Evolve Beyond Omnichannel To Delivering Unified Experiences

What does “omnichannel” really mean? And is it a viable strategy for customer experience professionals?

For customer experience professionals, omnichannel — the popular buzzword used to describe a company’s efforts to wrangle a consistent experience across all channels — is already legacy thinking that represents a limited approach for designing and delivering services. Instead of thinking about all channels, companies should focus on designing content and services delivered in specific touchpoints — the touchpoints that align with customer needs and the business' strategic goals.

This requires new thinking about the ways that customers interact. Companies must:

  1. Understand target customers and their real goals. Using ethnography and other exploratory techniques, customer experience professionals can get to the bottom of how customers operate and what they really care about, which ultimately determines what they need and where they need it. 
  2. Design services first. In a recent conversation with a large financial institution, we learned that the bank does not have separate touchpoint teams. Instead, it has a deposit team, for example, responsible for all related services and deployed appropriately across relevant touchpoints.
  3. Deliver in the right touchpoints for target customers. Giffgaff, for example, doesn’t have phone support. Its model is based on an active community populated by a very specific type of user.
  4. Create seamless transitions. One of the benefits of designing services and not channels is the ability to connect the dots for customers across touchpoints. Firms need to combine continuity of memory and experience to deliver seamless experiences that transcend channels.
  5. Measure customer journeys. A unified experience can’t be measured touchpoint by touchpoint. That’s why companies need to take a journey-based approach not only to designing services but also to measuring them.

As we move forward into a world of pervasive connectivity and new ways of interacting that go beyond point-and-click, beyond chrome, and beyond screens, we need to evolve our thinking away from channels. In the end, omnichannel is a limited approach that doesn’t go far enough in putting customers at the center of the business. Customer experience professionals need to deliver holistic experiences that transcend channels.


Omni-channel/multi-channel drilldown: social business parallel?

@Ronald, thanks for emphasizing the need to focus first on customer experience, workstreams and their touchpoints. It may seem to some as a semantic point, but focus and priority have profound impact on results. Organizations have been internally focused for too long.

I practice omni-channel the way you describe because it's grounded in customer experience first; I think of channel-focused change initiatives as "multi-channel."

Are you implying that people (pundits, consultants, clients) just re-label multi-channel as omni-channel? This matters because people need to be specific about what they mean.

Similarly, I observe that social media folk just re-label what they do as "social business" just to appear that they're clued into the latest trends, when they really haven't changed anything. In fact, the focus of social business is relating to customers, not promoting or selling to them; even though we use many of the same technologies, the focus—and business impact—are very different.

Differences matter! ;^)

Thanks for the comments. Yes,

Thanks for the comments. Yes, many people in the marketplace are re-labeling multi-channel as omni-channel. But there's also this notion of rote consistency in the idea of omnichannel, the idea of everything everywhere that I think can be misguided. The data we've seen suggest that people want to feel like they can access everything a company has to offer at any time. But the reality is that people rarely need everything at the same time. That is, they really need more focused experiences that feel complete for what they need at the moment.

To understand how to deliver the right things in the right places at the right times, companies need to look at overall customer journeys and then parse out how, and then where, to deliver the right interactions. If you look at the Giffgaff example, you see how strategy and focus on a specific target customer lets them focus on the touchpoints that matter for delivering their service. That focus lets them bypass a channel that most companies believe to be required.

The semantics of this really do matter. The more we talk about, say "eBusiness" or "social business" the more we separate these things out from the whole. Is there really ebusiness, or is it just business and the digital component implied by the "e" is really just a part of the whole? I think you're right about social business. It shouldn't be a separate thing, and shouldn't be about push. Business have to be social because their customers are social in new and more powerful ways than ever. Businesses need to be part of that mix.

Back to omnichannel... We live in a world where customers think less and less about the channel and more and more about the experience. Yes, they interact through touchpoints, but we have to focus on the overall experience first. Thinking omnichannel tends to diminish that focus.