I was recently having a conversation about the difference between a multi-channel and omni-channel experience and rather than explain it in text book terms, I thought I'd explain it by what I think they feel like in human terms.
The multi-channel experience reminds me alot of the movie "50 first dates".
In that movie Drew Barrymore has short term memory such that with each new day she forgets Adam Sandler. And so he starts every new day with her from zero. Her memory is "reset" and even though he remembers, to her it's as if they have no history together.
I imagine this as the experience customers have with many brands. Each time they go into a channel, the interaction feels a bit like going a first date. And if they try and switch channels that conversation and all the context for the most part stays behind. And so the first date begins again.
The Omni-Channel experience however, is about conversations and context crossing channels seamlessly, building off of each other. A "pick up where you left off" type of experience.
The promise to me, should be, about customers being able to come back at a later time to any channel to continue a previous conversation or start a new conversation. But that recognizes the past.
Omni-Channel is about history. Similar to how you have history with friends as you move from g-chat to sms, to whatsapp to instagram messaging. All the conversations you have build on one another like a rich tapestry of dialogue, meaning and context.
When you go to instagram you don't all of a sudden forget all the other stuff you've said to each other in email or sms or facebook (depending on how good your memory is of course).
Adding to that is ability to understand also what actions customers have taken with your product (for example paid a bill or larger behavoiral information). Just like a friend might remember that last time I paid for the drinks, so it's his turn (unless I've been venmo'd).
All of a sudden you can not only incorporate this context, this history into future interactions but also trigger new conversations or communications based on a set of "if this then that" style rules.
Content can also be integrated such that what a customer sees the next time they login is based on conversations they've had or actions they've taken previously.
Again, things building on each other.
Once you start adding together who I am, what I've said and what I've done, even layering deep learning and AI, all of a sudden you start to have the kind of experience I had the other day with a friend of mine.
An experience that to me represents the true spirit of "Omni-Channel".
The conversation we were having centered around a trip we were taking that weekend the Catskills. Our conversation moved back and forth between sms, g-chat and instagram with a smattering of emails along the way.
At some point this triggered a pinterest board as well.
The point is, there was no break in conversation or flow. The jokes we had made and the multiple subjects we were talking about (often at the same time in mulitple places), weaved their way through all of these different "channels". Rarely were things were "lost in conversation".
And as these conversations moved from channel to channel, so did we. I would pop up in sms from g-chat and she would pick up where we'd left off. More importantly so did the history of those conversations. What we said, links we shared, plans we made, built on each other from channel to channel.
It made me realize that customers in a way are already having "Omni-Channel” experiences on a 1 on 1 basis with each other.
This is the world we live in, where customers more and more piece together moments and interactions using various technologies and channels. Interactions that aren’t necessarily linear either.
It's how many of us talk with each other, have conversations, tell jokes, ask questions, answer questions, share links to content, make plans and meet up. And sometimes pay us back for the drinks we bought them.
This is the difference to me between multi-channel vs. omni-channel.
It also made me realize that because we have these experiences, we expect brands, who have all this data about us to have these types of conversations as well. We assume that with all these technolgies at their fingertips, they could more closely mimic the kind of experiences we are already having. And we get frustrated when they don't "get" us. It feels sometimes that we are going on 50 first dates.
People are expecting a more personal touch these days and I think that the companies that disrupt won't just disrupt because they are more nimble or shattering the status quo or have the latest gadget, but because they are able to create these rich conversational "knowing" experiences.
Experiences that use the history we build with them not just to recommend things based on what we or people like us have bought, but that provides the "totally gets us" feeling we have with our closest and most loyal friends.
This is what I keep in my head as I think about what Omni-Channel vs. Multi-Channel really means.
Scratch that, should feel like.