Signal to Noise: The Evolution of Omnichannel

Omni-channel contact options are widely considered to be the future of customer service. Omni-channel is the reason that organizations ask for a mobile number, email address, home number, business number, fax number, invite users to visit their website and to install apps on their smartphones.

The intention is to give users the information that they require through their preferred medium, which is admirable. Unfortunately, many adoptions of omni-channel have a sort of “buckshot” approach. When the organization wants to contact a user, emails, SMS, phone calls, follow up phone calls, follow up emails and push notifications will bombard them.

This sort of thing was probably a lot less noticeable before the digital revolution, because users wouldn’t get notified that they were receiving all this information simultaneously. A mailer might arrive any time over the course of several days. A phone call might not get to its intended recipient until the call-centre caught them in the house at the right time. Checking email was a daily ritual rather than a live experience. Each message would arrive as a little reminder of the previous ones.

End to end process

Now, with a smartphone; every single one of these attempts to contact you can be simultaneous, instant and reach you anywhere in the world. Instead of a few gentle prods and whispers, you are treated to a harmonious scream.

The most obvious reason for this is that these omni-channel communications have been strapped on to the regular methods with no thought as to how it was going to impact the customer’s experience. The customer experience wasn’t designed at all, it accumulated over time in a pile-up of redundant systems and exciting new innovations that were implemented to chase the current trend.

It is simple, when gathering the information required to contact customers through an omni-channel set-up, to ask them one more very simple question; which channel would you prefer to be contacted by? While self-reporting is never going to be 100% accurate and a user’s preferences will invariably shift with time and familiarity with the alternatives, it can at least give a hint as to what the primary mode of communication should be at the beginning of that customer’s experience.

Communication is a two-way street, so a vital component of a good omni-channel experience is providing users with a means of responding to messages that they receive within those same channels. If they receive an email, they should be able to respond to it by email. If they receive an update through an app, there should be a chat channel or at least an FAQ to handle any follow up questions. Of course, the system is also going to require a degree of adaptability based on the situation. Users prefer to resolve simple enquiries through self-service systems, while more complex issues will require a phone-call.

vitruvian man representing the many different channels companies use to reach out to their customers

On a similar note, even if a user has stated a preference for telephone communication, a responsive omni-channel system will take other factors into account, emailing step-by-step instructions for technical problems or simply emailing a response because that was the method that the user made contact with. Beyond that you get into the minutiae; if an email is opened on a smart-phone then offering the user the option to communicate back through sms, chat, a dedicated app or a call might be the best option – and all of that can change based on the information about the users’ communication preferences that are collected over the course of the relationship.

Getting rid of a legacy system and replacing it with a bespoke set-up designed to serve the customers information in a more constructive way can seem like a daunting task, but with a dedicated inhouse UX team or a UX consultancy to guide you through the process, you can transform a pain-point that customers are coming to dread into a smooth and seamless experience.

Director of Design Research

Sutherland Labs
Profile Image - Simon Herd

View other blog posts by Simon