Why even small businesses need to embrace ‘omni-channel’ customer service

It’s a revelation to no one that the last few years have been challenging for businesses in the UK. Indeed, many have sadly not survived the combined onslaught of Brexit, pandemic, inflation and war. It would therefore seem like the last thing small businesses need is the added cost of opening up new channels in which to communicate with customers. However communications technologies have been evolving at such a frantic pace businesses can’t afford to ignore these new channels and the adoption of a digital ‘omni-channel’ strategy has been key in helping businesses to continue to thrive through these uncertain times.    

So what is ‘omni-channel’?

Marketing and customer service consultants may well use the term “omni-channel” regularly,  but it may be viewed as a buzzword to be ignored by many smaller businesses.

The fact is that we’re all getting used to a world in which omni-channel communication has become a way of life. During the pandemic, we relied on a huge number of ways to keep in touch, from telephone and email, to messaging apps, live web chat and video, not forgetting the many social media channels.

These digital tool and services became a lifeline for both businesses and individuals, for keeping conversations going and reaching out to customers and clients. Indeed, many people have now come to expect exceptional customer service from all of these different channels of communication, whenever they need it.

It isn’t just that a customer expects a business to have several options (multi-channel), they expect a business to be accessible via whatever channel they feel like using that day, and for the service to be seamless across each of those channels - they want an ‘omni-channel’ experience.       

Why omni-channel is important for small businesses

As has long been the case, the customer always comes first. Reports in the USA show that 89% of customers wish for an improved customer service offering and 35% want to deal with the same representative, regardless of the channel, be it phone, email or chat.

Whereas 15 years ago customers used two touch-points when buying an item, today they use an average of six! Creating an omni-channel presence is therefore vital for smaller companies who need to keep up with larger competitors. This is particularly important when it comes to customer service.

These days customers expect no less than using their preferred channel to get their questions resolved quickly, at a time that suits them. The challenge is creating optimised content for each channel and device that your customers will use. This singular ‘brand experience’ will allow customers to move between channels in a seamless and consistent way, wherever they are in their customer journey. It’s a tried and tested way of running an optimised sales and customer service strategy. Take Amazon, for example, where customers can place and then track their orders directly to their doors, via a mobile phone, a laptop, a smartwatch – or even using an Alexa device.

A competitive advantage

The challenge with adapting to this new way of working is seamlessly connecting all of the necessary data systems and CRM tools. Internal systems will need to be accessible for all staff, across a range of devices. Outsource services such as virtual receptionists need to be chosen carefully so they can integrate well. Businesses must also offer personalised, easy-to-use customer service channels. It may be that smaller companies actually have an advantage over larger organisations when it comes to implementing this software.

In keeping with a smaller and more reactive working environment, they may not have to contend with unwieldy and outdated back-office systems that can often hamper the implementation of omni-channel communications in larger businesses.

It may be a challenge, but the rewards for embracing Omni-channel will be significant!


Pete White Pete White

Love Shrewsbury editor and chief developer at The Web Orchard, find out more on petejwhite.com

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