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What is omnichannel customer service? Everything you need to know

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What if we told you that customer service could be your company’s greatest asset? That’s right - could be.

Most customers who need support still find they have to call a 1-800 number, navigate an automated menu, wait on hold for ages to speak with a human, only then to get bounced around from agent to agent. Even if the customer gets the help they need, they're likely to feel unnecessarily drained after.

In the digital age, customers expect different experiences. For example, 89% of consumers want to engage in two-way conversations with businesses via messaging channels and apps. They’re also increasingly likely to shop around in search of better experiences – ones that add value and convenience.

In the era of digital customer engagement, it just so happens that there's an unbeatable strategy for wowing customers, improving relationships, and increasing brand loyalty: omnichannel customer service.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through how you can transform your customer service with an integrated network of communication channels. Here you’ll learn everything you need to know about omnichannel customer service and how to use it to make your customer experience stand out above the rest.

Hey Siri, what is omnichannel customer service?

Omnichannel customer service means giving customers access to care and support representatives through a connected network of channels that enable two-way communications such as messaging, email, voice calls, and video chat.

Businesses that provide omnichannel customer service can deliver a seamless customer experience across multiple channels regardless of where the engagement begins or ends.

Consider this example: A customer using a rental car is having an issue with their vehicle.

  • The customer starts their interaction with the rental car company on Facebook. 
  • The rental car company responds in real-time and connects with the customer via a phone call to get more details so they can send help. 
  • From social media messaging to a phone call to text notifications sent after the call, agents are aware of the chat history across channels, and the customer never has to repeat themselves. 
  • The issue is resolved promptly, leaving the customer with a strong and satisfied impression of the company. 
  • Next time the customer needs a rental car, they know who they can trust.  

It’s easy to see the value in this experience through the customer’s eyes. So, how do you create similar experiences for your customers?

You’ve got a plan for responding to customers on social media, in addition to your contact center operations, and you’re set up to text and email your customers – you’re ready for omnichannel, right?

Well, not quite. Let’s dive into the difference between omnichannel and multichannel customer service. 

Omnichannel vs. multichannel customer service

Illustration shows the differences between multichannel and omnichannel customer service

You may be asking, isn’t “omnichannel” just a fancy word for multiple communication mediums? The answer is, not exactly.

Let’s look at the distinction between multichannel customer service and omnichannel customer service.

Multichannel customer service:

  • Provides customers with multiple communication channels. However, the conversations on these channels aren’t connected.
  • In practice, customers can contact support via SMS, chatbots, or phone, but they can’t start a conversation in one channel and continue it where they left off in another.  

Omnichannel customer service:

  • Unites every communication channel that customers use to connect with your business.
  • In practice, a customer’s communication history is carried from channel to channel. This lets agents provide more informed and personalized support through a seamless, interconnected experience.

Let’s say a customer is having a technical issue with a new widget that they’ve purchased from Widget Corp. They need to contact customer service for support.

Scenario A: Widget Corp. offers multichannel customer service. 

  • They go to the company website and message a chatbot for support. 
  • The AI chatbot determines that a human agent is needed for this particular problem. 
  • The customer is instructed to call the customer support number and has to start all over explaining their situation once they reach a live representative. 

While this process may resolve their problem, it’s not necessarily the best customer service experience.

Scenario B: Widget Corp. has robust omnichannel customer service. 

  • They start a conversation with a chatbot. The chatbot determines the problem requires the help of a live agent and asks if the next available representative can contact them via SMS, email, video, or phone call. 
  • They prefer speaking person-to-person and choose a phone call. 
  • Within minutes, a representative calls them, already aware of their purchase history and the details about the issue they’re experiencing from the chatbot conversation, picking up exactly where they left. 

See the difference? That’s what makes omnichannel customer service special – you’re giving customers more options to steer their experiences in ways that work best for them. At the same time, you remove friction and redundancy, generating maximum value for each customer by design.

What makes omnichannel customer service so great?

Illustration shows how omnichannel customer service benefits customers and businesses

In business, true win-win scenarios can be rare. How often do two parties benefit equally from a transaction? In the case of omnichannel customer service, the answer is: all the time.

Customer benefits from omnichannel experiences

The omnichannel customer service experience makes life easier. No matter their need, customers benefit from:  

  • Frictionless customer service engagements that deliver help immediately
  • Hyper-personalized experiences, so customers get exactly what they need

Increasingly, businesses are using data from omnichannel interactions to better understand customer pain points. And as businesses develop new products and services to meet the changing needs of their clientele, customers win again!

Businesses also benefit from omnichannel communication

For businesses, omnichannel communication could be the Holy Grail of operational efficiency. When integrated networks and data are used effectively, businesses can unlock a powerful combination of superior customer service and intelligent solutions. Here’s how.

Through omnichannel communication businesses can:

  • Deliver more value with personalized customer support
  • Resolve customer issues faster
  • Identify new opportunities to satisfy customer needs at scale
  • Quickly add new communication channels and innovate support options

These all add up to more satisfying and efficient customer service, which leads to:

  • Greater customer loyalty and reduced churn 
  • Higher ROI through maximized contact center productivity and reduced costs

If all that sounds appealing, let’s dive into how you can create a winning omnichannel customer service strategy.

Creating an omnichannel customer service strategy

Illustration show the three most important ways to implement an omnichannel customer service strategy

Trust is everything in business. Unsurprisingly, 87% of customers avoid buying from brands they don’t trust. Simply showing up and responding can go a long way to earning the trust of customers and this is where brands fall short.

New research from Sinch showed that 53% – more than half – of consumers had been frustrated when they couldn’t reply to a mobile message from a business, and nearly one in four said it takes a day or longer to get a reply from brands in social channels. 

The takeaway here is that businesses need to keep up and meet customers where they are at – it’s time to invest in providing great customer care and support across every channel. 

Here’s how to create an omnichannel customer service strategy that builds trust through responsive, efficient, and personalized communications.

1. Prioritize the customer journey from start to finish

The customer journey doesn’t end at the point of sale. To foster brand loyalty, your customer service strategy should go beyond purchases and customer support to cover the entire customer lifecycle.

 Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Upgrade your organization’s communication capabilities so your support team always has full context of the customer’s engagement history 
  • Transform operations to resolve customer issues more efficiently and connect customers with live agents faster 
  • Pass on cost savings to the customer to strengthen your relationships

2. Enable experiences that move seamlessly across channels

With so many great ways to connect with your customers, limiting possible touchpoints is like tying one hand behind your back and trying to juggle.

It can also lead customers to frustrating detours and dead ends. For example, 95% of consumers say they want chatbots to transfer them to a live representative when extra support is needed, but, according to a new IDC white paper, only 35% of businesses support this experience.

Instead, consider:

  • Using chat apps, SMS, email, rich messaging, mobile apps, and web chat to respond more immediately to customers’ needs
  • Developing cross-channel workflows for engagements that increase flexibility and deliver better outcomes for both your business and its customers

Integrating all of these elements together creates an omnichannel customer experience with value greater than the sum of its individual parts.

3. Use new technologies to optimize communications

Finding a communications platform as a service (CPaaS) provider is the next step to making great customer experiences happen. If you’re unfamiliar, CPaaS offers the best of both communications and cloud computing technologies. 

Integrating CPaaS with your existing CRM, call center, and other data platforms, helps you:

  • Build real-time customer communications into your existing mobile apps and websites
  • Manage workflows across new and existing channels
  • Support intelligent case routing and personalized interactions

With CPaaS, all your data from customer conversations goes through a single “central nervous system” that offers a wealth of insights. And you can use that data within your CPaaS analytics and automation tools to further enhance customer experiences through:

  • Quality management
  • Lead management
  • Compliance
  • Campaign optimization

With a powerful CPaaS platform quarterbacking your conversational data and workflows, you’ll find new ways to deliver memorable customer experiences.

Omnichannel customer service use cases and examples 

In recent years, B2B and B2C businesses alike have started implementing omnichannel customer service.

You’ve probably witnessed how big-box retailers like Target and Amazon are developing their own mobile apps, email, and personalized messaging campaigns to enhance shopping experiences.

When you receive a “Recommended for you” notification or an update that a product you browsed is on sale — that’s omnichannel customer service in action!

Let’s take a look at how specific industries are enhancing customer service with omnichannel communications.

Banks and financial services

Customers need to know they can trust businesses with their money and personal data. Digital banking solutions and verification APIs provide customers with anytime-anywhere access while protecting their accounts and information.

Institutions like FirstBank that use omnichannel customer support are seeing their investment pay dividends. With the adoption of SMS solutions, they:

  • Send customers notifications about their accounts, transactions, and security alerts
  • Engage with customers by offering different freebies, including free lunches, treats, and services

On-demand services

The rise of apps that offer on-demand services has raised the bar for customer convenience worldwide. These days, anything a customer needs is just a few clicks away on their mobile phone. It makes sense that customers expect brands to offer similar access to their own on-demand services.

American Automobile Association (AAA), for example, had offered reliable roadside assistance for over a century. When customers’ communication habits changed, AAA was missing messages from people in need of help: Members were texting AAA’s 800-HELP line, but it was only set up for phone calls.

AAA transformed its roadside assistance to adapt to its customers' preferred ways of communicating. They text-enabled their toll-free number to respond with a web link so customers could more easily request roadside assistance.

With this simple integration, AAA’s new customer service capabilities resulted in:

  • Nearly 10,000 monthly inbound text messages to the 800-HELP toll-free number
  • An 8% conversion rate from inbound text to a service request
  • A soft cost savings of over $30,000 a month

It's easy to see how unified communication networks can benefit businesses while making customers happy.

Retail and e-commerce businesses

In retail and e-commerce, personalized experiences help brands stand out. In fact, over 80% of consumers say they're more likely to buy from a brand that tailors experiences to their needs and interests.

Using tools like conversational AI, brands can engage customers in real-time conversations and provide personalized support at scale 24/7. The results? 

  • 30–50% increase in conversions 

  • 20–80% reduction in the cost of customer care 

  • 3X increase in NPS scores

Clearly, customers respond well when brands go the extra mile to meet their needs! 

Start delivering a first-class omnichannel customer experience

Now that we’ve covered the many benefits and applications of omnichannel customer service (can you tell we’re big fans?), you can put it to work for your business.

If you’re interested in taking your customer service to the next level and fast-tracking an omnichannel transformation, start with Sinch’s Conversation API — it supports messaging across 13 channels, and we add new channels as they become available!