Multichannel, Multimedia, Omnichannel, Universal Queue – Eh?

August, 2014

These buzzwords all describe the same basic concept. The question here is: do these terms actually mean something useful, or are they just marketing baloney?

The buzzwords in the title here all describe the same basic concept – that contact centers can handle not just voice, but also email, web chat, SMS, social media, etc.

The question here is: do all these terms actually mean something useful, or are they just marketing baloney?

They each have 2 parts:

  1. How many are there? (multi/ omni/ universal)
  2. What are we counting? (media/ channel/ queue)

Let’s take a moment to dissect these terms and dispel the fog surrounding them.

1. All for one, or one for all?

First, some definitions:

  • Multi – more than one, many
  • Omni/ universal – infinite, without limits

Which one offers the best description? That depends on the context.

For a consumer contacting/ being contacted by a call center, there are definitely multiple separate channels. It’s all about choice; communicating via their preferred channel.

With customer service, that preference depends on both the context of the interaction, and the expected speed of result; if you want immediate attention, complain on social media; If you want an account balance, speak to IVR; if you don’t mind waiting for a complex answer, send an email; and if you don’t get what you expect, try another channel.

With outbound contacts to the consumer, a text reminder of a doctor’s appointment may be very welcome, while a call to a mobile from an IVR selling unwanted insurance may not.

Whichever, for the consumer, interaction channel is definitely a multiple choice question.

On the other hand, ‘omni/ universal’ implies an all-encompassing unity, with no differences. For consumers, this would make active choice irrelevant. So is channel selection ever ‘universal’ from the customer viewpoint? It has been said that the use of smart mobile devices reduces any difference between channels. For a consumer using a smart device, making a call or sending a text/ email are equally easy. But there is still a difference in the expectation of service level – e.g. email reply in 24-48 hours, phone call/ web chat with an agent within 5 mins. Because of this, channels on mobile devices are still very distinct in the mind of the consumer.

So for whom is ‘omni/ universal’ the best description? Well, vendors actually. By using this term, vendors are communicating the idea that no matter which channel is used, all communications travel through a single funnel to and from the call center, being assigned to agents regardless of media/ channel type. This feature has the major benefit of being able to assign agents freely according to demand, e.g. to meet service SLAs. But if agents are siloed – i.e. not free to be reassigned as necessary, as if often the case – any benefit of ‘omni/ universal’ is lost. (see our blog on siloed agents)

So, ‘omni/ universal’ is actually a marketing term to describe a vendor’s potential product benefit to call center buyers.

2. The medium is the message

The second portion of these terms is about communication method. Again, some definitions:

Media (plural of medium)

This refers to the type of communication the software must handle, e.g. voice, text, video. This is certainly relevant for software developers and IT staff. Each medium needs substantially different treatment. But this is not how channels are segregated in the mind of the consumer.

Queue

Again for software developers and IT staff, this describes the temporary storage of communication items to be dealt with. But for a consumer, the connotation is pretty negative, i.e. waiting. Think of a bus queue, or even a phone queue waiting for an agent. Feel your mood darkening? Not really the desired effect.

Channel

This probably best describes the experience of the consumer – the medium through which a message is transmitted (e.g. voice, web chat, SMS, email).

Pulling this all together, ‘multimedia’, ‘omnichannel’ and ‘universal queue’ are vendor-centric marketing terms; ‘multichannel’ is the only one that is consumer-centric.

So, which one should you use? That depends on the context of the conversation. If it is not consumer-focused, ‘multimedia’, ‘omnichannel’ and ‘universal queue’ are more or less interchangeable, with ‘omnichannel’ and ‘universal queue’ adding emphasis on agent blending.

But wherever the consumer is involved – and you could say they always are – ‘multichannel‘ makes the most sense.

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