Omnichannel is the hot new buzzword used in discussions about customer experience. With most companies behind in their CX transformation (65 percent of B2C and 75 percent of B2B, according to the Gartner CX Maturity Model, 2019), omnichannel strategies have become the holy grail of customer engagement: a powerful source for great user experience, but as hard to achieve as passing through the Knights Who Say Ni.

That’s because omnichannel is much more than having multiple touchpoints of customer contact with matching colors and buttons. Omnichannel is not just about consistency. It’s also about integration.

If you’re wondering what omnichannel truly is and how your business can deliver an omnichannel strategy to meet your customer expectations, you’re in the right place.

What Is Omnichannel?

Omnichannel is a cross-channel strategy focused on giving customers seamless and integrated experiences to empower their engagement with your business. It’s about integrating the different channels used by the different parts of your business to support a continuous customer journey. In other words, in an omnichannel experience, if you leave a channel, be it online or offline, and move to another, the experience continues as if nothing has changed.

Let me put it into a different perspective. You’re checking your Instagram feed, and you see an ad about a really cool smartphone. You’ve been thinking you  need a new phone, so, you click on the ad, and are directed to the official website of that smartphone’s company. You check the characteristics, the price, and decide to order the phone to be picked up at the physical store. Fast forward to the following week, and there you are again checking your Instagram account, and that same ad for that same smartphone you’ve just bought shows again.   

In an omnichannel strategy, all the channels you’ve crossed during your buyer journey—social media, website, brick and mortar store—are connected and recognize what’s going on in the other channels. In this case, the transition from Instagram to the website and store was omnichannel, but it got lost in the transition from the website and store to social media again.   

That’s the reality with most companies. Many of them have elements of omnichannel in their customer experiences, but few have fully implemented it. Instead of a unified omnichannel, what they’re actually delivering is multichannel experiences. 

I know what you’re thinking—what’s the difference?

Omnichannel vs. Multichannel

The difference between omnichannel and multichannel is the level of integration. Both approaches involve multiple physical and digital channels, but it’s the degree of awareness between the channels that distinguishes the two approaches. Let’s take a closer look.

A multichannel strategy is about having different channels to connect and engage with customers, like a website, Facebook, Instagram, and a physical store, for example. But each channel is independent of the other. They’re very siloed, and there’s little or no interaction between them.

On the other hand, an omnichannel strategy brings these channels together, delivering a holistic view to customers. So, while multichannel delivers a fragmented experience, omnichannel delivers an integrated one. 

Omnichannel vs Multichannel

That said, if customer experience is a key competitive differentiator and customers expect high-quality, consistent interactions over multiple digital channels, why have so few companies taken the leap to omnichannel? There are two answers to that question:

  1. It is increasingly challenging to hire channel-specific developers with skills to master an ever-expanding set of technology and create and manage multiple codebases.
  2. It requires significant investments because it is likely to involve the replacement or modernization of legacy systems.

So, now the question is: how can a company deliver brilliant omnichannel experiences to compete with CX leading enterprises, like Uber or Amazon, without blowing its budget?

Delivering a Unified Omnichannel Strategy 

To help companies address the lack of skilled development resources and the constant pressure to deliver more apps in an ever-growing number of devices, Gartner recently launched the Magic Quadrant for Multiexperience Development Platforms (MXDP).

If you haven’t heard about this term before, don’t worry, you're not alone. MXDPs are technology solutions used to develop multiple types of apps across different devices and interaction modalities. You can view them as an evolution of mobile development platforms. They enable the creation of mobile applications, but also the development of progressive web apps (PWAs), conversational apps (voice assistants and chatbots), immersive apps, and wearable apps.

Curiously enough, most of the multiexperience platforms in this Magic Quadrant support low-code development, i.e., using visual tools instead of traditional coding. Taking a low-code approach means you don’t have to spend your entire budget on hiring skilled developers specialized in each particular device. With the combined power of multiexperience platforms and low-code, with one tool, your existing team can create the apps that meet your customers whenever they want. 

Now, you need to keep one thing in mind: MXDPs are not omnichannel solutions. The core value of an MXDP lies in its ability to build applications across different devices to address the digital user journey. However, some MXDPs have capabilities that support the creation of omnichannel strategies.

OutSystems, for example, has just launched new features that level the customer experience playing field and empower any company to deliver brilliant omnichannel customer experiences without needing the massive, highly-specialized, and expensive development teams. These new features include:

  • Experience Builder for native-feel mobile applications: This new feature abstracts away the complexities of assembling the multiple pieces of the interfaces that make for an engaging, pixel-perfect mobile experience, allowing developers to focus on what matters most: delivering great user experiences. With an easy-to-use web interface, coupled with development accelerators, like fully customizable application flows and screen templates with built-in native behaviors, your team can deliver experiences faster with the quality standards customers expect.
  • Reactive web technology: Reactive web apps enable your team to deliver engaging experiences that are consistent across mobile and web, with rich, interactive interfaces and a modern technology stack. With this new technology, interfaces are easily assembled using state-of-the-art UI building blocks that are reusable across channels, reflect CX best practices, and result in increased delivery speed and experience quality. Because developers are working with a single language and codebase, they can be more productive, and your business can meet customer needs at a faster pace and lower cost.
  • Progressive Web Application (PWA): PWAs will help you engage customers and employees through a new channel - easily discoverable applications that don’t need to be deployed and downloaded through the app stores, reducing obstacles to adoption. These apps are automatically packaged by the OutSystems platform and deliver high-performing, native-like experiences that take advantage of device integration, and work offline. All you need to do is tell OutSystems that you’d like your work packaged as a PWA, and it will be done without compromising on experience quality.
  • Conversational experiences: OutSystems provides development teams with building blocks and a framework to create the most common chatbot and voice interaction patterns, removing the complexity and uncertainty of building these kinds of interfaces. Businesses can easily adopt, experiment, and scale first-line of support automation, internal support bots, and other conversational use cases, faster and without needing specialized AI developers.

You can learn more about each of these features in this blog post.

Wrapping Up

The companies that can best deliver omnichannel experiences and understand all customers are the winners. So, if you’re planning your omnichannel strategy, Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Multiexperience Development Platforms is a great place to start. Check it out to learn the pros and cons of each leading platform and which ones better support your omnichannel goals. But if you’re curious to learn more about how OutSystems can help you transform your digital customer experience, visit our CX page.