Omnichannel, ooh that sounds fancy doesn’t it? Well, if the agency are using those words then I must be getting value for money? In the old days (and maybe still today) agencies used to proactively play buzzword bingo – you write up a list pre meeting of buzz words and tick off those ‘cooler than you’ words as you dropped them in a client meeting, The winner, would then have to construct a final sentence using the word ‘bingo’ without the client picking up on it. Seriously, it happened.

Anyhow the word omnichannel keeps coming up, but its just one of those words that just doesn’t roll off the tongue. When heard, the protocol is just to politely nod, whilst at the same time thinking why didn’t the speaker just say multichannel because that’s what they meant.

The thing is that they’re completely different. Multichannel has become more commonplace with the emergence of multiple digital and social media channels. Loosely speaking, multichannel means that your customer has access to you via multiple touch points. For example, the local gym may reach you via local press and posters initially, then perhaps through data capture via email or text, and then perhaps remarketing to you via those google ad boxes telling you how you need to get in shape every time you read Sky News – or maybe that’s just me 🙂

In response to this, many companies sprung up various departments to meet the customer needs. Specialist teams dedicated to resolving customer service matters, with expertise in communicating in those channels.

Sounds great so far, right? Well, here’s the problem. It doesn’t work. Let me give you an example that happened to me yesterday.

Now, I’m a loyal customer of a certain red brand of mobile phone network. In fact I’ve been on the same number for 25+ years, and never strayed (apart from a small fidelity issue with the unlimited calls, minutes and texts worldwide from 3, and the need for an iPhone). You see, I’m the last man on the planet using a blackberry. I’m simply hooked on those little black keys and the ability to bang out a quick book or two whilst the average iPhone user is deleting and autocorrecting every 4 seconds. So finally when they announce a new one, this time on Android I could hardly contain my kid like excitement. However one week later disaster struck and the device simply didn’t power up at all. I pressed all the buttons , but alas it was dead. So, I called my network provider, as you do.

The issue was that I had migrated my personal account over to the company name two weeks ago. Under the business team, they had no record of my upgrade three weeks before instore and as a personal customer. 20 minutes of fruitless search later, they divert back to the personal team who i was under then, who would no doubt help me as it was on their watch and their job to replace the handset. Another 20 minutes later (a further 5 in security – why do they do that thing where they ask you to enter the mobile number you’re calling from and then ask you in person again for it? How to have tech and fail to execute?!!), we establish that my account has been wiped and no records longer exist since I migrated to the business team. 20 minutes more later I’m reconnected to the business team, who tell me the only way they can help is with the serial number of the phone, which they want me to find. Press, this that the other and it will come up on the screen – brilliant – if the phone worked in the first place to do that I wouldn’t be on the phone to them! The impasse that now confronts me is that neither department can actually help me. I’m caught in the middle of the machine, and no has authority to apply the common sense solution i just simply crave – a phone that works!

And this is where i get to the problem with multichannel – multi channel business’s scale their organisations to deal with customers across different channels. I, however am not a multi channel customer, i am simply a customer. I don’t think in touch points and how i interact with you. I expect you to treat me the same regardless of the channel. I have a problem and use my prerogative to engage how i want with them. JE SUIS OMNICHANNEL.

Multi channel has created siloed thinking where there are gaps in the customer journey, and walled gardens with limits on what the customer service team can do, and it needs to change – and fast. Customer data simply isn’t being shared amongst teams , and technology isn’t being joined up.

How refreshing however, to visit a client premises a couple of weeks ago – positive naming and shaming now – Rank Group – who are deploying an omni channel call centre. Each call centre agent is being skilled to work across social, web and telephony channels and treat customers simply as people. I am sure from what I have been privileged to see that they will excel in performance from this adoption alone.

In conclusion, more brands need to start treating their customers as people not data, using technology to gather data and use that data smartly to interact with them or they will fast head into the abyss of customer retention disaster.

And finally, in case you’re curious, a bright young chap in the local store, managed to reboot the phone, and I only managed to get ‘bingo’ once !

PS. You can play yourself at bit.ly/Ik5Shd if you’re looking for a social strategy.

Sent from my Blackberry, of course!