Call Center

Let’s Be Honest About Omnichannel

A literal implementation of omnichannel makes no sense and would not be cost-effective

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

When a new technology emerges it sometimes takes a while for the industry to converge on a singular label to describe it. Such is the case with the vision to fully integrate multiple communication channels in order to provide users with a seamless customer service or shopping experience.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Looking at this description, two key words stand out: multiple and channel. Hence the logical label is multichannel. But some proponents of the technology objected – for reasons I don’t remember and barely bothered to understand. They advanced a seemingly superior, all-inclusive descriptor of omnichannel. Rhetoric and vitriol ensued.

Frankly I don’t care. Connections Magazine has used both terms interchangeably in these pages and online. (Don’t shoot me; it’s just semantics. Really.) Whichever label an author uses is the one we use in that article, and we will continue to do so. Multichannel versus omnichannel seems much ado about much too little.

The key of the technology is channel integration for the benefit of customers. This is a great effort and will be an even greater outcome once the industry fully realizes it. We can call it “get-right-answers-fast” or “custro-technobabble” for all I care. The name is not the point. The results are. Be it omnichannel or multichannel, the modern contact center sits in the middle and the customer wins.

However, in the battle of words, omnichannel seems to be winning. So be it.

But call center technology aside, I’m also a wordsmith. Let’s break down the omnichannel label before we wholeheartedly embrace the word and all its implications.

The first part of the word, omni, is a Latin prefix that means “all” or “every.” So when we say omnichannel, we literally mean all channels or every channel. This may appear as an ideal understanding, but it’s not practical – not at all.

Omnichannel certainly encompasses the main communication channels of today: voice, email, and text. So far, so good. It also makes room for emerging channels, such as social media and video, as well as future channels not yet imagined. I applaud this holistic inclusion of popular options and promising technologies, but there are limits. Is anyone open for a mental telepathy channel?

If we say all channels and really mean it, we must actually embrace them all. This includes fax, telex, teletype, and telegraph, too. What about CB, ham, and shortwave radio? These are all channels, all part of the omnichannel paradigm, albeit with varying degrees of obsolescence and practicality. While some contact centers may still provide a fax channel and will process an occasional snail mail missive, I don’t imagine any are pursuing telegraph or CB channels, no matter how big the directive for true omnichannel integration.

So the next time someone gets in your face about the need for pursuing a true omnichannel initiative, simply ask, “So, what you think about smoke signals?”

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books: Sticky Leadership and Management, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.


By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.