What does “omnichannel” really mean? And is it a viable strategy for customer experience professionals?

For customer experience professionals, omnichannel — the popular buzzword used to describe a company’s efforts to wrangle a consistent experience across all channels — is already legacy thinking that represents a limited approach for designing and delivering services. Instead of thinking about all channels, companies should focus on designing content and services delivered in specific touchpoints — the touchpoints that align with customer needs and the business' strategic goals.

This requires new thinking about the ways that customers interact. Companies must:

  1. Understand target customers and their real goals. Using ethnography and other exploratory techniques, customer experience professionals can get to the bottom of how customers operate and what they really care about, which ultimately determines what they need and where they need it. 
  2. Design services first. In a recent conversation with a large financial institution, we learned that the bank does not have separate touchpoint teams. Instead, it has a deposit team, for example, responsible for all related services and deployed appropriately across relevant touchpoints.
  3. Deliver in the right touchpoints for target customers. Giffgaff, for example, doesn’t have phone support. Its model is based on an active community populated by a very specific type of user.
  4. Create seamless transitions. One of the benefits of designing services and not channels is the ability to connect the dots for customers across touchpoints. Firms need to combine continuity of memory and experience to deliver seamless experiences that transcend channels.
  5. Measure customer journeys. A unified experience can’t be measured touchpoint by touchpoint. That’s why companies need to take a journey-based approach not only to designing services but also to measuring them.

As we move forward into a world of pervasive connectivity and new ways of interacting that go beyond point-and-click, beyond chrome, and beyond screens, we need to evolve our thinking away from channels. In the end, omnichannel is a limited approach that doesn’t go far enough in putting customers at the center of the business. Customer experience professionals need to deliver holistic experiences that transcend channels.