What omnichannel really means

By Dan Levy, Content Marketing and Editorial Strategy , @danjl

Published February 1, 2018
Last updated August 31, 2020

This was originally published on the Smooch blog. You can learn more about Zendesk acquiring Smooch here.

Plenty of companies today boast about providing "omnichannel" experiences but what they usually mean is simply “multi-channel.”

Multi-channel means being everywhere your customers are. That’s table stakes. Omnichannel means going a step further and providing a consistent communications journey for your customer, one where the conversation history and context travels with them from channel to channel.

Omnichannel and multichannel are different. Omnichannel is better.

Context — about who your customer is, where they’re coming from and what they’ve talked to you about in the past — is crucial for delivering the sort of messaging experiences customers have grown accustomed to in their personal lives.

But context is frustratingly tricky to maintain in a world of countless disconnected communication channels, from chat apps like Facebook Messenger, WeChat and WhatsApp, to email, SMS, mobile and web chat, not to mention the growing legion of voice assistants.

While it’s tempting for businesses to view the proliferation of channels as an inconvenience, the truth is, not all channels are created equal. In real life, a crowded bar might be a good place to start a conversation but it's nice to be able to move somewhere quieter for more privacy.

In other words, every conversation has its proper place. True omnichannel means giving businesses the ability to talk to the right customers, in the right place, without sacrificing context along the way.

Keep context at the center of every conversation

In 2016, we introduced the ability for end-users to move conversations from Sunshine Conversation’s Web Messenger to a more mobile-friendly channel like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Viber, Telegram or SMS with the click of a button.

Transferring between channels, like web chat to Facebook Messenger, is possible with the Sunshine Conversations web messenger SDK

Today we’re giving businesses the tools to invite users to move a conversation to a channel that is better suited to the topic at hand.

By posting a link or call to action into the conversation, businesses can invite customers to join them on a more secure channel, a cheaper channel, one with a richer experience or one that’s simply more convenient for the user.

This new set of APIs allows businesses to easily transfer the conversation from a chat app to in-app or web chat, from an email to SMS — or any other combination that makes sense. In fact businesses can provide customers with a set of choices for where they'd like to continue the conversation or get notified of a reply later on.

As always with Sunshine Conversations, when the conversation moves, the chat history and context moves with it, so both the business and its users benefit from a single, continuous, cross-channel conversation thread. Meanwhile, the user’s identity is unified in the business’ software, allowing brands to provide a truly omnichannel and personalized experience.

When companies know who they’re talking to and what information that customer (or prospect) has already shared with them, they can resolve issues faster, deliver more personalized experiences and better identify opportunities to satisfy customers, reduce churn or increase revenue.

It's a better experience for everyone.

Change the channel, continue the conversation

It’s not difficult to imagine why customers and businesses would be interested in having seamless conversations across channels, but it’s perhaps less obvious why they would proactively move a conversation from, say, Facebook Messenger to their own mobile app, or from their website to WeChat.

Here are a few scenarios where changing channels might come in handy:

  1. When businesses want to authenticate customers to perform sensitive operations

    Consumer chat apps like Facebook Messenger and WeChat are great because they’re so accessible, but sometimes brands need to have private conversations with their customers.

    Let’s say you’re a bank or insurance company and need to authenticate your user before exchanging sensitive information. Using a call to action, you can prompt the customer to sign in to your own mobile app and continue the conversation there.

  2. When a user wants to be notified that the business has replied to their message on a more convenient channel

    Let’s say someone is browsing your business’ website and pings you with a question via your custom web messenger. Maybe your agent isn’t able to answer right away or maybe the user has a little back-and-forth with a bot, but has to run before the issue is resolved.

    Rather than hang around your website, the customer would probably prefer to receive a notification via Messenger (or email or SMS) when you’ve replied to their message.

    Most web messengers prompt users to enter their email address, but in the modern messaging age it’s nice to give customers more options. And if the customer is available to keep chatting, they can do so on the new channel without skipping a beat.

  3. When businesses want to move the conversation to a channel that costs less or to provide a better user experience

    Being wherever your customers are is important, but that doesn’t mean channels are interchangeable. Chat apps offer richer user experiences than SMS and they’re also free (depending on the country, SMS costs can really add up for businesses and consumers alike).

    Email conversations may beat phone calls by a longshot but they don’t hold a candle to the rich messaging experiences users have come to know and love. And in some cases, the secure, branded environment of a business’ mobile app or web chat may be the best place for a conversation to flourish.

    No matter the case, Sunshine Conversations lets you move a conversation from email, to web messenger, to messaging app to SMS with the click of a button. You never lose track of who the customer is, where they came from and why they came to you in the first place. Because that context is precious.

  4. When a business doesn’t want third-party platforms eavesdropping on the conversation

    Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Twitter — these channels are great for discovery, but they’re still Facebook’s Messenger, Tencent’s WeChat and Twitter’s Twitter. Many businesses aren’t keen on sharing conversations with the Big Tech companies for them to mine and monetize.

    Now you can engage customers on a popular platform and then get down to business on a more private one.

Bring true omnichannel conversations to your enterprise software

Over the past few years, there’s been a ton of hype around messaging technology and how it's transforming the customer experience. But the fragmented nature of the space makes it complicated for businesses to harness the full potential of messaging.

With Zendesk, you can turn the promise of truly omnichannel experience into reality.