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Omnichannel contact centers let consumers seamlessly interact with your sales and support teams on the communication channel of their choosing.

Given that a study by Harvard Business Review found that over 70% of retail shoppers use more than one communication channel throughout the customer journey, offering several channels is an essential part of meeting customer expectations.

But today’s consumers don’t just want to be able to make purchases and access marketing materials on several different channels.

They also want omnichannel customer service that allows them to reach out to agents via phone, email, chat messaging, and even texting.

Is your customer service department keeping up?

If current statistics are any indication, probably not.

While 9 out of 10 consumers want an omnichannel customer experience, less than 30% say they get it.

But what is omnichannel customer service, why should you offer it, and how do you deliver it?

 

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What Is Omnichannel Customer Service?

Omnichannel customer service allows consumers to connect with a business’s customer service department across multiple communication channels. Popular communication channels for customer service and support include:

  • Telephone
  • Email
  • Live Chat Messaging or Chatbots
  • Social Media Messaging
  • SMS Texting
  • Video Calling

What is Omnichannel Customer Service

Omnichannel communication doesn’t just provide options for how customers and agents can connect during the customer journey. It also automatically syncs conversations, notes, files, and any additional customer information seamlessly across every channel.

This makes it easy to switch in between channels, devices, and touchpoints during one conversation or throughout multiple follow-ups.

It also ensures that, even if multiple agents assist clients during the support process, each agent will know exactly where the conversation left off, who the customer previously spoke to, what was solved, and which issues still need to be fixed.

 

Omnichannel Customer Service In Action

To better understand exactly what omnichannel customer service and support means, let’s take a look at an example.

A customer needs assistance installing a software upgrade.

First, they go on the software company’s website, where they attempt to find a solution by reading online support documents.

They can’t find the answer they need, so they type their question into a chatbot box. From there, they are connected to a live agent via telephone, who can see what the customer typed into the chatbox and come ready with solutions. During the call, they take notes about the customer’s problem, proposed solutions, and any other key information.

A few days later, that same customer direct messages the company’s Facebook page, letting agents know the problem persists.

A different agent assigned to social media receives the message, but because the software company uses an omnichannel customer service strategy, they can access the other agent’s notes to see what the issue is, what solutions they’ve already tried, and the date/time of past customer interactions.

The rep handling the Facebook page helps the client set up a video call with a third agent who can use remote screen control to better guide the customer through the upgrade process. That third agent quickly reviews the interaction history, finds the ideal solution, and resolves the customer issue.

The customer used several customer service touchpoints and channels throughout their journey: the website, the online knowledge base, live chat, the telephone, social media messaging, and finally, the video call.

 

Multichannel vs Omnichannel Customer Service

Multichannel vs Omnichannel Customer Service

Though many assume that omnichannel and multichannel customer service are identical, there are a few subtle differences to look out for.

Omnichannel communication is all about integration, unification, and synching communications across channels.

It lets the customer, not the company, choose which channel to communicate on, and it’s easy to switch between channels at any time without skipping a beat or losing information.

Multichannel communication is the process of connecting with customers (and in marketing, leads) on many channels in order to increase a company’s likelihood of reaching the customer.

Multichannel communication lacks the sense of unity and seamless communication that omnichannel communication offers.

While customers and agents can pick up where they left off, regardless of the communication channel with an omnichannel experience, multichannel experiences mean customers will usually need to retell their stories each time they connect with an agent on a different channel.

It’s less about giving the customer the choice of which communication channel they prefer, and more about sending out information on as many channels as possible to ensure that a customer service agent can eventually connect with a client.

Messages and available services vary from channel to channel in multichannel marketing, as the idea is that users of one channel will communicate in different ways than users of another.

The below table outlines the main differences between multichannel vs omnichannel communication and customer service.

 

Omnichannel Communications Multichannel Communications
Customer-first approach Company-first approach
All communication channels are integrated and connected Communication channels are separate
Messaging is consistent across channels Messages vary from channel to channel
The primary goal is to provide a seamless customer experience regardless of channel The primary goal is to provide as many ways for customers and agents to connect as is possible

 

 

 

The Benefits of Omnichannel Customer Service

 

Below, we’ve outlined the biggest benefits of offering omnichannel customer service solutions — and the data to back these claims up.

 

Speed of Communication and Resolution

No one wants to wait to get an answer to a customer service issue — especially when that issue is urgent.

A Zendesk study shows that 89% of consumers believe that a fast response time and a speedy resolution are the most essential aspects of their customer service and support experience.

What’s more, the same study shows that over 60% of customers expect to get an immediate response to a customer service query, regardless of the channel used to contact support teams.

Offering more communication channels increases the likelihood that customers will be able to reach a customer service agent on their first contact.

Omnichannel communication helps companies meet customers’ expectations by storing key client data across channels, so that it’s accessible and up-to-date no matter the channel team members use to connect with consumers.

Another way omnichannel communication saves time?

It prevents consumers from having to constantly repeat their issues to multiple representatives — something that over ¾ of customers say is among the most frustrating parts of the overall customer experience.

Omnichannel communication isn’t just fast — it’s a seamless way to prevent data silos.

It also drastically increases first contact resolution rates (the percentage of customer support issues that are resolved within the first contact between customers and agents about a specific problem.)

Studies show that not only do higher first call resolution rates decrease customer churn by 67%, they also increase customer satisfaction levels. For every 1% increase in first contact resolution, customer satisfaction rates also increase by 1%.

 

Personalized Customer Service

Nearly ⅓ of consumers say they stopped doing business with a company because it failed to provide a personalized experience, and over 40% say they become frustrated with interactions that aren’t personalized.

Personalization makes customers feel valued, prioritized, and emotionally connected to your business, regardless of how “important” or high-value they actually are.

Omnichannel communication — especially when it comes to customer support — makes building lasting relationships and improving customer loyalty through personalization simple.

It lets customers connect with their preferred agents on the channel that they like the best.

Given that close to 40% of consumers expect to be able to connect with the same customer service representative they’ve had previous contact with, regardless of the channel they choose to connect on, this makes a huge difference.

Plus, agents can access key information like order history, previous interactions, account information, and more from any channel, providing more personalized insights and support based on the current products used, past purchases, and even from notes written by other agents.

 

Higher Customer Retention Rates

Companies offering omnichannel communication strategies have annual customer retention that is 91% higher than companies without them.

In fact, businesses with a poor omnichannel communication strategy only retain about 33% of their existing customers year to year.

Giving clients as many ways to connect with your business as possible decreases customer churn — and helps to create those essential personal relationships with customers we mentioned above.

 

Increased Customer Spending

Harvard Business Review study shows that the higher the number of communication channels a business offers, the more money consumers will spend (even if they also use these communication channels for customer service queries.)

The study discovered that consumers presented with omnichannel support and shopping options spend 4% more each individual shopping trip than those given only one communication channel.

The more communication channels businesses offer, the more money consumers will spend. And even if these customers end up making their purchases in a brick-and-mortar store as opposed to online e-commerce shops?

They’ll still spend 13% more in the physical store of a company that offers an omnichannel approach than they would if they only had access to a single channel — and it’s easier to upsell clients when they’re presented with an excellent customer service team.

 

How to Deliver Omnichannel Customer Service

The specific way you choose to deliver and implement your omnichannel customer service strategy will depend on the preferences of your target market and your individual company.

However, the best practices below outline tips that everyone adopting omnichannel communication will benefit from.

 

Offer Self-Service Options

Self-service ensures customers get instant help, eliminates the back-and-forth between agents and clients, and also leaves customer service reps more time to assist customers with more complex support issues.

Omnichannel self-service lets customers access knowledge bases, tutorials, and even user experience support forums on the channel that works best for them. These customers can also switch in between channels and pick up right where they left off in support documents.

In addition to knowledge bases, customers can also interact with chatbots on the company website.

These automated chatbots can offer immediate assistance and answer questions using NLP (Natural Language Processing) and Artificial Intelligence (AI.) These chatbots can collect customer data, route agents to the right support documents (or live agent, if needed,) and gather feedback to improve the self-service process.

IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is another key aspect of customer self-service.

Customers can get phone support or take actions like paying bills by entering responses to questions on their phone’s dial pad or speaking their responses directly into the phone.

 

Prioritize Live Chat Over Chatbots

Though we’ve illustrated the importance and efficiency of AI chatbots in omnichannel customer support, customers usually want to at least have the option to connect with a “real person.”

Omnichannel live chat support lets customers interact with agents in real-time on any channel.

Since the entire conversion is automatically synched across various channels, you won’t miss a beat switching from website chat to app messaging or social media direct messaging.

Chat logs allow for a seamless experience from one channel to another.

For example, maybe the live chat interaction starts via social media direct messaging. The customer, however, wants to discuss sensitive information. So, the agent suggests that they move the chat conversation to their secure mobile app or to the company website.

Users can opt to receive notifications when they receive a reply to a message, share files or links over chat messaging, and instantly transition to a phone or even video call if needed.

 

Use Analytics and Machine Learning to Improve Customer Service

Automation and AI aren’t just used to provide immediate support — they’re also great ways to get insights into customer behavior and the quality of your customer service.

Analytics and metrics offer essential insight into the digital channels your customers prefer, overall customer engagement levels, the number of daily/weekly/monthly support interactions, first contact resolution rates, customer demographics, and consistent service queries.

Machine learning helps bots to “get smarter” with every interaction, as they “learn” which responses have the highest success rate and better understand what customers want.

This leads to a much more efficient and effective customer-centric strategy, regardless of the communication channel.

 

Offer SMS Texting

SMS customer support allows two-way conversations between support agents and customers.

For example, a customer might send a quick text to a company’s SMS phone number asking, “What are your store hours today?” The agent can quickly respond not only via their mobile device, but also via desktop computer within the omnichannel interface.

SMS is ideal for quick, easy communication that doesn’t require much back-and-forth.

Texting is much more cost-effective than phone support, given that the average business phone call has a total cost of over $15.00, while business SMS costs between $1.00-$5.00 per complete conversations.

Plus, it’s convenient, offers a more informal and personal mode of communication, and lets businesses send important reminders about upcoming appointments, payments, account renewals, and more.

 

Don’t Overlook Email

Email is still an effective communications channel — especially when it comes to providing a highly personal level of customer service.

Plus, users can easily read up on earlier email messages and threads to get an understanding of previous interactions.

Emails are also an excellent way to go over exactly what happened during the customer service interaction, providing both customers and agents with a record of suggestions and solutions.

 

Integrate Key Business Software Into Your Omnichannel Solution

Omnichannel communication tools need to integrate with your existing business communication and collaboration software — especially your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software.

Integrating CRM tools into your customer service software provides even more detailed customer history and order data, along with personal notes, contact information, communication channel preferences, and much more.

Thanks to these integrations, agents can automatically access data stored in the CRM system whenever they interact with a customer on any channel.

 

Omnichannel Customer Service Examples and Use Cases

Here are two examples of companies using omnichannel customer service.

 

REI Offers Multi-Dimensional Self-Service

REI, a vendor of outdoor clothing and equipment, provides its customers a large bank of self-service tools on its website or mobile: a knowledge base, expert community forum, chatbot, live chat, email support, and voice calling.

REI omnichannel customer service example

The Conversations tab connects a community forum with shared REI-related interests, where customers create threads, discuss REI-related topics, and gain information to make informed purchasing decisions. Customers can ask questions and seek advice about damaged products or missing parts, using images to convey a clearer picture to each other and monitoring administrators.

In the Expert Advice tab, users can learn more about relevant activities and topics–such as camping, hiking, fitness, and family–with relevant articles, gear guides, buying advice, and checklists.

Users can schedule virtual fittings, using video chat and a Microsoft Teams integration so that customer support staff can help users select the best-fitting item without ever heading into a store.

virtual appointment booking

The chat icon navigates to the REI chatbot, with conversation options for returns and exchanges, membership and rewards, order tracking, and order cancellation. At any time users can access live agents through chat, email, or voice calling.

REI chatbot

During all email, voice, chatbot, and live chat interactions, REI agents access real-time customer information–previous orders, site browsing history, products viewed and purchased, forum conversations, and account information–to provide personalized support that saves customers from needing to repeat themselves.

 

Disney Individualizes the Parkgoer’s Experience

The My Disney Experience web portal integrates applications ranging from a media hub, to a calendar, to a day planner, unifying aspects of the Disney parkgoer’s experience that were previously fragmented and stressful: planning, booking, reserving, dining, and avoiding long lines.

Dysney Parkgoer's experience

In the portal, the My Plans tab guides users through every step of planning a day at the park: guest list, hotel selection, ticket purchasing, ride passes, and dining reservations. Each option in this planner is clickable and self-service, utilizing APIs to integrate into a singular hub.

For example, in the Dining tab, users can sort restaurants by type, environment, and characters on-site, viewing images, pricing, reviews, and seating availability–all before booking the reservation. The My Photos tab allows users to store and share photos taken on rides, at restaurants, or with characters. Best of all, these processes are entirely self-service.

Dysney dining

Users have easy access to email, voice, and webchat if they’d prefer a live agent. During live interactions, Disney agents can access the customer’s full profile, including all bookings, plans, and media–providing an omnichannel experience that leverages self-service.

 

Additional Omnichannel Customer Service Use Cases

Here we’ve listed additional use cases for omnichannel customer service:

  • Banking and Finance: Banking companies like Bank of America and First Republic Bank provide self-service mobile apps with tools like check depositing, appointment scheduling, texting, live chat, chatbots, email, and call-in numbers.
  • Education: Some online education and tutoring companies allow students to access teachers and content through the student’s choice of live chat, phone, video, or email.
  • Retail: Similar to REI, retail stores of all types–makeup, sporting goods, toys, video games, furniture–can let customers browse and order items, search knowledge bases, participate in forums, and use a chatbot for simple processes, or speak with a live agent.
  • Food and Drink: Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts allow customers multiple ways to make orders–in person, via desktop browser, or via the company’s mobile app–before picking up in the store. Customer order history is logged for seamless support and future ordering.
  • Fitness and Coaching: Gyms and fitness products, such as Peloton, use mobile notifications and text messaging to send customers workout summaries or class updates, and allow customers to schedule workouts or contact their trainers–all logged for improved live support.
  • Service Marketplaces: Applications like TaskRabbit, Upwork, and Rover provide applications where customers can post and schedule tasks. When a client accepts a task, the customer receives a text or app notification with useful updates about the accepted task, client, and scheduling.

 

Omnichannel Customer Service Challenges

Here are some of the biggest challenges to implementing omnichannel customer service.

 

Seamless Channel Integration

87% of customers think brands need to put more effort into providing a seamless omnichannel experience–so that the customer transition between channels requires no wait time or repetition.

Solution: Provide each agent with training and access to all channels, so that when a customer wants to switch mid-conversation, the same agent can switch alongside. Also, integrating a customer relationship management (CRM) platform with your contact center updates customer information in real-time, allowing new agents to resume where the previous agent left off.

 

Maintaining a Personal Experience Across Channels

Self-service options like chatbots and IVR play a key role in an omnichannel customer service strategy, but these options often come at the expense of the personal tone that real agents provide.

Solution: Reserve automated functions for simple, repetitive, or mechanistic customer queries, and in these cases, provide distinct conversation flows for each path within the IVR or chatbot conversation. Allow customers the option to easily transition from self-service to a live agent.

 

Data Management Across Channels

Contact Center analytics provide administrators access to tons of data about their contact center and channels–daily, weekly, and seasonal statistics about agents, usage, and more. This data can be overwhelming and difficult to use effectively–especially for those new to using an omnichannel support center.

Solution: Begin by implementing just the channels that your customers will use the most. It can be counterproductive to start with too many channels, so start with a simple structure such as calling, live chat, and email. Over time, add more and monitor the usage of each one, aiming to capitalize on the most popular.

 

Discover Top Omnichannel Contact Center Solutions

Now that you understand what omnichannel customer service is, its benefits, and the best ways to offer it to your customers, it’s time to research omnichannel communication software solutions.

The below table outlines the top omnichannel communication providers.

Provider Pricing Top Features Best For More Information
NICE CXOne Quote-based, starting from $90.00-$100.00/user per month
  • My Agent Experience
  • Customer Card
Larger-scale enterprises or companies in the healthcare or telemarketing industries NICE CXOne Review
RingCentral  Quote-based
  • Unlimited SMS and MMS messaging up to 1,000 characters
  • Advanced omnichannel analytics and reporting
SMBs with under 100 employees with primarily remote or blended teams RingCentral Review
Five9 Quote-based, starting from $100.00-$175.00/month per agent
  • Inbound Agent Assist
  • Advanced email routing
Midsized businesses that rely on digital-first communication or entirely remote teams. Especially popular in the financial industry (debt collection, etc.) Five9 Review
Twilio Quote-based, from $150.00/user per month
  • Advanced chat messaging
  • Programmable video chat support
Businesses that need a highly customizable solution, as well as those who want to purchase individual APIs/communication channels Twilio Review
Genesys 3 paid plans from $75.00-$140.00/month per agent
  • Genesys PureEngage self-service
  • Ease of use, intuitive interface
Companies that need to offer a high level of customer self-service options, as well as those that will need to integrate lots of other business communication software into their Genesys platform Genesys Review

 

Looking for more detailed information on call center pricing, plans, features, and how the right tools provide a consistent experience for customers?

Our interactive Buyer’s Guide to the best contact center providers is the perfect place to start.