Everything you need to know about omnichannel customer experiences in 2021

Today’s digital world is littered with companies providing omnichannel experience scenarios for their customers.

Here’s a real-life example of an omnichannel experience: While looking through photos, you see an ad on Instagram for an all-inclusive tropical getaway from an online travel agency. You click on the ad and start researching the property. You open your laptop to read reviews before you complete your booking. On the OTA’s app, you book activities to do while you’re there and receive restaurant recommendations via email (did we just describe your Thursday?) You get an email alert when it’s time to check in for your flight and SMS customer service updates when your flight is delayed. Your itinerary of booked activities and restaurants is printed off for you when you check in at the hotel, and you ask the concierge to change your evening’s dinner reservation as you arrive later than expected.

This is a true omnichannel experience. 

Today’s customer journey is complicated. Every customer has their own preferences of when and how to research and purchase, and follow up with questions and issues on their channel of choice. There is a growing expectation from consumers to have a truly seamless omnichannel experience: being able to start something on one channel and pick it up on another at a different time. 

Having a fluid omnichannel experience is critical to satisfying customers, driving loyalty and building long-term relationships. Customer expectations and what companies are providing, though, are not aligning:  71% of consumers want a consistent experience across all channels, but only 29% say they actually get it1.

In this post, we’re diving deep into everything companies need to know about omnichannel experiences in 2021. We’re answering these questions:

  • What is an omnichannel experience?
  • What’s the difference between multichannel and omnichannel?
  • Why is an omnichannel customer experience important?
  • What’s a good omnichannel strategy?
  • What makes an omnichannel experience great?
  • What are examples of great omnichannel experiences?

What is an omnichannel experience?

Omnichannel experience definition: An omnichannel customer experience enables a customer to interchange devices and move fluidly between channels, carrying context forward with every interaction. Omnichannel experiences merge and integrate the online, offline and physical (in-store, on-flight, on-property, etc.) worlds together, creating a truly seamless and consistent experience regardless of channel. Omnichannel experiences span sales, marketing and support and align messaging across platforms and internal business groups. 

Are omnichannel and multichannel experiences the same? 

“Omnichannel” and “multichannel” experiences are often used interchangeably, but there are a few key differences. Multichannel solutions offer customers the ability to perform tasks on many channels, but the channels are not integrated. Customer context is not carried forward. Communication is fragmented and disconnected. This compares to omnichannel experiences which create a cohesive, synchronized journey as a person moves between channels. A person does not have to repeat themselves, or restart a task. Most brands have implemented a solid multichannel strategy, but as expectations from customers increase for effortless and frictionless cross-channel interactions, there will be a significant shift towards truly omnichannel interactions. 

Omnichannel Customer Experience

Why is omnichannel customer experience important?

Customer expectations for great experiences have never been higher: half of all customers say that Customer Experience (CX) is more important to them now than it was a year ago2. A big part of providing a good CX is being omnichannel. Here are the top five reasons why providing an omnichannel customer experience is important for brands in 2021. 

  1. Omnichannel is what your customers expect: The mindset shift of customers has accelerated significantly in recent years. Today, nine out of 10 consumers want an omnichannel experience with seamless service between communication methods3and approximately 60% of millennials expect consistent brand experiences—whether in-store, online or by phone4

  2. Omnichannel is how your customers are shopping and receiving support: It’s not just what people expect in some far-flung reality, it’s actually the behavior of the modern customer. Numerous studies have revealed the underlying shift in customer behavior. Two of the most well-regarded studies reveal that 73% of consumers use more than one channel on their shopping journey5 and as many as 85% of digital consumers start the purchasing workflow on one device yet finish it on another6. When we drill down into travel as one example, an Amadeus study found that the average accommodation purchase journey involves as many as 45 touchpoints across different devices and websites7. Customer behavior has shifted, and companies need to shift their marketing, sales and support strategies to accommodate this evolving behavior. 

  3. Omnichannel drives relationships: Investing in omnichannel experiences is a key ingredient in keeping customers loyal. Businesses that adopt omnichannel strategies see 91% higher year-over-year customer retention rates compared to businesses that don’t8

  4. Omnichannel unlocks new revenue: Companies will see revenue payoffs from long-term relationships, but also in the short-term. A study in the Harvard Business Journal finds that omnichannel customers spend 4% more in-store and 10% more online than single-channel customers. For every additional channel they use, customers spend more money5. Another study finds that shoppers who used three or more channels to interact with brands had a purchasing frequency rate that was 250% higher than single-channel users9

  5. Your competitors are omnichannel: Sometimes, even businesses need to keep up with the Joneses. Companies no longer compete just with competitors in their space. When it comes to customer experience, companies have to rise to the standards set by Amazon, Netflix and other customer-obsessed brands. As a result, investment in omnichannel experiences is on the rise:  the number of companies investing in this has jumped from 20% to more than 80% since 201210


To learn how Netomi is a one-stop, self-service solution for delivering omnichannel experiences, read this.


What makes an omnichannel experience great?

Now that we’ve covered why an omnichannel strategy is important, let’s discuss what exactly makes an omnichannel experience superior. 

First and foremost, companies need to be available on a variety of channels, empowering customers to complete tasks at each touchpoint – including email, chat, web, mobile app, SMS, etc. Being omnichannel doesn’t necessarily mean having all functionality available on each channel, but rather unlocking features and functionality on the channels that make sense, would provide value and offer a good experience. Take advantage of what makes each channel unique. Invite a person to ask friends for feedback on outfits on Messenger or vote on your next trip destination, for instance. Even when the same task might be available on multiple channels – like interacting with customer service, browsing or purchasing – the experience needs to be optimized for the particular channel. 

The core of omnichannel experiences is carrying context forward. Remove silos of customer data that live on different channels and within different departments to have a single view of the customer. This way, a customer is able to start a task on one channel and pick it up where they left off on another device or at another time. Customers don’t have to start a conversation over or repeat themselves. 

On its website, Zendesk talks about customer service agents who use its help desk platform have the power to “easily transfer the conversation from a chat app to a web chat, from an email to SMS, from social media to the phone—or any other combination that makes sense.11” For instance, if a customer reaches out on live chat with an issue, and the customer ends the chat thinking they have all of the answers they need, only to realize later there is one thing they forgot to ask. Away from her computer, she calls customer service instead. The agent quickly pulls up her profile and sees the interaction she previously had on chat and has all of the context to quickly resolve her issue.  

What is an omnichannel strategy?  

Creating an omnichannel experience requires sales, marketing, product and support teams to come together to align on messaging, functionality and strategy. Here’s the core components of an omnichannel strategy: 

  • Map your customer journey: Understand exactly when, why and where customers are interacting with your brand, and understand what context and data is needed to personalize each touchpoint. 
  • Continuously scale to new and emerging interaction channels: A few short years ago, WhatsApp was not on the radar as a channel for consumer and brand interaction. Today, there are over 5 million business users on the popular messaging app12. The channels that are on your radar today, may not account for what’s going to be important for your customers and business five, three or even one year from now. Ensure your technology stack is flexible to scale to new channels. 
  • Optimize the experience on every channel: As you scale to new channels, remove sources of friction. Be obsessive about finding ways to make tasks simpler or removing steps. 
  • Leverage the right technology: You can’t have a true omnichannel experience without the right tech stack. Have a single view of the customer in a cross-channel CRM platform. Leverage AI chatbots to manage some of the interactions autonomously, or pull data from back-end systems to arm human sales or support agents with digestible, relevant customer info in real-time. 
  • Apply predictive and machine learning: Identify patterns in behavior and opportunities to surprise and delight customers with new experiences or proactive care at key points along the customer journey. 

To find out what over 700 US consumers think about customer service,
check out The State of Customer Service: 2021 Edition.


What are examples of great omnichannel experiences?

There are a few companies that have truly nailed the omnichannel customer experience. 

Starbucks is one of them. It’s mobile app, loyalty program and order-ahead functionality merges the digital and physical worlds effortlessly. On the app, you easily place your order. Payments are completed with the tap of a button.  You walk into the store, and your order is waiting for you. Your loyalty points are tallied up and stored on your account. Truly seamless. 

Another famous example of a great omnichannel experience is Walt Disney World. Nearly 21 million people visited its Florida park alone13. These visitors can plan their trip in advance, book shows and restaurants, reserve and manage fast passes, and more using the My Disney Experience tool. The Disney’s Magicbands enables visitors to unlock hotel rooms, check in at FastPass+ entrances, get directions and charge food and drink purchases to their hotel room…. all from a device on their wrist. 

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References 

  1. https://go.gladly.com/customer-expectations-report-2020 
  2. https://www.zendesk.com/customer-experience-trends/ 
  3. https://www.uctoday.com/contact-centre/delivering-an-excellent-omni-channel-experience/
  4. https://www.sdl.com/about/news-media/press/2014/sdl-study-reveals-channels-are-irrelevant-to-consumers.html
  5. https://hbr.org/2017/01/a-study-of-46000-shoppers-shows-that-omnichannel-retailing-works
  6. https://www.tallysoft.com/5-omnichannel-retail-trends-2019/
  7. https://amadeus.com/en/insights/blog/omnichannel-vision-for-new-world-of-travel
  8. https://loyalty360.org/content-gallery/daily-news/survey-businesses-that-use-omni-channel-strategies-have-far-better-customer 
  9. https://www.clickz.com/onmichannel-marketing-automation-statistics-for-2019/231381-2/231381/
  10. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/retail-consumer/publications/assets/pwc-retailing-2020.pdf 
  11. https://www.zendesk.com/blog/omnichannel-really-means/
  12. https://www.pymnts.com/mobile-applications/2019/whatsapp-business-messaging-app-users/ 
  13. https://www.statista.com/statistics/232966/attendance-at-the-walt-disney-world-magic-kingdom-theme-park/ 

Emily Cummins

PR and Content Writer

Emily has worked in the AI industry for many years. She loves researching and writing about evolving trends in AI in customer service. She graduated from the College of Charleston.

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