An Omnichannel Strategy Is Key to a Seamless Customer Experience (CX)

Giorgina Gottlieb | July 19, 2019

Graphic of smartphone and communication icons

According to CX veteran Shep Hyken, “A frictionless experience for both customers and employees is a winning combination.” We couldn’t agree more, which is why we created this blog series on seamless customer experience (CX) — to explore ways to ensure that customer engagement with a company and its products is as frictionless as possible.

In the first installment, we examined the handoff that takes place when the sales team transfers an account to customer success. Here, we look at the concept of omnichannel CX and the opportunities and challenges it presents.

Communication Channels

As we’ll discuss in greater detail below, the “channel” aspect of omnichannel refers to the various ways in which companies and customers communicate with one another. So before diving into a discussion of omnichannel CX, it’s important to take note of the communication preferences of modern customers.

A recent Dimensional Research study conducted on behalf of Zendesk finds, “Today’s consumers use a wide range of channels for customer service … [and] prefer different communication channels depending on the urgency and complexity of the issue.” As illustrated in the chart below, email, live chat, SMS/text, and social media are best suited to simple customer requests while the phone is clearly preferred for resolving more complicated matters.

Bar chart showing customer communication preferences
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Here are some additional findings from the study that are particularly relevant:

  • 28 percent of surveyed customers said having multiple ways to contact customer support contributed to a good experience, while 27 percent said not being able to use their preferred communication method resulted in a bad experience.
  • 85 percent of consumers will switch from one channel to another if they don’t receive a fast-enough response to their initial request, with 51 percent saying they’ll wait less than an hour before trying a second method.

Dimensional Research sums up their findings: “Today an omnichannel approach, one that incorporates a full range of voice and digital channels, is becoming the standard for meeting customer service expectations. Companies that excel in customer service are committed to the motto — give customers what they want in the way they want it.”

Multichannel vs Omnichannel

It’s clear that companies must facilitate communication in the way that works best for the customer. But is offering a variety of channels all that’s required for omnichannel CX? To answer that, let’s examine the differences between multichannel and omnichannel.

Multichannel means providing more than one way to interact with a company, enabling customers to choose which method is most convenient and helpful to them. For instance, rather than funneling all requests to a 1-800 number, a company with a multichannel approach might provide support via phone, email, and live chat.

Omnichannel also requires providing customers with a choice of multiple communication methods. But unlike multichannel, an omnichannel approach requires that all of the methods be integrated in order to provide customers with a seamless experience.

“Omnichannel experience is a multichannel approach to marketing, selling, and serving customers in a way that creates an integrated and cohesive customer experience no matter how or where a customer reaches out,” explains Hubspot. “If [the channels] don’t work together, it’s not omnichannel.”

SmarterCX adds, “‘Omni’ basically means one — one experience the consumer has with a brand that makes it feel like one brand.” This is important because it’s not the actual channels but the experience that matters to customers. As Hyken puts it, “Consider that when we think of the customer, the concept of channels means nothing. Customers just want to communicate with the company the way they prefer. They want to connect, whenever they want, however they want — period!”

In sum, both multichannel and omnichannel provide customers with a variety of communication methods to choose from when interacting with a company. But with the former approach, the channels are separate and disconnected while the latter offers an integrated, seamless experience.

Graphic explaining differences between multichannel and omnichannel
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Do Today’s Companies Measure Up?

Given everything we’ve shared about customers’ communication preferences and desire for an integrated, seamless experience, let’s see how well companies are currently living up to these expectations.

Data from the 2019 Salesforce State of Service report indicates that while companies are aware of customers’ expectations for an omnichannel experience, there’s a significant gap between how well company leaders think they’re executing on that experience and the assessment of front-line agents and customers themselves.

For instance, 79 percent of CX decision makers report that their organization clearly understands which channels their customers prefer while just 67 percent of front-line agents agree. In addition, 75 percent of decision makers say their organization can deliver consistent customer experiences on all channels while only 64 percent of agents agree.

The gap grows substantially when it comes to the opinion of customers. According to the Salesforce report, 70 percent of customers expect a consistent experience on all channels but only 16 percent think companies generally excel at providing it.

Advice for Improving Omnichannel CX

Clearly customers think most companies have a long way to go when it comes to omnichannel CX. Here’s some actionable advice for organizations looking to improve the seamlessness of the experience they provide.

Offer the Right Channels

Having a successful omnichannel strategy doesn’t necessarily mean that you offer customer support on every channel under the sun. What is does mean, however, is that you offer support on every channel that your particular customers wish to use.

How do you know which channels your customers want? Ask them! Send a short survey to customers inquiring which contact methods they prefer for support, including for various types of requests. Then be sure that all of those channels are easily accessible.

Respect Channel Preference

“Wherever possible, it’s best to attempt to solve the customer’s issue in the channel they originally contacted you,” writes Jeremy Watkin, director of customer experience at FCR. “Unless you only give customers one option, they likely contacted you on their channel of choice.”

If it becomes necessary to move the support interaction to a different channel, be sure to clearly explain how the change will better enable you to resolve the customer’s issue. And in the event you must transfer the customer to another team member, it is absolutely vital to provide a warm handoff with all the pertinent details.

As Hyken points out, there is almost nothing more frustrating to customers than what he refers to as a lack of “memory” on the part of companies. “Why do customers have to repeat themselves?,” he asks. “When they are transferred between people or departments, why can’t the next person know what was already said and their story?”

By respecting channel preference whenever possible and sharing all relevant information when transfers are required, you can go a long way to preventing your customers from asking these questions of your company, which is sure to keep both customers and employees happier.

Featured image credit: Pxhere