Which is the right approach for your brand and customers: a multi channel, cross channel or omni channel experience?

Remember the days when customers could only interact with a brand in one of three methods: by picking up the phone, sending mail or visiting the physical store? The Internet and emerging and advancing technologies have completely changed all of that—resulting in a multitude of new channels and devices consumers can use to interact with a brand at any given time.

This has also resulted in new terminology when it comes to referring to how, where, and when a customer interacts with a brand. This terminology centers on the types of channels customers can use as a touchpoint. These can include mobile apps, social media pages, in-store experiences, websites, etc. Any method in which a customer can interact with a brand is considered a channel.

The three most common approaches brands have developed in regards to channels include:

  • Multi channel: Where companies offer a variety of channels to facilitate interactions with customers.
  • Cross channel: Bridges the gap between the various channels through which consumers interact with businesses.
  • Omni channel: Puts the desires of the consumer first by incorporating analytics of customer interactions, preferred touch points, etc.

All three of these approaches have their benefits and challenges, but only one is the clear choice if you want to provide customers with the best possible experience.

Multi-channel

A multi-channel experience provides communications across a wide variety of consumer-facing channels. This can include in-store experiences, websites, interactive voice response, email, apps—between businesses and consumers. However, this approach often focuses on providing more options because they are available rather than focusing on what makes sense from a customer standpoint.

This approach often looks like disparate marketing efforts via social, mobile, where a company delivers different messages and different promotions to consumers depending on the channel.

Benefits:

  • Permits customers to transact across various channels in ways that weren’t previously available.
  • Is useful for top-of-funnel marketing activities when businesses attempt to build demand among a broad swath of audiences.

Challenges:

  • No true sharing of data among different lines of business (e.g., mobile, in-store).
  • Inside-out approach to dealing with customers.
  • No seamless transition between channels (different “experience” across various channels).

Cross-channel

When compared to the multi-channel experience, cross channel is more concerned with putting the customer first. A cross-channel experience bridges the gap between the various channels businesses use to interact with customers, providing a more seamless experience.

An example of a cross-channel strategy in action would be a customer who orders clothes online (via mobile app) after trying them on in-person.

Benefits:

  • Offers a singular customer view.
  • Provides an ongoing connection between a business and consumer.
  • Uses various channels to guide consumers along a purchasing path. For example, customers can read about a product on mobile, purchase it on a desktop (in their logged-in state), but pick it up in store.
  • Enables seamless marketing across channels from businesses where promotions and deals are similar whether they are mentioned in an email, on social, or via mobile, etc.
  • Incorporates the idea of personalization, as companies collecting data on consumers interactions with their brand can target the right channel to consumers (i.e., companies may discover certain consumers may prefer to interact with social rather than email).

Challenges:

  • Although this approach offers a more seamless experience, each channel technically exists individually from the other.

Omni-channel

A step above cross-channel, this experience integrates the various channels and incorporates the needs and desires of the customer to determine the best mode of interaction. This allows customers the ability to act and transact how they prefer.

Here’s an example of how an omni-channel experience works in action: A customer shops in the store, purchases on a mobile device, receives a request from the brand asking for feedback on the purchase (triggered by a post-purchase email), and that feedback is then used to create a more seamless experience moving forward. Service providers can use customer data to detect patterns among those customers to determine where dropoff occurs. This will enable them to proactively communicate with customers in a smart, unique way in order to prevent future dropoff.

Benefits

  • Puts the customer at the center of the process.
  • Provides highly targeted experiences based on data aggregation of customers.
  • Delivers messages to customers that are relevant at the right time, right place, right device (or even in person).
  • Offers true integration—breaks down business barriers, permits sharing of data, goals, etc.

Challenges:

  • Can be challenging for a business to implement, but this drawback can be remedied with the help of a consultant or outside agency.

With the rising popularity of virtual and augmented reality and other new, emerging technologies, the amount of channels available to consumers will only become increasingly more complex and dynamic in the coming years. Now is the time to transition into an omni channel approach in order to best serve the customer and provide them with the types of experiences they want.