The Difference Between Multichannel and Omnichannel Contact Centers

If you could increase your customer retention by 91%, would you do it? Learn what a difference having an omnichannel contact center can make to your business.

Learn More

The Difference Between Multichannel and Omnichannel Contact Centers

According to research from Aberdeen, companies who provide an omnichannel customer experience achieve a 91% higher year-over-year increase in customer retention, compared to organizations who don’t provide an omnichannel experience. With compelling statistics like that, it sure seems like providing an omnichannel experience should be a high priority for businesses, right? And yet, it’s not that simple. A 2016 survey found that companies rank “omnichannel” as the second biggest challenge facing their contact center, after people and processes.

Why is it so challenging? And what does omnichannel mean, anyway? If your business is engaging with customers on multiple channels, like email and inbound phone calls, are you already offering an omnichannel customer experience, or is it a multichannel experience? Are they really that different?

Companies often confuse the terms “multichannel” and “omnichannel.” Let’s clarify the difference.

What is a Multichannel Contact Center?

The literal translation of “multi” is “many,” so multichannel refers to many channels. Companies that connect with customers in their contact center via multiple channels, such as email, social media, web chat, and telephone, can be said to have a multichannel contact center. However, just because a customer can connect with your contact center via multiple channels does not mean that their experience is seamless.

An agent who connects with a customer in a multichannel contact center by phone may not have any information about that customer’s previous interactions on another channel. Often in a multichannel contact center, channels are siloed — agents can’t see the context from interactions customers had on other channels.

What is an Omnichannel Contact Center?

The literal translation of “omni” is “all,” so omnichannel refers to all channels. An omnichannel contact center isn’t necessarily operating on all possible channels of communication that exist (in today’s technology landscape, these are constantly changing), but it means that all of the channels it does operate on are connected and integrated to provide a seamless customer experience.

For example, a customer may be browsing a company’s website and ask a few questions via the website’s chat option. After chatting with an agent, the customer may go on their way but come back to the website one week later. This time, the customer selects the click-to-call option to receive a call back from an agent. When the agent calls the customer, the agent can see a log of the customer’s previous chat conversation, as well as information about the customer’s visits to the company website including the products they are interested in. The customer doesn’t have to get the new agent up to speed—the agent can just jump right in and help the customer have a great experience.

In this omnichannel contact center example, if the customer has further contact with the company in the future, via email, in-app messaging, SMS, or any other channel, the agent on the other line will continue the customer’s journey from wherever it left off last time. This level of continuity is what sets omnichannel communications apart from multichannel communications. Omnichannel contact centers provide agents with the information they need to provide truly top-notch, personalized customer service.

omnichannel contact center

Customer Experience: It’s All About Context

When we refer to context, we're specifically referring to the customer’s personal information, interaction history, and all other aspects of the customer journey being available to the agent during a service or sales interaction. When your agents know who your customers are, what they’re looking for, and what they’ve already spoken to another agent about, they can give better service, faster. Context saves your customers from having to repeat themselves and ultimately contributes to a superior customer experience.

Context helps everyone: agents, customers, and businesses. Customers receive a better communication experience, which in turn leads to higher retention, positive recommendations, and further purchases down the road. Agents receive higher customer satisfaction scores and meet their targets more easily. But providing context to your contact center agents isn’t as easy as it sounds. Transferring context from one communication channel to the next doesn’t work with just any contact center technology. Legacy systems and siloed software systems can’t do this.

Customer Example: CarFinance 247

CarFinance 247 is the UK’s largest online car finance broker. They receive over 580,000 visits each month from potential buyers looking to secure financing and make a used car purchase. Their agents help thousands of people get approved for financing and find a car online each week, with a typical sales cycle of only nine days.

But things haven’t always worked so smoothly for the company. Prior to discovering Twilio, CarFinance 247’s contact center was powered by an on-premise VOIP solution that ran over ISDN lines. Their agents spoke to customers using cell phones connected via USB cables to their desktops. The system was rife with problems that their developers couldn’t fix, and they also couldn’t make additions to the system. They weren’t able to use the rich data they continually collected in their internal CRM. And worst of all, they frequently received complaints from customers about missed calls and long wait times.

carfinance247 contact center

When they embarked on their journey to solve these problems and build a better contact center, a number of vendors promised solutions based on out-of-the-box premise-based systems. Ultimately, after seeing how well Twilio worked for a partner company, CarFinance 247 decided to build their own contact center solution using Twilio APIs.

CarFinance 247’s Experience with Twilio APIs

It didn’t take their developers long to build an omnichannel contact center powered by Twilio TaskRouter, Programmable Chat, Voice, SMS, and Sync. For the first time, the company could see the number of calls, chat requests, and texts in the queue, route those contacts to the correct agents, and give their agents the full transparency and context that wasn’t possible with their previous system.

CarFinance 247’s new contact center reduced their initial contact time by 85% and led to a 20% reduction in payout time (time from initial contact to receipt of financing). Agents were immediately able to answer more than 100 additional calls per day with a 12% uplift in conversion. Although the company will always continue to connect with their customers by voice, they found that their customers really value being able to connect via other channels—the way they communicate with their friends and family. Today, nearly half of CarFinance 247’s customers communicate with the company via SMS or chat.

CarFinance 247 decided the best way for them to provide a superior customer experience was to allocate each customer to a specific agent each time they make contact. When this isn’t possible, the customer is connected to another agent on the same team. The system they built relies on Twilio TaskRouter to connect customers to the right agent. Twilio Sync allows agents to see exactly what customers are doing in real-time (co-browsing), such as what car they’re searching for or what financing options they’re looking at on the website. Armed with this context, agents can help customers find exactly what they’re looking for, faster.

Legacy Call Centers are Blocked by Limited Technology

Perhaps you can relate to CarFinance 247’s struggle before they made the switch to an API-based contact center. Have you wanted add new channels of communication, like web chat, text messaging, or video chat, to your company contact center for a while? But when you looked into adding features like SMS to your existing call center infrastructure, maybe you realized it’s not that straightforward. You might need a third-party SMS provider, and another to handle integration. Before you know it, you’re looking at a lengthy implementation cycle and talking about ripping and replacing existing software and hardware.

Many businesses find themselves in this quandary. Up to 40 percent of contact center managers say that their IT doesn’t meet current needs, with 80 percent saying current systems won’t meet future needs, according to Dimension Data’s 2015 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report. Existing infrastructure can become a major a roadblock to keeping up with changing user behavior and emerging channels. There must be an easier way, right?

The Omnichannel Contact Center

Your contact center should be accessible to your customers on all the channels they use, with integrated context for a seamless experience. Any system with limited features that requires a lengthy configuration process and restricts integration with other platforms will not provide you the agility needed to compete in an omnichannel world. And when customer experience directly correlates to a healthier bottom line, there’s an ever greater need to build these features into your current platform.

APIs offer a new approach to building contact centers that does not require ‘rip and replace’ or expensive systems integration. Instead, it gives you the flexibility to augment iteratively, and create a better customer experience, feature by feature. By leveraging the liberating flexibility of API technology, you can give your team the power to create better customer experiences.

There's also a new omnichannel option on the market: the programmable contact center platform. Twilio Flex gives companies instant access to every customer-facing channel and provides contextual data to create an effortless customer experience. This omnichannel contact center features a single interface for multiple channels—SMS, phone calls, in-app chat, email, messaging apps, social apps, home assistants, and more—and eliminates the need to maintain separate integrations or interfaces.

With Flex, adding a new channel is as easy as a few clicks, allowing businesses to easily experiment and try out new channels. If a company needs a channel that’s custom to their business, they can roll it out without difficulty. And when new channels are released, companies gain instant access.

Intelligent Omnichannel Routing

In an omnichannel contact center, intelligent routing matches customers with the best agent based on skills and proficiencies. Agents see context from a customer’s entire journey on a unified desktop with data from multiple channels and business systems. Agents switch effortlessly between channels, such as from a phone call to video to chat, all within a single UI. This intelligent contact center gives businesses complete ownership of their customer interaction data across channels to set their agents up for success.

Armed with the power to communicate with customers on their preferred channels, the ability to add custom channels as needed, and the visibility into the entire customer journey, businesses with an intelligent omnichannel contact center stay ahead of communication trends instead of struggling to catch up.