead of centering around the individual. Without a central point of truth brands lack the depth of understanding necessary to create a frictionless experience. Consider for example a brand’s website and mobile app exchanging a limited data field – say a consumer’s name and address. Each channel recognizes an engagement, but each also locks in its own knowledge of what the customer is doing. Transaction history, current behavior, intent – those are all siloed by channel, creating a loss of fidelity and an eventual fractured customer experience.
Timeliness is another crucial element of an omnichannel customer experience. In addition to a failure to tie every channel and engagement touchpoint together, many brands lack a real-time capability that is a vital component for staying in the cadence of the customer. With a typical 24-hour data lag, brands are often left playing catch up to stay connected with a customer journey. Often, though, being a day late – or in some cases minutes or seconds late – means a loss of visibility into a journey, and a subsequent loss of context. The byproduct is a loss of relevance; misunderstanding seeps in, causing a brand’s actions to be inconsistent with a customer’s current state.
There is an important distinction to make between having a real-time view with respect to each channel, and a real-time view that spans the entire customer journey. A brand may have a real-time view into a customer’s browsing history, capturing clicks, time on page, opens, views, movements, etc., and use that information for real-time web personalization, but that data is typically not shared with other channels. A classic example of how such a lack of transparency may introduce friction is an abandoned shopping cart. A customer may follow an abandoned cart up with a buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS) transaction, but lacking the real-time sharing of data across channels, a brand will miss out on valuable cross-sell or up-sell opportunities when the customer arrives in-store.
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Real-time data is the lifeblood that provides brands with the depth of understanding required for delivering an omnichannel customer experience that aligns with consumer expectations, and brands seem to be on board with the concept. In the Harris Poll survey, 41 precent of marketers said that personalizing experiences with deep relevance and context that is meaningful and valued by the customer is driving advancement and innovation in their CX strategy.
Furthermore, 36 percent said innovation was driven by the need to create flexible delivery systems (telehealth, curbside pickup, online banking, etc.) that meet the customer where and when they want services, and 32 percent said that creating always-on, omnipresent omnichannel experiences and support was a driving force propelling CX initiatives.
To accomplish these objectives, brands cite improved data quality as an overarching imperative, with 63 percent of marketers saying it was the top area of increased investment.
Data Quality Underpins Omnichannel Consistency
Until recently, brands frequently conflated an omnichannel customer experience with a personalized customer experience, but it’s important to understand another key distinction. A personalized customer experience is certainly possible on a channel-by-channel basis, but surface level personalization without cross-channel awareness is not what customers mean when they say they’re loyal to brands that demonstrate a thorough understanding of them as a unique customer.
In the Harris Poll, when 39 percent of customers say they will not do business with a company that fails to offer a personalized experience, they are referring to omnichannel consistency – the deep, personal and contextual understanding that transcends channel.
That is only possible through having high quality customer data – an up-to-date, real time, accurate representation of a customer. The gap between high quality data that produces an omnichannel experience vs. data that produces surface-level personalization (or, worse, a fractured experience) is measurable. In recent McKinsey research on the value of getting personalization right, studies showed that companies shifting into the top-quartile performance in personalization would generate over $1 trillion in value, and that companies that excel at personalization generate 40 percent more revenue from those activities than their peers.
With a real cost attached to misunderstanding the considerable differences between multichannel and omnichannel, brands can no longer afford to deliver experiences that fail to meet exalted customer expectations for consistency and relevance however and wherever they engage.