Omnichannel vs Multichannel: Key Differences You Need to Know

Nicole Davies
October 12, 2021
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Nicole Davies

Omnichannel and multichannel are two buzzwords that get thrown around a lot in the world of business and marketing, but what’s the difference between them? 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 key differences between the two terms. They are ultimately quite different strategies to both marketing and customer contact. 

Read on to tackle the omnichannel vs multichannel debate: learn the key differences and discover which is best for your business. 

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. 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. Even a physical store, which is typically viewed as a marketing channel, is a medium through which customers can contact a brand and their questions answered. It is always important to keep this dual functionality of channels in mind, e.g. when speaking to customers via a contact channel, you are still advertising your business.

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

What does multichannel mean?

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. 

What does omnichannel mean?

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. 

What are the key differences between omnichannel and 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. 

omnichannel vs multichannel

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 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.

2) Channel centric vs customer centric

Another key difference between omnichannel vs multichannel is that multichannel is focused on channels, whereas omnichannel is focused on customers. 

The aim of multichannel marketing is to maximise 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 give a seamless experience as they go from one channel to another, removing the friction as they move between different 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 calling to promote the product and increase engagement. 

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. 

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, which 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, e.g. a simple question can be dealt with via a live web 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. 

gold stars for customer experience

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 contact channels is a good 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. 

This means taking the time to introduce each new channel and ensuring it is synced up with existing channels. An integrated contact centre solution like Talkative is an easy way to make sure channels are connected both to each other, your CRM and existing customer contact channels. 

Download the ‘Inner Circle Guide to Video & Next-Generation Customer Contact’

Discover use cases, implementation tips, and ROI for video chat as a contact channel

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