I wrote recently about how I had been relieved to find out that I’m not alone in understanding the meaning of “omnichannel” when it comes to either customer engagement or marketing.
What has been becoming increasingly clear to me, though, is that most of the discussions about how companies should deal with multiple channels of communication with customers miss one salient fact: we have multiple (and multiplying) channels, but those channels in their own right have multiple uses – polychannels, if you will.
What do I mean by this?
Well, take for example LinkedIn. It’s the person-to-person address book of choice for many people these days. It’s also a way in which many of us communicate what we are up to to our business network. It’s used within organisations as a tool for managing networks (especially as the boundaries of organisations becoming increasingly blurred). It’s also a tool of choice for many HR departments to reach a pool of prospective talent outside of their company, as the #socialCEO research has found.
Or take for example Twitter. Again a person-to-person network, but one also used by PR to push out corporate messages (and limit the damage of media firestorms), by customers and customer engagement groups as a service channel, and to some extent by marketers to run campaigns.
Or Facebook – a more “out of work” network (friend-to-friend) that is being used heavily as a marketing channel and also for customer engagement.
None of this should be surprising. The granddaddy of polychannel communication, the telephone, is as fluid and multi-used as ever. The daddy, email, similarly so.
So when people talk about multi-channel, what they usually mean is managing multiple channels across a particular function (customer service, or marketing, or B2B, or PR, or HR).
It makes me wonder if the homogenization of communications channels implied in the ideas of omnichannel are a bit of a unicorn at the end of a rainbow. After all, after a century and a half, how many organisations have only one telephone number for everything?