Omnichannel customer experience: what it means and how to do it right

Omnichannel customer experience: hands connect pins on a board with string

For small businesses, the digital age presents as many challenges as it does opportunities. In fact, sometimes the challenges are the opportunities—because whoever masters modern ad tools gains an unbeatable advantage over their tech-challenged rivals. 

That’s right, we’re talking about omnichannel customer experiences—and if that sounds daunting, press on anyhow because we’re going to break it down! 

Editor’s note: This article was updated in April 2024 with more information about omnichannel and multichannel customer experiences, along with how small businesses can create better omnichannel experiences for customers and clients.

What does omnichannel mean?

Let’s start at the top. “Omni” simply means “all.”  When “omni” is attached to a word as a prefix, the term now encompasses all varieties of the category it refers to. 

“Channel” refers to any physical or digital method that a business uses to interact with customers. 

So, “omnichannel” customer experience means a holistic approach encompassing all physical and digital ways your small business engages customers. 

We’re talking about everything from physical stores, billboards, magazine ads, and call centers to websites, mobile ads, social media, email, and chatbots. The omnichannel approach ties all your messaging together across all these touchpoints.

Instead of disconnected standalone engagements, customers get to experience a cohesive narrative that builds curiosity and connections. Ready for an example?  

How omnichannel customer experience works: a hypothetical example

Imagine, if you will, your future customer (let’s call him Matt) sitting at a Vietnamese cafe for lunch. He’s skipping funny dog videos on his Instagram feed when voila, your ad pops up on his phone! 

Your catchy ad catches his eye—so he taps it. It leads him to your artfully designed, mobile-optimized website featuring the very product (or service) from your ad. 

Matt’s interested… but he’s not converted. Not yet. He closes the tab and returns to his tasty bánh mì. 

The next day, there’s Matt browsing the web when your retargeting ad hits him. Matt clicks and goes to your site… and sees something that grabs his attention. But he has questions. 

Luckily, you’re prepared for shoppers like him because your site has a helpful live chat feature! He types his questions and promptly receives friendly, helpful advice that impresses him. Still, ol’ Matt’s a tough nut to crack and decides to think it over some more. 

He’s going to make you work for it, this guy! 

Over the weekend, Matt walks by your physical business. This is technically the sixth time he’s encountered your brand. He’s already seen two ads, visited your website twice, and interacted with a live chat agent

Now he’s looking at your door, which boldly showcases your brand’s logo. Matt can’t take it anymore. He walks in and is greeted by a smiling employee who answers his last remaining questions before selling him what he’s after. 

During checkout, your worker asks if Matt would like to receive a digital receipt and join your brand’s loyalty program for updates and discounts. “Why not?” Matt replies, giving his email address and phone number.

He immediately gets a text confirming his purchase. A few days later, Matt gets a personalized email thanking him for his business, asking for feedback—and offering a coupon code for a discount on his next purchase (if he makes it within the allotted time frame). 

The email also includes some content posted on your website that piques his interest, so he clicks it…and while he’s there, browses around for something to use that discount coupon code on! 

Welcome to the world of omnichannel customer experiences.

We hope the above case study helps paint a picture of what an omnichannel customer experience might look like. Now the question to ask is—is your business keeping up? 

We know you work hard to be where your customers are most active, whether it’s online or in person. But are you creating a streamlined flow that leads them from point A to points B, C, and D? 

Are you giving consumers disjointed glimpses into your brand offerings—or providing a unified experience that connects the dots across all platforms? 

“Companies with extremely strong omnichannel customer engagement retain on average 89% of their customers, compared to 33% for companies with weak omnichannel customer engagement, per a study by the Aberdeen Group.

Why is that? For starters, humans are omnichannel ourselves. We’re complicated, somewhat sophisticated, and able to interact with the world on multiple levels all at once! We’re also easily distracted, capricious by nature, and suspicious by experience. 

To engage such complex beings as us, businesses need to confront us from multiple vectors. That’s the only way to break through the noise, get our attention, build our interest, inculcate desire, and call us to action. 

And yes, we just slipped in the old AIDA marketing mantra, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! 

The better your customer touchpoints complement each other, the more effective your efforts will be. Conversely, the more a business blows off omnichannel marketing, the more its competitors will take advantage and hog those customers.

How to create your omnichannel approach

Brainstorm with your marketing team or consultant to craft a vision for what your omnichannel strategy looks like. The case study above is only one of several examples. If it’s suitable, use it as a template. If not, there are several examples online to consider. 

What omnichannel looks like for your business depends on who you serve and what you offer.  

Maybe you need to offer…

  • Responsive service online, over the phone, and in person 
  • 24/7 availability 
  • Fast lead qualification and conversion 
  • Seamless intake and scheduling 
  • Conversations that shift between chats and phone calls 

To develop your omnichannel customer experience, you need to know your customers and have touchpoints set up in all the places they’re likely to interact with your business. But the other key to success is finding and leveraging the best technologies to create and connect those customer touchpoints. 

Many businesses use a “multichannel” approach, having websites, social media, online ads, email campaigns, etc. But multichannel isn’t good enough. Only the omnichannel approach can delight and WOW customers, by tying channels together to deliver a harmonious, convenient experience. 

The technologies you use should be able to talk to each other in the background, unseen by the consumer. Your social media, website, live chat, email, SMS, and phone handling tactics should be aligned and synchronized so customers can hop from one channel to another without having to build that connection from scratch each time. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Start with your customers.

The core of your customer engagement strategy is your customer. So if you’re not already doing it, start collecting data on your customers at every interaction, to determine their pain points, what they want or need, and how you can give it to them. 

For instance, some customers want faster service and the flexibility to interact with you digitally. But many prefer to interact with your business on a personal level. They want to talk with a fellow human being when they call or initiate a live chat. Try to provide options that work for everyone. 

Step 2: Design your omnichannel journey.

Look at your technology, processes, and people through an omnichannel lens. It begins and ends with your customers and the various places they want to interact with your business (i.e., your touchpoints). 

Once you’ve looked closely at your customers and identified the customer needs you want to address, you can build your customers’ omnichannel journey. Whether you’re synchronizing the experience of your physical office with a mobile app…or ensuring customers get connected to the right department when they initiate a conversation online…think about all the possible stops your customers might make from start to finish. 

For instance: 

  • A client researching a product could start on your website. 
  • Next, they might follow you on social media or subscribe to your mailing list. 
  • Before making a final purchase decision, they might call to ask for clarification about something. 
  • After their purchase, they may contact you via live chat to ask for support. 

An omnichannel approach integrates all your channels so your customer has a unified journey. Mapping out their myriad potential journeys ahead of time will help you determine what technology and personnel support your business needs to make it happen.  

Step 3: Select your omnichannel tools.

When it comes to omnichannel tools, business owners have plenty of choices. In fact, maybe too many choices! Some want a comprehensive platform like Desku that can tackle many functions. Others prefer a handful of smaller tools, so they can pick and choose the features they like. 

Odds are you’ve already got a few favorite tools you don’t want to give up. Identify the tools your business already has and check if you’re using them to their full potential or not. Small businesses frequently overlook many powerful features and capabilities their existing tools have, or they don’t realize how easy it would be to integrate those tools with others to boost productivity. Platforms like Zapier are perfect for this, because they integrate with almost everything, making it a breeze to automate workflows by triggering actions in connected apps based on specific events!

After you’ve done a review of what you’ve got, it’s time to figure out what you need to add to better serve your omnichannel approach. Look back at the map of your customer journey and fill in any technology gaps you find. Remember, the end goal is to create a seamless experience on the channels where your customers are active. 

Once you have some new tools to play with, spend time learning how to unlock their potential.

Step 4: Train your team and create buy-in.

Organizations are resistant to change. But to ensure your new approach is effective, you’ll have to get your whole team on board. Show them the benefits of what you’re trying to do. Explain the problems it’ll solve, and be honest about the learning curve that’ll be needed to master this new strategy and its affiliated tools. 

If you sense pushback, talk through it. You’ve got to be able to unfreeze those holdouts, get them onboard, then refreeze the new mindset. 

Everyone who acts on behalf of your business must understand and, hopefully, believe in your vision of a customer-centric omnichannel journey. Keep team members focused on the big-picture benefits instead of the minor inconvenience of everyone having to upskill a bit. We’re living in fast-paced, high-tech times, and it’s incumbent on workers to adapt. 

Step 5: Test, monitor, and improve your approach over time.

Implement your plan to integrate your priority touchpoints. Then, track and monitor how well you’re doing. Ask for feedback about customers’ experiences. Over time, you can add (and integrate) more digital or live channels, depending on what’s working and what’s not relevant. 

How will you know? Consider these real-world examples from Starbucks and Best Buy!

Real-world example #1: Starbucks

Starbucks customers can use their Starbucks rewards program across all digital and in-person platforms, including web, mobile, phone, and in-store. 

They can quickly reload their Starbucks cards while waiting in line for their turn to order. They can also order, pay, and redeem points using the same integrated platform. 

Starbucks will even put your name on your drink when you use their mobile app, so they don’t have to ask your name.  

Real-world example #2: Best Buy

Electronics and appliance retail chain Best Buy knows that in-person showrooms are crucial. But so are real-time updated digital inventories, discoverable through their mobile app. 

Best Buy lets customers see their inventory counts in real time through the app and the digital price cards in front of their in-person products.   

The company didn’t adapt its omnichannel strategy all at once. It first focused on in-store customer experiences before shifting to digital experiences to adapt to customer demands and shopping habits. This included preloading credit card information and allowing customers to create favorite lists. 

Today, using Best Buy’s app, you can browse and buy products, call a local store, get tech support, set repair appointments, and pay your credit card bill.  

Adding Ruby and Zapier into the mix

Businesses don’t transform into omnichannel legends overnight. It takes time, effort… and maybe even a little help from your friends at Ruby and Zapier, because in an era where customer expectations are skyrocketing, your business needs all the help it can get! 

Ruby’s virtual receptionists have long been industry leaders when it comes to creating real, meaningful connections with customers. And our integration with Zapier takes this commitment to the next level!

Zapier’s unprecedented automation capabilities allow Ruby to connect with thousands of apps, ensuring that no matter where your customer starts their journey, the experience is consistent and connected.

Case in point: Say a customer starts a live chat on your website and then decides they’d rather call. Your Ruby receptionist has instant access to the chat history, so they can see the customer’s needs without repetitive questioning. 

Integrate Ruby with your CRM, helpdesk, and other tools (with the help of Zapier) and you can ensure information flows freely, keeping every interaction informed and personalized! With our combined superpowers at your disposal, Ruby and Zapier can even provide detailed insights into your customers’ behavior and preferences, empowering you to tailor experiences even further!

Learn more about how Ruby creates great experiences across channels.