The guide to omnichannel communication in 2023
Not long ago, my 14-year old nephew Tom came over to visit me. And without realizing it, he gave me a flawless demonstration of the power of omnichannel communication.
Here's what happened.
Before he came over, I had cleared my schedule for the day so that we could spend some quality time together. But, as I should have expected from a kid born in 2007, Tom decided to spend about 95 percent of his time glued to his iPad.
When looking at his screen, I was impressed (and terrified) by how fast and frequently Tom would switch apps. He was constantly in contact with his friends. And every app had its own specific purpose. He would send an occasional voice note via WhatsApp, switch to Instagram to send a DM, forward funny clips on TikTok, and even use the chat feature in Roblox (no worries if you have to Google what that is, I'll wait).
Together with his friends, Tom used multiple channels to create one digital experience. And just like them, modern-day consumers also expect a seamless experience on all of their favorite channels when they contact your business.
Enter omnichannel communication.
What is omnichannel communication?
Omnichannel communication occurs when your business delivers a consistent customer experience across all touchpoints of the entire journey. This strategy has to be executed across all your offline and online channels. Whether the customer is browsing your website, messaging you via WhatsApp, or shopping in your store, the experience should feel cohesive.
Here's what an omnichannel experience might look like:
- Somebody comes across one of your posts on Instagram, where they first get to know about your brand.
- Next, they follow the link in your Instagram bio to your website. Here, they learn more about your products and services.
- On your website, they ask a couple of questions via live chat.
- They decide that they want to first see your product in real life and visit your physical store. There, they eventually buy one of your products with some help of one of your employees.
- The store clerk adds a little card with all the channels your company is available on to the shopping bag.
- When the customer gets home, they realize they need more advice on how to actually use the product. They check the card in the bag, and reach out to your customer service team via WhatsApp.
In an omnichannel journey, the customer is constantly invited to naturally move from one channel to the other. When done well, you pull them deeper and deeper into a brand experience that truly sticks.
Why is omnichannel communication so important?
Like my nephew Tom, the modern consumer is spread out over more channels than ever. And one of the most basic rules in business is that you have to go wherever your customers are. If not, you'll miss out on opportunities. Almost 75% of shoppers say they use multiple channels to compare prices, hunt for discounts, and communicate with their favorite brands.
On one hand, they want an experience that fits the channels they frequent. On the other, they expect that your brand looks, feels, and communicates as one on all of them.
As a business, this means you have to be flexible. You need to be able to quickly adapt to new channels and effortlessly switch from one to the other.
Multichannel vs Omnichannel: what's the difference?
Nobody likes buzzwords, especially when you keep mixing up two of them: multichannel and omnichannel. Here's the difference between the two:
Multichannel means multiple channels of communication. So if a company is available via channels such as email, phone, live chat, Instagram, and WhatsApp Business, they have a multichannel approach.
Omnichannel means a seamless experience across all of those channels.
Pretty much every business in the world can say they have a multichannel approach. But actually providing omnichannel communication is way more complicated and rewarding.
How to get started
Now that you know what it means, it's time to learn how to get started.
Pick the right channels
Nobody says you have to be everywhere. You have to be everywhere where your customer is. So when researching on which channels you want to be active, that's where you should start: the customer. Resist the urge to activate all the channels you ever heard of.
It can be tempting to make assumptions about which channels your customers like the most. Such as: "TikTok is only for kids", "my customer won't use Instagram to buy products", or "only old people use Twitter". Trust me, I've made them too and I was proven wrong more times than I can count.
So how do you find out what channels to pick? By simply talking to your customers. Ask them what channels they like most, how they would like to communicate with your brand, and so forth. Trust me, you'll be surprised by the answers you get.
Train your team
No matter how amazing the tools you're using are, it's all about the people operating them at the end of the day. That's why you need to properly train your customer-faced employees. Whether they're store clerks, customer service agents, or sales agents, they should all be able to correctly answer the following questions:
- What values does our brand represent?
- What's our tone of voice?
- What experience do we aim to offer our customers?
With this information, you'll prevent the situation where a customer clerk is extremely informal and laid back, while your customer service agent sends a long-winded and formal email.
Use an omnichannel communication platform
Managing multiple channels at once is challenging, especially with a team. That's why you need a solid omnichannel communication platform to help out.
Let's say your business is available via email, phone, live chat, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram Messaging. Without the right platform, your team will constantly have to click back and forth between tabs and make sure they don't miss any phone calls. Rather time-consuming and stressful.
But with an omnichannel communication platform, all messages via all your channels can be answered in one view. Together with your team, you can divide the workload and collaborate on answering messages.
By creating customer profiles, you can easily find conversations with one customer via multiple channels. So even if you've never talked to a customer before, you'll know exactly what they've said before — without the customer having to explain themselves over and over again.
Automate, automate, automate
If you want to keep your head above water in a sea of communication channels, you'll need to automate the busywork. The more you automate manual tasks, the more time you get to spend interacting with your customers.
A good first start is to set up quick replies. These are templated messages that can be used by your team to answer frequently asked questions. They save time on one hand and also ensure that customers are answered in the same tone of voice.
Rules are true life-savers. They automate manual tasks such as assigning, closing, and even labeling messages. Here's an example:
Good stuff, right? If you want some more inspiration on what rules to use, you can read this blog by my colleague Liselot.
If you want to take it a step further, consider building a chatbot. A chatbot is an awesome digital colleague that helps you answer frequently asked questions, collect leads, and forward customers to the right agent. They make sure every customer gets answered right away.
The tricky part is making sure that the chatbot doesn't ruin the experience. A bot simply isn't capable of truly replacing a person, so never expect it to do so. Make sure you train it so that it knows exactly when to forward a message to a human agent.
Be where your customer is — but stay on one platform
An omnichannel communication strategy sounds fancy, and it's rewarding once done right. Pick the right channels, set ground rules for your team, automate all the busywork, and use the right platform that combines all your channels into one view.
Because there's a difference between being accessible and being all over the place.