I (foolishly?) shared the first of our ‘omni series’ with my wife. This imagined a world where my bank used everything it knew about me and all ways it had to interact with me to help me have a better holiday experience. She got about half way through reading it when she asked, “Omni what?” Which is fair enough – the first instalment in this series did suggest it was the most overly used term in CRM today. As much as I’d hoped to avoid this in a blog, it’s time to address the glaring question - just what do we mean by ‘Omni-Channel’?

Like most things – I began by Googling the term. I got some spelling and Latin lessons (“omni channel”, “omnichannel”, “omni-channel”, and “from the word Omnis, which can mean all or universal”). And I got some high-level descriptions of what omni-channel looks like to a customer or to an organisation, such as "seamless and effortless, high-quality customer experiences that occur within and between contact channels". This latter seems to translate into doing business with a company in person and online with similar branding and look and feel everywhere.

But is that all that omni-channel equates to? Buying more stuff more easily? The Wikipedia Outlook suggests some more promising futures, saying, “it is the customer who dictates how a transaction occurs”, sounds good, and “Systems and processes facilitate the customer journey to transact and be served.”, yup, and “Omnichannel is moving toward increased personalization based on analytics”, absolutely.

A development lead once said to me, “I don’t know how to define XXXX, but I know it when I see it”. So rather than labouring for a perfect omni-channel definition, I wondered whether our #flawesome mindset could help me understand what makes an omni-channel experience (and then test our toy Omni Channel Banking Holiday – OCBH - example to see if it’s really as omni as we previously suggested).

1.     So, having more than one channel in play sounds a basic requirement. And let’s be clear – it’s not just multiple transactional channels and multiple promotional channels – it’s all of them. And let’s really be clear – it’s not just when your customers are in your channels – it’s when they’re on your partners’ channels too (paid media – that includes you!)  OCBH has them in spades – mobile apps, online banking, physical branches, email, statements and paid ads. But that doesn’t sound enough – I could have a mobile app and an online page to do my banking – but that sounds more like multi-channel rather than omni.

2.     Maybe we should consider something about the channels working together? OCBH has statements reflecting what was spent in other channels – and not just my bank’s channels. Better – but still sounding like cross-channel rather than full omni – and maybe missing the spark to go beyond just transacting with my bank?

3.     For me, that ‘spark’ is the ability of what happens in one channel to influence the customer experience in some or all of the other channels, not just to support doing the same things in all these different channels. It’s about changing that experience and reflecting what has just happened in your customers’ world and what they’ve told you about their preferences, interests and circumstances from their behaviour (rather than what you think they should do). So rather than channels passively supporting transactions or aggressively blasting stuff through those channels to see what sticks – it’s more about the insights and ideas to improve what’s relevant. Again, our OCBH example was crafted to show examples of this – personalised offers in the online banking of possible holiday destinations based on what I clicked in an email, accommodation offers based on people like me, SMS when I was passing a cash machine. And talking of being smart – let’s not forget about remembering when to stay quiet and not do anything to change the customer experience – as demonstrated by my OCBH example of not getting any marketing messages while I was on holiday.

4.     As a final point, I’m thinking time matters – and in particular reflecting what’s happened in your customers’ world as soon as it becomes relevant for them. In OCBH this is both ‘now’ in the money off voucher after the wine payment had been made (while I was in the mood for wine) and the ATM location text message and also ‘later’ as in the statement showing me what happened last year and emails timed to encourage me to travel in 6 months.

Having written this – it makes me wonder whether ‘omni-channel’ is not really about channels at all (which could be a problem for a blog series titled Omni-Channel). It’s much more about how you use them in concert, how you get them to work together and how you utilise your insights on customer behaviour to improve their experience. So really omni-channel is all about how you decide what’s right for the Customer based on everything you know about them. And extending this beyond a generic ‘customer’ to ‘me in particular’ – ultimate omni-channel needs all of the channels I use (from my bank, and my phone company and my utilities and my government) to work around me!

What does omni-channel mean for you? I’d love to hear your suggestions to alistair.ewing@cometgc.com!

Alistair Ewing

Senior Consultant with the Strategy and Insight Practice

Alistair is a Senior Consultant within the Strategy and Insights practice at Comet. For the last 20 years Alistair has delivered customer decisioning, marketing and analytics solutions to some of the world’s most customer-centric organisations, including Nationwide, Royal Bank of Scotland, Merrill Lynch and TeliaSonera. Prior to joining Comet two years ago,  Alistair held senior software product positions in Pitney Bowes, Portrait and Quadstone. Then as now, Alistair’s passion is in bringing customer insight to drive excellent customer experiences.