While doing some reading the other day, I came across three uses for the word “omnichannel” in one sitting, each a little different in meaning than the other. Even worse, there doesn’t seem to be unilateral agreement on how to spell it. Is it Omni-channel, omnichannel or omni channel?
One could argue that omnichannel is as ambiguous and all-purpose a term as “big data,” “ubiquitous” and “Web 2.0”. In fact, the word made it into a 2014 Top 21 Buzzwords list. So, let’s take a step back and review what omnichannel is and isn’t.
Customers are engaging brands in ever-increasing ways today, including voice, chat, video chat, email, Web, instant message, and social media – with more to come. From a technology standpoint there may not be a sufficiently precise “omni” definition for omnichannel, because to the engineer, “omni” means everything I can do today, plus everything that I might dream up tomorrow. It’s a term of infinite possibilities.
But when we cross the bridge from technology to delivering business value, a more tangible and useful definition of the omnichannel concept is possible. This direction is particularly helpful in the customer engagement and experience management world, where not every customer or party needs or wants every channel provided in one’s “omnichannel” platform. For example, voice may be just fine for a customer, making all other channels extraneous; for another, it might be video; for others still, live chat. What’s the lesson here? Business success isn’t based on providing every channel; it’s based on providing the right channels, those the customer prefers.
Engaging customers when, where, and how they desire is the foundation of any successful omnichannel solution. Ensuring that session context crosses every channel of encounter only builds on that foundation — and better still, when it happens continually and seamlessly as the customer moves through the journey. Okay, granted. This definition is a mouthful, but it’s one that gets to the core of the matter: A company’s technology should not be considered omnichannel only if it offers a full cadre of x, y, and z forms of communication; it should be considered omnichannel if it provides personalized multi-channel experiences that, first and foremost, orbit around the customer’s specific preferences.
This definition approach is more inclusive in nature, because it focuses more on the engagement and service experience rather than on what a given technology may or may not enable.
So, should a company’s solution merit being called omnichannel if it carries “y-type” and “z-type” communication methods, but excludes an “x-type” channel? Who cares? If that company’s customers only prefer or require “y” and “z” to communicate at the time, then, yes, for that given customer base, the company’s service is omnichannel. Why attempt to split hairs based on some arbitrarily fixed menu of available communication channels, when nothing in technology ever stands still long enough for its meaning to be pinned down?
At the end of the day, omnichannel should not be defined by being able to offer “all” communication channels; rather, by enabling all channels that customers need to feel their engagement was complete and personalized. Now, that’s a definition flexible enough to get all of us on the same channel.