Omnichannel vs. multichannel support: which is right for you?

Omnichannel vs. multichannel customer support – which is right for your brand? Both allow customers to connect with you in multiple ways, but have some key differences. Multichannel is lower-cost and gives your customers options, but limits the ability for customers to change channels. Omnichannel, on the other hand, pairs multiple ways to contact you with the flexibility for customers to change channels with ease, but it comes with a higher upfront cost. But which is right for you? 

Here, we explore omnichannel vs. multichannel customer support options by reviewing advantages and drawbacks of each so you can determine the right approach for your company.

What Is Multichannel Customer Support?

Multichannel customer support is when a company offers customers the ability to contact them through more than one customer touchpoint. In the past, many companies only offered one customer support channel, such as telephone or email. With a multichannel approach, customers are able to reach support associates in a variety of ways, often including phone support, email, live chat, and social media depending on their preferences and available technology.

However, the channels operate in silos, meaning you can’t transfer the information from one channel to another. This means the customer can’t move seamlessly from messaging associates through social media to chatting via a widget on your website or talking to an associate on the phone.

Let’s look at the key benefits of running a multichannel approach.

1. Customers Can Choose Their Preferred Channel

Customer service agent explaining omnichannel vs. multichannel support

With a multichannel experience, the client has the flexibility to choose the channel they’re most comfortable with.

Every customer has their own preferences for how they communicate. Some prefer the telephone because they connect with a human and can get real-time answers when questions arise during the call. However, others prefer talking to associates through email, SMS, or live chat, since they can review the chat for helpful information later. Some prefer an even more personalized experience and will forgo your online store in favor of a brick-and-mortar store for customer service (think of Apple’s Genius Bar, for example). Multichannel gives customers plenty of ways to get the help they need.

2. Customized Experience in Each Channel

Because the different channels are separate in a multichannel approach, your company can create unique customer experiences for each based on feedback. For example, maybe you notice telephone customers tend to have more technical questions than chat clients, so you could staff your most technically savvy customer service associates on this channel.

3. Customer Support Associates Can Focus on a Single Channel

Another benefit of the multichannel strategy is that a customer support associate will only need to focus on one of your company’s support channels rather than switching from chat to phone to social media. This helps them get really comfortable with the channel they’re working in, which will help them deliver better support. Plus, task switching can reduce productivity. 

It also allows your company to focus training on only one channel at a time, making that training more thorough and efficient.

What Is Omnichannel Customer Support?

An omnichannel approach is a form of multichannel customer support, but because “omni” means “all,” you probably already suspect that this approach combines all your channels into one. The key difference between multichannel and omnichannel support is that customers can easily move from one channel to another. When an omnichannel support strategy is in use, the customer support associate can also ask to change channels if another channel can help resolve the concern more effectively. 

When a customer issue doesn’t get resolved during a live chat conversation, for example, in an omnichannel support system, the support team can simply move the conversation to another channel, like a phone call with one of their reps, without losing customer data or context about their issue. 

They can also easily transition from a call to a digital channel like social media or an email conversation without interrupting the customer interaction. This can be handy if the customer support rep needs to share a digital file with the customer or if the interaction becomes cumbersome for the current channel (e.g., sharing details of an issue might be difficult over Twitter, but easy via email).

The omnichannel strategy offers many benefits to the customer, company, and customer service associate. Here are some key benefits:

1. More Positive and Effective Customer Interactions

When comparing multichannel vs. omnichannel strategies, omnichannel support reduces redundancy. The customer service representative can gain key context for an issue and see relevant customer data without the customer having to repeat themselves at different touchpoints. Because the same associate is speaking with the customer in the new channel, the customer engagement with the representative remains intact. This creates a more personalized experience and makes the conversation easier for customers.

For the customer service representative, it can be less stressful to already have customer information before the conversation begins. Explaining an issue multiple times can create stress for the customer, which can sometimes be reflected by the associate.

2. Faster Resolution

With a seamless omnichannel customer experience, customer support associates can resolve issues more quickly and with fewer headaches. This way, associates can help more customers — the more quickly they resolve one issue, the faster they can move to the next. Also, it can help the customer service rep build customer relationships and trust more quickly because they handle the customer’s issue from start to finish, regardless of the channel. Customers don’t need to be passed from one person to another if they need to change support channels.

Faster resolution times can enhance your customer journey, improve your customer service metrics, build trust in your company, and increase conversions, repeat customers, customer retention, and referrals.

3. Better Meet Customer Expectations

Customers expect companies to keep pace with technology that makes their experiences easier, including tools that allow them to move between various channels without starting fresh in each one.

With the omnichannel approach, it’s more apparent that you’re prioritizing the customer’s time and offering a convenient experience. This creates confidence in your brand that can lead to trust in your company and even increase your conversion rate.

For the customer service associate, meeting the customer’s baseline expectations of having the latest technology can create a more pleasant interaction from the start of the customer service session.

4. Additional Customer Insights

As representatives review information collected from each channel, the omnichannel approach allows your customer service associates to better understand the customer and their needs.

Plus, the omnichannel approach more clearly and easily documents the entire customer journey across all support and sales channels, from an in-person interaction at your physical store to a live chat through a widget on your website. You can use these insights to improve your customer service strategy and offer a better customer experience.

5. Making Automation More Useful

Customer service agent discussing omnichannel vs. multichannel support via live chat

Chatbots can be helpful for basic issues, but customers often need to move on to a real person to find a solution. With an omnichannel approach, the conversation with the chatbot will seamlessly transition to a live representative, so they can review the chat and know where to pick up the conversation. That conversation can then be moved to any other channel – like a phone call – if needed.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel: How Does Each Affect the Customer?

When using a multichannel approach, the customer can choose from a range of communication mediums. Let’s say a customer chooses to start using a live chat, so they give some key information and discuss their issue. Unfortunately, the representative cannot handle the issue via chat — only a phone call will work.

The customer must end the chat, call the customer service phone number, and restate all the information they told the chat agent.

In an omnichannel approach, the chat agent would notice the customer needs to be on the phone to rectify the issue. The agent can then initiate a call to continue the conversation where the live chat ended. This seamless experience saves customers time and frustration, building their trust in and loyalty to your brand.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel: How Does Each Affect the Customer Service Associate?

Customer service representatives in a multichannel setup generally focus on just one channel, allowing them to master that space. However, they may spend a lot of time reverifying customer data, such as name, account number, phone number, and the issues the customer is having, even if this is an ongoing issue the customer has already reached out about via other channels.

Customers can get frustrated when they have to repeat their information, which can make it more challenging for them to feel satisfied with the interaction. For example, suppose a customer is calling about an internet connectivity issue, and they reset their router on the previous live chat. In that case, they may feel irritated if an associate on a phone call asks them to reset the router again, making the conversation more stressful for the representative as well.

In an omnichannel support approach, the customer service representative will need to cross-train in a number of channels so they can provide service to all customers. This can be time-consuming, and it requires associates to be agile and flexible.

However, when helping the customer, the customer service associate can see all the customer’s information and history. And if this is a repeating issue, the representative knows that and can pick up where the last conversation ended, saving the customer time and headaches.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel: How Does the Decision Impact Your Company?

Multichannel customer support is quicker and less expensive to set up and maintain. But customers can get frustrated when they repeat information in a new channel, impacting how satisfied they are with their experiences and, possibly, their loyalty to your brand. Plus, when you add more support channels, you generally have to create a whole new team to manage those, resulting in more training and hiring expenses.

Omnichannel presents its own challenges, as it can be costly and complex to set up, it requires more advanced support technology, such as a customer relationship manager (CRM) that can work for all channels, and training all customer support associates to work within all the channels.

However, once an omnichannel approach is set up, your existing staff can handle additional channels (with training) – they’re already adept at supporting multiple channels at once.  Plus, your customers receive consistent levels of support in all channels and can easily switch between channels without starting over. This customer-centric approach can help with customer retention, repeat business, and referrals.

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel: Which Is Right for Your Business?

Customer service associate on a call explaining omnichannel vs. multichannel support

Omnichannel and multichannel customer support systems are both useful for clients, as they each offer multiple support channels, which allow customers to choose which channel is best for their situation. 

However, the omnichannel approach adds the flexibility of switching channels without negatively impacting the customer experience. Just keep in mind that this comes with additional upfront costs for the technology and training to get it off the ground.

Weigh the advantages and drawbacks of each support system and choose the one that best suits your business’s needs and budget.

For more customer support tips and advice, check out the PartnerHero blog.