Few would argue with the fact that organizations committed to delivering exceptional customer experiences need to be where their customers are.

The challenge is that only 30% consistently serve customers in their preferred channel – even with access to unprecedented technology and a host of customer experience tools at their disposal.

So, what gives?

Omnichannel has been one of the most talked about industry terms in the customer experience space. As evidence, consider the thousands of articles talking about how omnichannel customer experience is the key to the future. If that’s true then why aren’t nearly enough organizations investing in omnichannel?

Omnichannel customer experience isn’t some future state or a far-off goal to strive for. In today’s world customers are already everywhere and they already demand service anytime and anywhere they want.

The rules for customer experience aren’t changing. They’ve already changed.

Omnichannel isn’t about tomorrow – it’s about today.

So how does a customer-centric organization go about managing all these new and legacy channels simultaneously?

Spoiler alert: Unlike the multi-channel model of the past, it’s not simply by being on every single channel.

What omnichannel is NOT

First, it’s worth understanding what the term “omnichannel” even means in terms of customer experience. Many organizations boast about providing omnichannel experiences when what they actually deliver is “multichannel” support.

When these people usually talk about omnichannel, they’re often referring to “every channel.” They’re thinking about the latest digital channel like WhatsApp or Apple Business Chat and how quickly they can deploy that channel to their customer base.

But here’s what they’re missing: omnichannel is not actually about how many channels you offer. It’s a big-picture shift in how companies work, as well as what customers want.

In short, it’s how seamless experiences, not channels, are changing the entire service and support landscape, from the front desk to the backend.

What omnichannel ACTUALLY is

A true omnichannel strategy brings all of your customer service channels – live chat, ticketing, knowledge base, social media, phone – together in one unified brand experience.

Giving customers access to all of your service channels is, however, only your first step into the omnichannel foray. The second is making sure these channels don’t exist in silos so the customer journey is fully visible.

That’s the hallmark of true omnichannel customer experience, one that every CX software vendor should help bring to life.

How do you know if you’re really omnichannel?

Start with your customers’ perspective: no matter how they reach out to you, can you see their whole story? Are your customer service agents able to pick up the conversation with confidence because they can see the complete history, context, and relevant customer data? When properly executed, omnichannel customer experience is all-knowing, all-showing.

Image credits to Dispatch.me

As shown above, multichannel is simply the presence of more than one communication channel, without any meaningful connection between them and no easy way for agents to be aware of conversations in different channels. That means they will struggle to keep pace with today’s channel-jumping customers who expect them to follow along.

The beauty of omnichannel is that it’s not just fulfilling what modern customers want and need from organizations, it also provides businesses with a treasure trove of contextual customer data.

Who your customers are, where they’re coming from, what kind of queries they pose, or what they’ve bought from you in past – all of this information is available at your fingertips with a true omnichannel platform.

A true omnichannel experience leverages and maintains context across channels, so that no matter where a customer reaches out to you, it feels like one continuous conversation.

Think: Isabelle just upgraded from a free trial of your software to a Business plan. She’s not sure how certain features in this new plan work so she fires off a quick email over to your support team and your agent, Shirley, sends over a ‘Quick Start Guide.’

The next day she reads through it and there’s a line that doesn’t quite resonate with her. She jumps on your live chat to ask her quick question only to be greeted with a ‘Hi there, my name is Jason. Please enter your name, current software plan, location, and your query.’

Imagine if you needed to re-introduce yourself to somebody every single time you talk to them instead of picking up where you left off. While starting from scratch every time you talk to someone sounds redundant and ridiculous, that’s unfortunately a normalized customer service standard today. But it shouldn’t be.

It’s frustrating for Isabelle to repeat herself and it’s inefficient for Jason. Above all, it’s a waste of everybody’s time. A true omnichannel experience would either route Isabelle back to the agent who sent her the quick start guide or provide the new agent with her complete history.

Breaking down silos once and for all

If you’re using five different types of software to connect agents with customers, you are at risk of creating a negative customer experience.

Without connecting the dots and providing a unified customer view across all of those channels, you’ll quickly find your data trapped in silos – frustrating your customers and limiting your ability to take full advantage of the data you already have.

A true omnichannel platform allows you to talk to customers at the right time and place without sacrificing context. It allows Shirley to start a conversation with Isabelle and for Jason to seamlessly pick up the chat in a different channel the next day.

On the backend, it would also allow both Shirley and Jason to easily authenticate Isabelle so you can provide fully personalized experiences to your customers without the risk of any security breaches.

Most importantly, it would enable customers to connect on any channel without starting from square one. Regardless of scenario, a true omnichannel experience empowers your customers to engage with you on their terms.

You’re only as good as the tools you have

You may be philosophically and culturally committed to delivering the best possible customer experience, but you won’t be operationally ready until you’re omnichannel-equipped. Getting there will involve some challenging technical considerations, but you cannot let them get in the way.

Behind every great omnichannel customer experience is a great omnichannel platform that enables your business to give the kind of service your customers want and need.

Omnichannel is not some far-off future state; it’s the fully realizable reality of today’s customer experience landscape. Ask your customer experience software vendors what they’re doing to help break down silos and make omnichannel a reality.

Originally published here.