Omnichannel customer service, explained

Abigail Sims

You know all about multi-channel customer service, the phenomena that swept the service world around the time of social media, chat channels, and online support tickets. And you’ve probably at least heard of omnichannel customer service, in that the term has joined our most beloved and ever-growing conglomerate of service center buzzwords.

Many people think of omnichannel as a synonym for multichannel—and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Multichannel was the beginning, the new dawn after a long night of service limited to phone calls only. Multichannel expanded the number of ways your customers could reach you, but none of those channels could interact with each other. Omnichannel, on the other hand, synthesizes all those disparate channels, and creates a seamless and low effort customer experience, end-to-end. 

Today, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about omnichannel customer service, from what it is to why it matters. Let’s get started.

What is omnichannel customer service?

Omnichannel customer service is a fully-integrated approach to the digital contact center. This methodology takes all the different ways your customer might contact you, whether by email, support ticket, social media, phone call, or carrier pigeon, and connects all those channels. (The prefix omni- does mean “all”, after all.) No matter how your customers reach out to you, or how many times, or how many service representatives they speak to, the experience will be seamless as they move from one to another. 

Providing omnichannel customer service means being able to support a seamless customer journey across multiple channels.

This is accomplished in one of a few ways. A powerful CRM is usually top of the list, as it tracks and records customer data across channels and interactions, as well as provides a single location for all customer information. The CRM is often augmented with AI, machine learning, and other technologies, through integrations that allow faster and more efficient data collection and processing. 

No matter how it’s approached, the omnichannel method is simple in principle: Support a seamless customer journey across all contact channels.

How does omnichannel differ from multichannel service?

So, multichannel is great. Essentially, multichannel just means that there are multiple ways your customer can reach you. The only problem with multichannel is the following situation. 

Scene: You’ve opened a chat ticket with your telecommunications company to schedule a moving date for your internet service. 

Agent, via chat: Hi, thanks for chatting with us today. Can I get your account number?
You: Sure. My account number is #123456789.
Agent: Great. Can you tell us why you’re contacting us today? 
You: Yes. I need to schedule a moving date for my internet service. 
Agent: Okay. We can do that for you, but you will need to call another department. Please call the service transfer number on our site. 

Dutifully, you call the number listed. 

New agent, on the phone: Hi, thanks for calling us today. Can I get your account number?
You: Ugh. My account number is #123456789…

This experience is tedious, and is a great example of the problem with multichannel service, as much as it is an example of the difference between the two. There’s lots of ways to get in touch with a company now, but if you don’t pick the right one out of the hat to start with, you may end up transferred around, repeating yourself, and wondering why the company even has multiple channels to begin with if only one of them is really efficient. 

Why does omnichannel service matter?

It comes down to effort. In the multichannel situation, the customer takes on the burden of carrying their information and needs from agent to agent, approaching each new interaction as though it was the first. This is a high-effort experience, and one we know we need to avoid at all costs. 

And that’s where omnichannel service comes in. Let’s look at the previous situation again, but handle it a little differently. 

Agent, via chat: Hi, thanks for chatting with us today. Can I get your account number?
You: Sure. My account number is #123456789.
Agent: Great. Can you tell us why you’re contacting us today? 
You: Yes. I need to schedule a moving date for my internet service. 
Agent: Okay. We can do that for you — let me connect you to the right person. 

There’s a brief pause, and you’re connected to a new person in the same chat. 

New agent: Hello, I see that you need to schedule a moving date for your internet service. What date would you like to transfer service on?

What a difference! In this second play-through of the same situation, the new agent already knows who you are, why you’re calling, and how they can help you. The onus is no longer on the customer to carry their problem from interaction to interaction, but on the service provider. This results in a low-effort experience for the customer—which we know leads to customers who are more loyal, more likely to repurchase, and more likely to speak positively about your brand.

How will your team benefit from investing in omnichannel service? 

Omnichannel customer service is one of those CX investments that just keeps on giving. The ROI takes so many forms, and continues to provide stacking benefits long after implementation. Not only do you unlock the ability to learn more about your customers and their needs throughout the customer journey, you can actually do something about those needs. 

The results of an omnichannel customer service experience speak for themselves:

  • Better customer experience (Everyone loves a low-effort call!)
  • Better employee experience (Reps don’t enjoy a high-effort call any more than customers)
  • Higher conversion rates (Non-committed shoppers may simply abandon a high-effort call)
  • Significant cost savings (Low-effort experiences are nearly 40% cheaper to deliver than high-effort experiences)

Investing in omnichannel customer service is a strong, strong step towards what we’re all aiming for: creating a low-effort customer experience.

And there you have it. These are the basic principles of omnichannel customer service, from what it is, to how it works, to why it matters in the long run. A last-minute piece of advice from us: If you’re interested in moving towards an omnichannel model in your organization, we recommend also utilizing a powerful VoC platform like Tethr to analyze, organize, and synthesize all the data now at your fingertips.

To learn more about Tethr, visit our resources page or schedule a demo to get a live tour of the platform’s capabilities.

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