What is omnichannel?

Omnichannel customer service enables customers to connect over their preferred channels and move conversations seamlessly from one channel to another.

Long gone are the days when customers only had one or two options for interacting with a company. Today’s customers move freely through digital and analog channels, using telephones, web chat, social media, etc. to make purchases, find solutions, initiate returns, and more. To address this fundamental shift in the customer journey, many businesses have adopted a multichannel approach to customer service, supporting a range of channels and meeting customers where they prefer to do business. Unfortunately, this multichannel approach does little to ensure an integrated customer experience; a customer that reaches out on social media, for example, and then later reaches out via telephone about the same issue may find themselves back at square one, having to repeat their concerns and start the service process over from the beginning. Omnichannel offers a better solution.

The purpose of omnichannel is to create an interconnected experience, providing customers with seamless service, regardless of whether they are using email, social media, telephone, or even in-person channels. Omnichannel integrates available customer service channels to provide continuity and connectivity across communication channels. This allows customers to move freely between channels without experiencing interruptions or having to repeat context from interactions on previous channels. In short, it provides a single, consistent customer journey, no matter how the customer chooses to make contact.

One of the keys to successful customer experience is reducing customer effort. At the heart of every successful customer experience is comfort; as they interact with your business, your customers want to be able to do so using their own preferred communication channels and devices. Forcing customers to conform to predetermined support and communication channels pulls them out of their comfort zones, creating anxiety, frustration, and a poor overall experience. And, because a customer’s preferred channels may shift depending on time, location, and degree of urgency, focusing on the right channels for the right customers can become extremely difficult.

Omnichannel customer service effectively eliminates these issues. By integrating across all possible touchpoints, you make it possible for your customers to enjoy a seamless, optimized, comfortable experience, no matter how they prefer to communicate. And because all relevant customer history and product information is maintained in a single location, customers can work with and transition between multiple support agents without having to constantly re-explain their situation.

Fulfilling requests without demanding high customer effort—this is the primary business challenge addressed by an omnichannel approach to customer service.

Increase customer satisfaction and loyalty

Customers enjoy the freedom to interact with a business in the way that is most convenient for them. Omnichannel service essentially removes the boundaries and barriers between channels—mobile, desktop, web, in-person, social media, and more, become a single, unified experience. This consistent and hassle-free approach to customer service improves customer satisfaction and promotes a better ongoing customer relationship.

Add convenience and consistency

No matter where the conversation starts—whether the customer walks into a store or branch, phones the contact center, sends an SMS message, or uses some other channel—conversations can continue across communication channels with complete visibility for agents. Conversations can be continued across communication channels with complete visibility for customer service agents. This means when customers seek service, agents can see prior conversations and review purchase history, no matter which channel the customer has used in the past. This allows agents to provide a more relevant and convenient service to the customer.

Eliminate silos and reduce operational costs

Separate channels can mean separate information silos, as multiple agents across different departments fail to effectively share data relevant to the customer’s success. This can lead to multiple agents working on a single issue without coordinating their efforts to ensure that the same work isn’t being done redundantly. Omnichannel lowers operational costs by bringing every involved agent together, ensuring that tasks are being performed efficiently, quickly, and in support of one another.

Effective omnichannel solutions incorporate any and all channels a customer may wish to use. Here are several essential channels worth considering as you plan your move to omnichannel support:

Messaging

Messaging platforms allow customers to communicate with agents in real-time through ongoing, asynchronous conversations. These text-based messages can span cases and topics, and are often a simple, direct way for customers to get in touch with support agents.

Web

Web-based forms create structured requests that a system can then route to relevant teams or locations, including contact center, back office, or middle office.

Chatbot

An intelligent chatbot, also called a virtual assistant, can infer customer needs through natural language interpretation. You can create automated conversations that provide real value to customers. Chatbots free up support agents to address other tasks and can provide customer self-service when agents aren't available; they should seamlessly escalate conversations to live chat agents when they are unable to answer the customer's question or complete their request, passing the context along so the agent knows what information the chatbot has collected.

Chat

Live chat options, usually integrated with company websites, provide a quick and easy opportunity for customers to reach out and discuss issues with dedicated agents or virtual agents. Visitors simply type their message into an available chatbox, and the company responds. Chat is easy to implement, simple to use and offers your customers 24X7 support directly from your website.

Email

In this era of instant messages, social media, and automated chat, email may seem obsolete. But the reality is that email is a convenient, asynchronous channel that is still widely used by customers across every industry. However, manual email processing demands time and focus from potentially overburdened agents. Businesses can reduce time spent on both inbound and outbound emails. Automated inbound email processing can create and update customer cases. Agents can update customers about the progress of their cases through templated outbound emails.

Phone

Much like email, telephone contact is a customer-service channel that may seem outdated, but is still very much in use. Due in part to the convenience and familiarity of using a telephone, in addition to the expectation of being able to speak with a living human being on the other end, many customers prefer to call a business directly when they need support. In an effective omnichannel approach, modern voice experiences combine AI-driven natural language capabilities to expand self-service and drive personalized conversations.

Social media

Social media gives customers an extremely accessible route to communicating with businesses. As customers reach out for service or support, agents can record the conversation history in any cases that are created as a result.

In-person

No other channel can match the personableness and ease of communication available through face-to-face, in-person service. In fact, many customers will forego digital channels and instead travel to specific locations just to be able to meet with authorized business representatives. But in-person communication can make an omnichannel approach difficult. Digital queue management can help bring in-person customers into omnichannel, with improved response times, increased productivity, and relevant customer and purchase information available to on-site staff.

The transition from single channel strategy and multichannel strategy to omnichannel can take a lot of time and resources. But, the end result is worth it.

There are a few recommended steps:

  • Understand the customer: Take time to research the target audience, including their interests, behavior, and needs. Gather customer feedback and use social media to gauge more specific needs.
  • Choose the right channels: Identify where customers spend most of their time and what they’re doing there.
  • Outline the purpose of channels: One channel could be for communication, one could be for updates, another could be for information, etc.
  • Connect the channels: This step needs to carefully implemented while utilizing the right technology. Follow customers through every step of their journey and each touchpoint—do journey mapping to understand how customers move through the relevant purchase or support journeys.
  • Maintain each channel: Omnichannel strategies require constant efforts—test and improve the strategy along each channel and always ensure that customers are having a good experience each step of the way.

Customer support

There are several methods for customers to connect with a company for help. Channels include live chat or chatbots, phone, messaging apps, form fills, in-person, email, and social media.

Marketing and sales

A customer’s experience with a brand should be consistent across every channel. Omnichannel strategies can create consistent messaging across platforms, which improves brand awareness and recall. A customer’s transition from one channel to another should be seamless to ensure that an interaction with one channel can translate into a lead, conversion, or sale.

Retail

The rise of social media, digital technologies, and mobile devices has created change in retail—and more opportunities to redesign their strategies. Customers are more likely to use mobile devices while in a physical store to gather more information about pricing, online reviews, availability, and alternative options. A retail location can provide size charts, a smooth return policy, and, if possible, same-day delivery. Each of these strategies have proven to boost sales and shopping.

While retailers tend to use traditional methods like websites, email offers, social media, and physical stores that all show the same projects, there are still omnichannel options that account for the needs of customers and interactions between customers and brand.

Government

Omnichannel strategies can enable convenient communication using their platform of choice, and citizen interactions with government is no exception. Twitter has become a more commonly used method for citizen interaction. Governments are working on web and mobile interfaces to improve the citizen experience while focusing on security and privacy.

An omnichannel approach creates a customer experience that is consistent across channels. Individuals who contact a company for assistance can have their interactions recorded into a single repository, providing a seamless experience that avoids unnecessary repetition.

Omnichannel customer service and support simplifies the entire customer communication process. Customer interactions can originate anywhere and move across multiple channels, while still maintaining a continuous conversation. At the same time, customer information is stored in a single location, easily retrievable by authorized agents throughout all relevant teams and departments. ServiceNow brings these advantages to you, with Customer Service Management.

Customer Service Management provides a dedicated, unified service portal and the ability to add service channels to pages across an organization’s web properties. Customers can start chats with virtual or live agents, search knowledge base articles, create cases, send emails, reach out via telephone, and more. Additionally, ServiceNow messaging allows agents to engage customers in ongoing conversations across topics, cases, and requests, and centralized customer activity history provides details into omnichannel interactions, time sequenced for easy review. ServiceNow also supports in-person or in-store experiences, and agents serving customers have the same view into the customer's history as agents in the contact center.

When it comes to providing your customers with a seamless omnichannel service experience, ServiceNow Customer Service Management gives you the tools and resources to help ensure success, for your business, and your customers.

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