Omnichannel vs Multichannel: Key Differences You Need to Know

November 21, 2022
List of differences between Omnichannel & Multichannel

Omnichannel and multichannel are two buzzwords that are ubiquitous in the world of business and marketing.

The distinction between these terms can be difficult to define.

After all, both involve the use of more than one channel to communicate with customers, right? 

While the last sentence is true, there are a number of important differences between the two.

Ultimately, they're quite different strategies to both marketing and customer conversations

In this article, we'll explore these two concepts and how they differ. We'll cover:

  • Omnichannel and multichannel defined
  • The key distinctions between them
  • Omnichannel vs. multichannel: which wins?
customer enjoying omnichannel on mobile

Definitions: Omnichannel vs multichannel

Before jumping into the omnichannel vs multichannel nitty gritty, let’s get a few definitions out of the way. 

You can’t understand what omnichannel and multichannel mean without knowing what the term channel refers to first.

Put simply, a channel is the medium through which a brand or organisation communicates with its customers and target audience.

When it comes to the concepts of omnichannel and multichannel, you can have two different types of channels: marketing channels and customer contact channels

Marketing channels are the mediums through which a brand grows awareness and promotes its product or service.

These channels can be anything from a website, a physical store, a billboard, and even the product packaging used. 

Contact channels refer to the ways customers can get in touch with a business, such as email, live chat or over the phone. 

In a lot of cases, channels can act as marketing and contact mediums.

Email, for example, can be used for nurture marketing campaigns, as well as answering a customer’s question or resolving their issue.

It's important to keep this dual functionality of channels in mind.

With the meaning of channel under our belts, now we can look at the definitions of omnichannel and multichannel. 

customer conversation with agent

Multichannel defined

Multichannel refers to the use of more than one channel to market and communicate information about a brand.

These multiple channels are not integrated with one another.

A billboard, for example, is not directly connected to a business’ website - they are separate channels used to increase awareness of a brand. 

customer using contact channels

Omnichannel defined

Omnichannel also refers to the use of more than one channel to communicate with customers.

However, in this case the multiple channels are integrated to create a seamless experience for the customer.

In other words, a customer can pick up on one channel where they left off on another. 

For example, a customer starts a live chat interaction with a contact centre agent.

To deal with the particular issue adequately, the interaction is escalated to a video chat.

As the two channels are integrated, the customer does not have to repeat the information shared in the live chat when they switch to the video chat channel. 

digital touchpoints in customer journey

Key differences between omnichannel & multichannel

There are three main differences to consider when looking at omnichannel vs multichannel.

These are all centred on the aims and purpose of the different techniques. 

1) Customer engagement vs customer experience

One of the most important differences between the two is that multichannel focuses on engaging customers, while omnichannel focuses on improving customer experience. 

With multichannel marketing, the aim is to cast the net as wide as possible to make more and more people aware of a business. 

With omnichannel marketing, the aim is to create a consistent customer experience for people who are already aware of and engaging with a business.

Let’s put this difference in context.

Take social media as an example.

With a multichannel approach, the aim is to get more followers, comments, likes and shares on your social media pages and posts, as these metrics show more people are engaging with your brand.

Conversely, an omnichannel strategy will focus less on these quantity based metrics and more on ensuring customers can effortlessly jump from your social media page to your website.

For instance, when they click on a Facebook ad, they are taken to the corresponding product page on your website, providing an improved and seamless customer experience.

contact center agent digital engagement

2) Channel centric vs customer centric

Another key difference here is that a multichannel approach focusses on channels, whereas an omnichannel strategy is customer centric.

The aim of multichannel marketing is to maximize the number of channels used to promote a brand.

With more channels, customers can choose how they want to engage with a business. The more channels offered, the more choice the customer has.

For omnichannel, the customer, not the channel, is the focus.

With the customer at the centre, the aim is to provide an optimal experience as they switch between channels, removing the friction between different digital touchpoints.

Less interconnected channels is better than more unconnected channels. 

In retail, for example, a multichannel focus would involve a large number of channels, such as digital marketing, including websites, SEO and paid channels, billboards, TV and radio adverts, emails, social media, and maybe even phone calls. 

In comparison, an omnichannel focus would involve just half of these channels, such as websites, email and social media, and all of these would be synced up so customers can seamlessly move from one to the other. 

contact center agent helping customers

3) Quantity vs quality

The final difference between the two is the number of contact channels used vs the quality of support offered through the channels. 

As we have touched upon, multichannel is all about expanding the number of channels available.

The more channels offered, the better. It increases reach and allows customers to choose how to engage with a business.

However, there is no effort made to link up the channels, meaning customers have to start from the beginning when they switch from one to another.

This can hinder the quality of support received.

For example, if a customer can’t log into their account, they might ring customer services for advice. The phone agent talks the customer through how to change their password.

The call ends and the customer starts to follow the steps, however, they encounter a step not mentioned by the agent and do not know what to do.

They think a visual of the new step will be easier than describing it, so choose to contact customer service via email with a screenshot this time.

As the email and phone channels of the business are not synced, the customer has to explain their problem from the beginning in the email. 

Omnichannel is all about the quality of support offered through a business’ channels.

A customer can choose from whichever channel available to them and know that the quality of support they receive will be the same. 

There is a key difference here between quality of support and type of support.

An omnichannel approach does not mean that every channel offers the exact same type of customer support.

Contact channels are deliberately varied to deal with the different types of support a customer might need.

For example, a simple question can be dealt with via a live chat interaction, while problems with editing a shopping basket will require a more visual level of support offered through video chat or cobrowsing

The quality aspect is ensured by the integration of all the channels offered.

Unlike a multichannel approach, an omnichannel approach means customers can move interactions from one channel to another without having to start from the beginning. 

Using the same forgotten password example, when the customer switches to email, they do not need to describe the whole situation again.

The phone agent will record details of the exchange under the customer’s information in the company’s CRM.

The agent dealing with the email can access this information and gain valuable context for replying to the customer on the new channel. 

customer video chat with in-store assistant

What’s the best approach? 

Customer experience is incredibly valuable to any business or organisation and therefore should always be a focus.

With this in mind, an omnichannel approach is better than a simple multichannel approach.

This does not mean that you shouldn’t expand the number of channels through which you communicate with your customers.

After all, a business should always be where their customers are and offering preferred engagement channels is a great way to stand out from the competition. 

An omnichannel approach is still a multichannel approach, as it offers customers more than one contact and marketing channel.

The difference is in treating all these channels as part of a whole, rather than each one separately. 

customer interacting with contact center agent

The takeaway

Although there are merits to both approaches, when it comes to optimizing the customer experience, omnichannel wins every time.

But a successful omnichannel strategy requires taking the time to ensure all your channels are synced and provide a consistent experience.

It also requires the right platform to facilitate it.

One that’s designed to create more customer relationships, rather than more interactions.

That’s where Talkative comes in.

Our platform was specifically designed to connect businesses with the right customers, via the right channels, at the right time.

We provide a complete suite of interconnected engagement channels that'll empower your customer advisors to deliver superior service and seamless, personalized experiences at every touchpoint.

As a result, they’ll be fully equipped to support, engage, and convert more customers than ever before – all within a single platform.

Want to find out more? Book a demo with us today and discover how you can go omnichannel and beyond with Talkative.

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