Omnichannel. I first heard the term from an analyst during an interview at an Enterprise Connect Conference where we were unveiling our SMS Contact Center solution. He told me that most contact center experts were no longer using the term “multichannel” but were instead opting for the cooler term “omnichannel”.
An omnichannel strategy is one that seamlessly supports customer needs whether they use phone, email, web chat, Twitter, Morse code or smoke signals. While the idea of being so-called “omnipotent” sounds aspirational, it is beyond the reach for most mortal contact centers.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the value of implementing an omnichannel strategy. In fact, a killer user experience starts with giving the right options to customers. That way, they can engage in ways that work for them and are consistent—regardless of how they interact with your business. However, I don’t think most organizations that have an omnichannel strategy focus on all the right channels or develop these channels enough.
For instance, I read a good blog post on Zendesk about their new chat solution Zopim. In the blog they have a chart that shows channel usage as it relates to response times and customer satisfaction. However, something was missing. SMS was nowhere to be found. (To be fair, neither were smoke signals).
I find it interesting that when people talk about an omnichannel strategy the conversation always includes phone, email, web chat, social and “mobile.” But not SMS. To say a company has a “mobile strategy” today seems as silly as saying that a company had a “laptop strategy” in the 90s. A mobile phone is actually an omnichannel device on which SMS is the most-used channel. In fact, a recent article in Forbes said 75% of customers would rather text a company than communicate using social networks. However, many companies focus on their social networking channels and completely ignore SMS altogether.
Some organizations do include SMS in their channel mix but only to send blast notifications or reminders which customers cannot respond to. How is that a channel strategy? It can’t be, unless the strategy is to alienate and annoy your customers.
So from my perspective, an omnichannel strategy is less about the number of the channels that are supported and more about which channels are supported. Plus it includes the degree to which those channels allow customers to interact with your business. SMS just happens to be the channel that so many companies get wrong.
There are however, some organizations who get it right. For instance, the folks in the city of Evanston, Illinois do a great job supporting a broad channel mix, including robust two-way SMS.
The bottom line is that omnichannel does not really mean that a company has to support all channels. Just the right ones.
To learn more about the channels your customers prefer, download the 2014 Harris Report.
Photo by Flickr user Luke Wroblewski.