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Omnichannel customer service

Learn about the benefits and challenges of omnichannel operations in customer service and which strategies are needed to ensure your approach for omnichannel customer service is successful.

What is omnichannel customer service?

Omnichannel customer service is assistance and advice for customers across a seamless and integrated network of devices and touchpoints. Businesses with robust omnichannel customer service can maintain consistently great experiences for their customers regardless of the communication channel.

The growth of digital channels and new communication technologies has enabled businesses to adopt an omnichannel approach to customer support. In doing so, they can manage interactions across multiple channels such as call centers, webchats, SMS, messaging, email and social media. For example, a customer support conversation might begin on Twitter, then continue with text messages and end with a phone call—all in a seamless, connected experience. Customers don't have to stop and explain their problem at each channel interaction.

Customer expectations have also changed along with technological advancements. In recent research conducted by Forrester, by 2022 digital touchpoints will influence more than 57% of US retail sales. Today, customers expect efficient in-store interactions, seamless experiences regardless of channel, and rapid notification of orders and pick-up availability.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital across industries. B2B and B2C business alike have been forced to update siloed sales approaches and complex buying dynamics to provide fluid customer support and experience [1].

Benefits of a successful omnichannel customer experience

A good customer experience is at the core of high-quality customer service. Ensuring customers can access their preferred channel and receive a consistent buying experience is at the heart of omnichannel customer support.

Consider the benefits that result:

  • Greater customer loyalty: Omnichannel customer experience creates speed, convenience, transparency and trust. Seamless interactions show customers that an organization is buyer-first and has transformed outdated sales methods for a smoother overall process.
  • Providing preferred purchasing options: The omnichannel approach creates more opportunities to meet a growing need: Delivering self-service purchase options to customers [1]. The ability to do this frees up sales and customer engagement professionals to fill the role as consultative partners and give better service to more highly considered purchases.
  • Accelerating revenue growth: Omnichannel customer experience enables buyers to access potential purchases when they need them without going through traditional sales avenues. Removing the barriers to purchase and providing transparent and connected digital experiences increases revenue growth and customer satisfaction [1].
  • Innovating and activating new channels more quickly: Businesses that currently have established omnichannel experiences will have a competitive advantage in designing and activating new channels. Established omnichannels can act like a framework for introducing new channels. When customer experience and interactions are already seamless, it is easier to adopt additional channels without starting from scratch.

When it comes to customer service, customers expect a single brand experience through all touchpoints. The omnichannel approach gives businesses additional benefits for customer service, including:

  • Streamlining customer service using customer data and digital tools: According to a recent Forrester report, 38% of US and UK online adult buyers are motivated to use a retailer they have purchased from before if it offers good customer service [2]. An example of a customer support tool that uses data is intelligent routing. This service collects customer data that is used to route customers to the call center agent who is best equipped to help. The use of data and these types of digital tools help agents better understand the customer journey, increase agent productivity and provide personalized experiences and solutions.
  • Customized experiences: More retail and wholesale firms are investing in personalization technology such as machine learning to leverage insights on customer preferences. For example, machine learning can create unique web page layouts based on customer data such as location and purchase history. This type of customization is proven to yield increased revenue [2].
  • Customer data and connected products create new value: Customer service extends beyond meeting your customers where they are in the buyers’ journey. It now includes anticipating their needs. Connected devices and buyer data enable businesses to develop services to meet the needs of their customers. Understanding your customers and meeting their needs also increases customer retention.

Assessing your omnichannel service maturity

Successful omnichannel customer service is essential to buyer satisfaction and retention. Businesses that don't ensure continuity across digital and in-person touchpoints risk losing customers to competitors that do [2].

According to “The Omnichannel Maturity Assessment” by Forrester, three dimensions are used to measure your omnichannel system's success:

  1. Digital customer experience (DCX): Because customer interactions occur in stores and digitally via multiple devices, businesses should take time to assess customer experience across all exchanges. Specifically, digital customer experience is increasingly important. Recent research found that one-third of US adults are less likely to go to a store if its inventory is unavailable online. Additionally, 48% confirm that they seek information about product availability before purchasing offline [3]. Convenience and shopping experience are consumer drivers. While managing inventory is a challenge, businesses should investigate technology and tools that engage customers at the digital level before purchasing occurs.
  2. Digital operational experience (DOX): Influenced by customer demand and the COVID-19 pandemic, 69% of retailers reported the implementation of BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) [3]. The logistics of BOPIS, if not orchestrated correctly, can result in poor customer service and customer loss. Assessing DOX should focus on managing and optimizing people and processes, including training staff to execute omnichannel programs properly.
  3. Omnichannel customer engagement: Research conducted by Forrester states that 52% of US online adults prefer to use their device to look up product information when shopping in-store [3]. Therefore, businesses need to assess how they engage customers in a dynamic channel environment and provide technology or apps that offer context and personalization to in-person shopping experiences.

Omnichannel customer service strategy

Assessing your omnichannel system is necessary to establish what is working and where improvement is required. Creating a strategy will help businesses plan the next steps in omnichannel customer service.

When considering strategy, it's important to understand customer expectations and behavior. Customers not only want efficiency and convenience; they also want control of the entire engagement. In addition, customer behavior has changed alongside technology. Many customers begin their shopping experience digitally and through multiple channels and devices.

Businesses must contend with changes required to meet customer demands. A lot of these changes include managing inventory, training employees and transforming from customer-aware to customer-led.

Strategy for improved omnichannel customer service can include the following tactics:

  • Embrace the entire customer journey: Fully capable omnichannel operations span the lifecycle of a customer and extend beyond fulfillment, acquisition and engagement, inventory and order management, and customer service. Businesses that embrace the whole customer journey can deliver cost savings, operational efficiencies and improved customer relationships.
  • Offer a seamless omnichannel experience: Research by Gartner found that by the end of 2021, it is likely that B2B sales will become digital-first [4]. Becoming digital-first does not mean neglecting non-digital channels. Support agents, sales teams and other operational branches should not exist in silos, for example. Instead, the strategy should execute a channel-less experience where the website, direct sales, and the contact center work together to create a cohesive customer service experience. These connections form a stable knowledge base and actionable metrics for customer service agents to provide better service.
  • Leverage new technologies: Customers are willing to give up personal data in exchange for better experiences. That data is valuable when it comes to providing customer service and an improved omnichannel experience. Businesses should embrace technology that leverages customer data to create customized experiences and services. In addition, existing technologies enhance customer service with automation, AI and chatbots. For example, customers can receive help online at night via bots when your customer service employees aren't available.

Omnichannel use cases and examples

B2B and B2C businesses in a variety of industries use omnichannel customer service. If you recently purchased an item via BOPIS, then you engaged in that organization's omnichannel operation. Familiar retailers such as Target, Amazon or Home Depot employ powerful omnichannel systems that include apps on your smartphone.

Other industries that utilize omnichannel strategies include:

  • Banks or other financial services, which use the omnichannel approach for customers who require multichannel access while keeping employee workflow efficient and effective.
  • Businesses that need to provide around-the-clock support for e-commerce customers across multiple channels use omnichannel customer service.

Omnichannel vs. multichannel

Multichannel is a system for customer service and experience, and it consists of several communication channels. Two main factors differentiate multichannel and omnichannel:

  1. Synchronization: A multichannel system might include a website, social media, and a mobile app, but those channels operate independently and are not synchronized. An omnichannel approach might have the same channels and more, but all of them are connected and work together to create one seamless experience for customers.
  2. Platforms and devices: Multichannel operations are typically limited to the device or platform defined in the channel. On the other hand, omnichannel operations are connected across different channels, devices, and platforms [5].

Multichannel isn't inherently wrong because it does use various channels for businesses to connect with customers on their buying journey. However, research conducted illustrates customers will continue to demand a cohesive user experience (that omnichannel operations can offer).

Omnichannel customer service challenges

Omnichannel operations can create challenges when used by retailers with highly complex products, making every avenue more difficult, from sales to customer service. Complex products typically require well-trained and knowledgeable sales reps to assist customers. However, using rich media such as video, 3D animation and augmented reality creates a way for businesses to enable customers to self-serve and increase engagement [1].

Traditional retail sales and customer service methods are also a challenge when converting to the digital processes of omnichannel operations. The transition of the B2B world to digital systems inherently creates price transparency, and customers can check for the best prices and offers online while shopping in-store. If businesses don't maintain information consistently, they risk losing customers.

There are also organizational challenges related to inventory management and employee training, which also impact customer service. Organizations that attempt omnichannel services but keep their inventory siloed in-store and online will run into supply issues. Instead, they should take an enterprise-wide approach to inventory and order management.

Additionally, businesses struggle to train their customer-facing employees when implementing omnichannel strategies. While omnichannel customer service is beneficial, some businesses lose sight of customer-centric employees value in the customer journey. Because omnichannel allows for more customer self-service, there is the opportunity for sales reps and employees to provide greater customer experiences for those customers or purchases requiring more attention. Training those employees is an important aspect of omnichannel customer service that is often overlooked.

IBM and omnichannel customer service

IBM Watson Assistant is a virtual agent that provides users with fast, consistent and accurate answers across any application, device, or channel.

Using conversational AI and natural language processing, IBM’s AI chatbot learns from conversations in real time. This improves its ability to resolve issues the first time while removing the frustration of long wait times, tedious searches and unhelpful chatbots.

Robust integrations, visual chatbot builder and advanced chatbot analytics help companies scale their overall operations.

Take a customer service assessment to find out how your customer service measures up and receive the next steps to transform your business with the help of AI.

 

Sources

  1. Cicman, J., Bonde, A., Wilson, K., Bakalar, M. (2021). Make Omnichannel Real In B2B Commerce. Forrester. (link resides outside IBM)
  2. Beeson, M., Swerdlow, F., Witcher, B., Lawrie, G., Murgia, N. (2020) Retailers Are Starting To Reap The Rewards Of Omnichannel Commerce. Forrester.
  3. Witcher, B., Swerdlow, F., Murgia, N. (2020). The Omnichannel Maturity Assessment. Forrester.
  4. Lewis, M. (2021). Increase Profits and Delight Buyers by Becoming a Digital-First, Omnichannel B2B Seller. Forrester.
  5. Fontanella, Clint. “What Is Omni-Channel? 20 Top Omni-Channel Experience Examples.” HubSpot Blog, 2 Sept. 2021 (link resides outside IBM)