You’ve probably read that omni-channel communications is the ultimate goal for many businesses. That’s probably true, but it wasn’t so long ago you were told cross-channel was where you needed to be. Before that, multi-channel was the buzzword of the day.
It’s all pretty confusing. There are multiple definitions for each term so it is difficult to figure out where you are, much less where you need to go! You may be wondering if you should just skip right to omni-channel and forget about those other strategies.
Omni-channel is closely related to another currently popular term – customer experience. For many businesses, getting an enterprise to an omni-channel environment that nurtures the ideal customer experience is a progressive strategy that encompasses parts of all three of those “channel” approaches.
Multi-channel – The Basic
Multi-channel, in its simplest form, merely describes messages delivered in more than one communication channel. We’ve been multi-channeling forever using postal mail, telephone, print ads, or broadcast media. What got everyone so excited was the capabilities and interactive potential of channels like email, social networks, and smart phone apps.
Though tactics such as including Quick Response (QR) codes or Personalized URL’s (PURL’s) in printed messages can connect channels, communications that happen in multi-channel aren’t necessarily integrated. Most often they are not. Still, giving customers choices in how they receive messages from a business, and increasing the chance of gaining customer attention makes multi-channel a worthy objective. It is relatively easy to implement or to add channels.
Cross-channel – The Next Step
Cross-channel communications takes customer interactions a step further. When customers use multiple channels during a single interaction then cross-channel communication has occurred. An example might be a customer service representative sending a link or a confirmation via email while still on the phone with a customer. Or a marketing campaign consisting of an email message which includes a link to content on a web page that successively encourages connecting on social networks.
Cross-channel connects messaging in multiple channels together, but only temporarily and for a specific purpose. This effort improves the customer experience, but it doesn’t give organizations the complete picture of customer relationships they need to really make a difference in how customers feel about their connections to the company.
Omni-channel – The Path to Ultimate Customer Experience
Omni-channel is the most difficult of the three forms of communication to achieve. Omni-channel communication focuses on leveraging data gathered through intereactions with that client across multiple channels and using that to improve the interactions with that client.
An organization using an Omni-channel approach provides a single and unified experience for the customer across all communication channels and anticipates that customers may start in one channel and move to another along their journey. Omni-channel strategies allow companies to consider customers as individuals, rather than participants in a series of unconnected transactions.
If successfully implemented, an organization’s Omni-channel strategy ensures that the customer experience it delivers is seamless, consistent and personalized through the integration of traditional multi-channels along with digital channels (mobile and social media) so customers can interact whenever, wherever and however they want with the organization.
Multi, cross, and Omni-channel communication all benefit businesses striving to improve their customer experience. Each strategy is useful. Though the ultimate goal may be omni-channel, enterprise-wide implementation can be a lengthy journey the task is made easier by optimizing the communications that already exist and eliminating duplicate or obsolete messages and create variable-driven documents that use customer-specific information to communicate more effectively.