Multichannel, omnichannel and multimodality – what does it all mean??

As technology moves forward at an increasingly rapid pace, new channels of communication continue to  emerge that allow organisations and customers to interact on multiple new levels. Gone are the days of frustrated customers shuffling agitatedly in the queue for the Customer Liaison Representative and arriving at the desk disheartened, disgruntled and in anticipation of disappointment.

Scenarios like this instil negative feelings of the brand in the customer. As we know, bad news travels fast, with 75% of the general population saying they would share a negative experience with friends and family members and only 42% saying they would recommend a product or service they particularly like (Colloquy).

Traditional call centres were comprised of banks of operators taking endless calls from aggravated customers which usually involved transferring the caller to a supervisor or an alternative department. Result? A painful and drawn out exchange. Thankfully, these call centres of the past are (mostly) long gone. Today’s contact centres are specialist operations that manage all manner of questions and queries via different platforms and channels to provide a holistic journey for the customer. We all know that excellent customer service can have a huge influence on people’s buying habits so getting it right is more important than ever, and with new practices emerging daily, there are many ways to do so. The key is to keep customer effort as low as possible; a customer wants two key outcomes from a customer service interaction. Number one is, to have their issue resolved at first contact, also called First Call Resolution (FCR) and number two, for the interaction to require minimum effort. This means providing the channel that is most convenient for them, which of course varies from person to person.


Over the last ten years, we have seen a total overhaul in the way companies handle their customer service operations. The introduction of multichannel services means that the customer can communicate when they want, how they want and using whichever device they are most comfortable with – and that they feel will yield them the quickest resolution.

So what is multichannel?

Multichannel communication describes the many different channels available for customers to interact with businesses. Brands are now expected to offer a choice of platform for the consumer to communicate through, with more positive customer retention and satisfaction scores for those who do offer a range of options. More traditional customer service channels such as web chat, telephone, email and SMS are classed as assisted services because they generally involve a customer interacting directly with a customer service advisor. Self-service options include FAQs, Google and mobile apps which allow customers to find their own resolution. The latest type of service is via social media. We are seeing consumers using social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and youtube, to communicate directly with suppliers and services providers.

In the customer service industry, the most common channels are telephone, email, live chat, social media, apps and post. While the telephone is still the most used, live chat is showing the highest rates of satisfaction according to econsultancy, due to the immediate and accurate responses generally given by this media and that it allows customers to continue with other tasks while the conversation is going on.


Using multichannel communication methods enables organisations to converse with their customers in a way that best suits them. In itself, this will build confidence in the brand and strengthen the relationship. Consumers who are able to speak with a company on their terms will be more likely to return and recommend the service or product to friends and family.


An organisation offering multichannel may be able to offer a wide variety of platforms for their customers to communicate via, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily talking to each other internally. This can make for a frustrating experience if the customer has already interacted with the company via other channels. While multichannel allows a variety of communication levels; omnichannel takes customer experience to the next level by joining up these service delivery methods and creating an integrated customer journey. By doing this, organisations can hold one conversation through multiple channels making for a seamless experience. An example of well executed omnichannel experience might go a little something like this:

On her lunch break, Beth goes in store to purchase a sofa. She orders and pays for the sofa and is given a delivery slot for the following week. Upon returning to the office, Beth has an invoice email from the sofa store which she files in her personal folder. The following morning, Beth receives a client meeting request for the next week, which clashes with her delivery time for her new sofa! Beth calls customer services and re-schedules the delivery for another time. Perfect! On the morning of the scheduled delivery, Beth receives an SMS confirming a more precise delivery time so she has a better idea of when her new sofa will arrive. One week after receiving her new sofa, Beth receives a promotional email from the sofa store offering her a 10% discount this weekend as a thank you for her recent purchase.

Where companies are differentiating themselves with regards to customer service is by connecting each of the touchpoints through contextualised, preserved data and the capability of the advisor to move seamlessly through these touchpoints to reach a resolution, with any historical information easily available. The correct infrastructure is also a necessity to ensure advisors can escalate an interaction to a more comprehensive channel where necessary. For instance from social to phone call or email to web chat.

According to Omer Minkara, Research Director leading the Contact Center & Customer Experience Management research within Aberdeen Group, ‘Companies with well-defined omnichannel customer experience management (CEM) programs achieve a 91% higher year-over-year increase in customer retention rate on average.’

Omnichannel is the natural progression of multichannel. It reduces contact time and allows the customer to see only one organisation, combatting the need for multiple interactions through multiple channels. ‘Simply put, Omnichannel is Multichannel done right.’ Says Suzanne Richardson, Marketing Director at mplsystems.

Here are some of the companies that are really getting omnichannel customer service:

Burberry – great in store service followed up with personalised, interactive email

Next – using different channels to increase sales and resolve queries

DPD – personalised delivery alerts with time slots and driver details provided by SMS, email and phone all joined up

While multichannel is a positive step for a company looking to update and expand their customer service offerings; there is potential for unhappy customers if their journey becomes a disjointed muddle. Omnichannel ensures that the customer enjoys one conversation throughout the transaction.


We can take the concept of omnichannel one step further with the implementation of multimodal customer service. The fundamentals are the same, customers and organisations interacting via different channels and being able to keep a conversation flowing regardless of the platform, but multimodality allows the advisors to move the conversation between channels. It means that one conversation is being held across multiple channels and devices, simultaneously. Here is a great example from matchboard of how this service could play out.

Let’s take the case of a businessman in a taxi who receives an SMS that his flight has been cancelled, inviting him to tap to call to reschedule.  He calls the airline and the contact centre agent emails him a link to alternate flight options which he views on the browser on his tablet, while advising the agent of his selection.  The flight agent is incredibly helpful, offering him free access to the Platinum lounge for the inconvenience, and while she sets up his reservation, he posts on Twitter, “love the service from Skye at Sky Airlines!”  What is noteworthy is that not one or even two of the channels used here could have achieved the same positive customer experience as the collective use of all five channels. Each channel has unique attributes, which were leveraged at different points in the customer journey – consecutively and simultaneously – to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. The result: a customer irate that his flight was cancelled was turned into an advocate on social media.

In this customer journey we can see five platforms (SMS, voice call, email, website and social media) used over two different devices (smartphone and tablet). Multimodality has provided an all-encompassing customer service interaction with the result of creating a brand champion rather than simply resolving the request. Described as a ‘buddy’ to omnichannel, multimodal brings to life the blended communication channels to meet customer needs more effectively. Using a multimodal structure will give organisations the competitive edge as it is a relatively new model.

Metrics associated with multimodality lean towards methods of measurement such as Customer Effort and Net Promoter Score (NPS). These tools are used to gauge the loyalty rating of customer relationships to provide a deeper understanding of the perception of a business through the eyes of their stakeholders. The upshot of this being that more detailed information is provided to guide the company to their next improvements.

It is fair to say that the majority of businesses are not yet using omnichannel for their customer services. Multiple barriers can make the prospect of embracing multimodality and omnichannel somewhat daunting. Organisations with limited resources, technical capabilities or in-house skills are often put off by the prospect of a great upheaval of a fundamental or primary function of their business. The organisations that have made the leap, have certainly had to invest heavily to ensure that the transition was smooth and that the result was successful. These organisations are experiencing rapid growth and proving that omnichannel is greatly improving their customer experience.