Multichannel Versus Omnichannel Customer Service

Customer stands with phone in hands happy with the omnichannel customer service they are receiving.

Today’s typical customer journey is as complex as ever, spanning multiple devices and platforms. So how can companies keep up in delivering personalized, tailored customer experiences that stand out from the crowd?

Using an omnichannel approach to customer service has certainly gained popularity over the years. And for good reason. 

Companies with strong omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain 89% of their customers on average. Which has a huge impact on their bottom line year-over-year.

More and more businesses are beginning to see the value in adopting this customer-centric approach. However, some still confuse omnichannel customer service with multichannel customer service. And while these terms may sound a little similar, they’re vastly different and should not be used interchangeably.

Implementing a successful customer experience strategy relies on being able to differentiate between these two terms and to fully understand what each offers. So, in this article, we’ll explore omnichannel vs. multichannel customer service — what each entails, how they work, and which one is right for your business. 

What is multichannel customer service?

Multichannel customer service is a strategy in which communication between customer and company takes place on several different channels. For example, a customer interaction may take place on social media, mobile, email, and at a physical location (sometimes all in one day!). 

Here’s the key differentiator: with multichannel customer service, every channel and interaction is separate and independent of the others, each with its own strategy and goals. Every interaction is considered to be its own purchase opportunity. There’s no real continuity or uniformity from one channel to the next. So, although a company is present on different channels — which is important — the conversations taking place can often lack context. 

This disjointed integration sometimes creates confusing or impersonal experiences for customers. In fact, a recent survey showed that 61% of customers have found it difficult to switch from one channel to another when interacting with customer service. This is because:

  • Customers often have to start from the beginning with each new interaction
  • They may receive different answers to the same questions
  • They may be bounced around between agents who, with no clear overview of the issue, are unsure of how to help them

It’s no wonder they can become frustrated or irritated. And for the cherry on top, because customer service departments on each separate channel are using different strategies, there’s often a lack of consistent brand voice or values.

Let’s look at an example of a multichannel strategy in action

Say you’ve ordered a new laptop from an electronics store online. When it arrives, the laptop is damaged. So, you go to your order email. You click the link to email customer service with your complaint and include your order number and the details of your issue. You then get an email back saying you’ll receive a response within 7-10 days.

Since you don’t want to wait 7-10 days, you open the email to try and find a customer service phone number. Instead, you see that there’s a live chat option, so you decide to try that route. Once you’re chatting with a representative, you once again have to give your order number and explain the details of your issue. The agent tells you they are not able to process returns over chat, and you’ll need to call the customer service hotline.

At this point, you’re probably feeling a little frustrated. 

You call customer service, once again recite your order number, and issue. Luckily, they are able to solve your problem and ship you a replacement. However, you’re left feeling a bit bitter about the time you had to spend fixing an issue that you didn’t cause.

In this scenario, the electronics company is doing the right thing by giving you several different channels by which to contact them. However, the process is anything but seamless.

With multichannel customer service, the product or service itself is prioritized over the customer and their experience.

What is omnichannel customer service?

Omnichannel customer service focuses on delivering a consistent, personalized experience for consumers across all channels and devices

Here’s the key differentiator: The main idea behind omnichannel customer service is that it’s customer-centric, not product-centric. The goal of omnichannel is to make the customer’s experience as smooth and as personalized as possible. That means consistent, seamless engagement no matter which channel the customer chooses to engage with. 

Customers can begin an omnichannel customer service conversation on any device (mobile, desktop, tablet) and any channel (social media, live chat, email, phone, etc.). In an omnichannel approach, the customer’s data is available regardless of the channel they choose to use, and agents can create a singular customer service journey.

Let’s look at an example of an omnichannel approach in action

Say you order a new pair of sneakers online. You’ve spent weeks researching which brand, style, and colorway you want and are excited to finally take the plunge. You make the order and receive a confirmation email right away.

But 2 days later, you check your inbox and discover a new email from the webshop, apologizing and explaining that the size you ordered is actually out of stock.

You will need to wait an extra 2 weeks to receive the shoes. You’re about to angrily call them and complain when you see the option for live chat.

You begin your chat all fired up and ready to explain the whole shebang when the agent on the other end messages you back before you’ve had a chance to write more than “hello”. They already know your story, your order number, everything. No need for you to repeat anything. They explain what happened (an inventory slip-up) and apologize again, also providing you with a 30% discount code for your next purchase.

When you receive your sneakers a couple of weeks later, you find a handwritten note thanking you for your patience and wishing you luck with your new shoes, plus a travel-sized sneaker cleaning kit.

With omnichannel customer service, the customer is the focus. And all communication revolves around their needs. 

Which approach is right for your business?

Omnichannel customer service is an obvious choice if you’re looking to make your business completely customer-centric. In fact, 87% of retailers who have omnichannel strategies in place agree that the strategy is critical to their success. 

However, implementing an omnichannel customer service strategy is a commitment. Omnichannel only works if it’s done flawlessly from start to finish. So, some businesses hesitate to move forward or lack the resources or time to make it happen.

If your business is not quite ready to implement a full omnichannel approach, you should still have a multichannel customer service strategy. 72% of consumers say they expect to be able to connect with brands and businesses through multiple channels, so it’s important to give them that ability.

When you’re ready to upgrade your customer experience, remember you aren’t on your own. Finding the right software will make delivering seamless omnichannel customer service at scale easy.


Mia Loiselle

Mia believes a brand is only as good as its customer service. She explores customer experience strategies, best practices, and trends in her writing for Dixa, where she’s Head of Content.

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