Multi-, cross-, and omni-channel: these terms are thrown around all the time, sometimes even used interchangeably. However, each is distinct from the others in terms of what it refers to. Here’s a quick guide to what these terms really describe.
Gone are the days where brick and mortar stores were the only places clients could purchase products or obtain more information. Multi-channel allows for transactions across a wide variety of channels or mediums.
Examples of the types of channels that may be used in multi-channel communications include physical stores, online websites, telephone interactive voice response (IVR), e-mail or mobile apps, fax, and more. Any platform that offers more than one channel for transactions and information is considered “multi-channel.” Even smaller retailers that allow for transactions through a website are engaging in multi-channel retail. Although such a system is often convenient for the customer, multi-channel retailers often do not offer a seamless transition between channels.
Cross-channel is, in essence, a logical evolution of the multi-channel system. Customers utilize multiple channels in order to make a transaction: for example, the customer might read about a product in a catalog, research and purchase it online, and pick it up from an actual store, effectively interacting across several channels in order to make a purchase or obtain information.
The idea behind cross-channel is that the message marketed to the consumer will be exactly consistent across all channels, providing an easier experience for the customer. This means the same promotions, deals, and prices from the call center to the web page to the mobile app to the store.
Although each channel exists as independent from the others, the cross-channel platform is able to use different modules to interact with the customer. As an example, when a customer calls a store/locator IVR, the platform will be able to send an SMS back with the directions requested, therefore using two different channels, SMS and voice.
Some consumers prefer to utilize multiple channels, oftentimes employing many simultaneously. The omni-channel method makes the customer the center of the process, with the ability to act across “touch points,” rather than simply channels within a brand. It offers the customer the ability to receive information in whatever way is most convenient.
Functionally, this might mean that the same information is available to customers in multiple formats – from cell phone apps to websites to wireless devices like tablets. Omni-channel also offers the ability to market to a customer based on his or her preferred touch points, social networks, purchasing history, website visits, and so forth. In addition, the most evolved omni-channel platform may develop intelligence about consumer preferences, for example based on his contact habits. Typically, a customer contacting a company through their cell phone will receive voice alerts, as the platform identified it as the preferred medium.