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First Steps on the Road to Omnichannel


In my November 2020 post, I touched on Omni-channel as a topic with the introduction of self-service portals.

Reflecting on what a typical SME customer service operation is aspiring too, this is, however, just one of the contact channels that staff and clients are increasingly looking to utilise. Reviewing this and some recent Omni-channel presentations with clients, I thought it would be good moment to explore and attempt to demystify this topic since, myself included, it has been a confusing term and at the same time to give you some concrete first steps you can take to move towards this ideal of giving your clients multiple channels to work with you.

In these last few years of dramatic change and with the possible loss of staff and ongoing staff retention issues, due in part by the so-called Great Resignation, now possibly reducing, Customer Service/Helpdesk departments have found they are under increasing pressure to do more and more and in todays climate, never has customer service been so important. Maintaining both staff morale and efficacy is a key objective in helping to both attract and retain clients in the 2020’s.

Until the last few years, Omni-channel was seen to be an expensive investment and really only affordable and easy to implement in larger organisations, typically with retailers and B2C brand names often leading the way.

This post focuses on how SME’s can now take advantage and look to implement their own Omni-channel in a step-by-step approach giving the CRM vendors software enhanced capability making this now so much more affordable and easier to implement for SME’s.

What is Omnichannel?

In my view, simply put, this is just one way of saying you have a multi-channel customer engagement model. These channels could include phone, email, self-service portals, communities, knowledge bases , Live or webchat, SMS and increasingly social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other apps.

The choice of channels through which you want to be contacted and how many will depend on the type of customer facing organisation you are, for example a B2B business may not need to include many social media channels whilst a retail brand such as Marks & Spencer or Next may need to embrace a wide variety of social media channels. As ever, much depends on your client profile.

Recent reviews by Microsoft, Salesforce and Bain and Co have shown that on average, a client in a B2B or B2C situation is now using a wide variety of different channels of communication to engage, ranging from 5-7 channels on average.

A report from Bain and Co in 2020 highlighted the impact on the new set of tools to enhance both Customer Experience and company revenues. The key is having a connected experience and a seamless experience for the customer or to put it another way, no more silos!

So, Omni-channel just means in this post’s focus, that SME’s can leverage their core CRM system to work with these new channels from within really just one platform with the aim of having a central single view of their customers engagement with the business. Customer Service Agents, in this post’s focus, are thus able to use a variety of channels to engage in a dialogue with their clients. How these are used and how you organise these is very much dependent on your organisation and your market.

For many, as the proliferation of contact channels increased, these engagements were resolved using a variety of different software applications which were often early to market and meant that for many organisations, whilst they may think they are operating an omni-channel, i.e. giving their clients a choice of channels, many of these applications were not integrated or remained in their own silos.

My best example for this, is that we introduced LiveChat as web page contact channel way back in 2015, but at this time it was independent of our CRM and again, at that time there was no integration available to that platform. This meant we engaged in productive web dialogue, but every dialog then had to be ‘cut and pasted’ into the CRM after talking to a client. This was not of course very efficient, but did ensure we took that important first step in opening up our channels of communication away from just the traditional phone, flat web and email channel interactions. We were available to instantly communicate with clients as they browsed key web pages, and this definitely improved both our customer service and our lead generation metrics.

The Goal of Omni-channel

Let’s not forget what the key goal is here, often overlooked, when we focus on rolling out additional functionality and channels, and that is to enrich and give our clients as far as possible this all important seamless and connected customer experience, but this is also to enable our own agents to have all the information they need at their fingertips.

However, the customer engages, the Customer experience should be both user friendly and consistent across all your contact channels. It is not just a case of having multiple channels, but in having those channels your customers wish to engage with and giving them a unified and ultimately more personalised experience.

“Customers are moving from channel to channel because they can and they want to. They are selecting the most convenient and accessible channel that serves them. This means to serve them, companies need a centralized view of the customer and their interactions throughout their journey with your company.“ from a recent Pointillist Blog.

Typical channels

What does a typical Customer Service Omnichannel comprise of?

Depending on your industry sector, and whether you are in B2B or B2C for instance, then there could be host of inbound or outbound options you use or could use when you map your customers journey and interactions. Although, this post is focussed on a typical SME and looking at what would be a good starting point to introduce more channel options, this list can grow as new channels evolve and your clients evolve, but we always need to remind ourselves of the ROI and Use case for each channel we offer and that this needs to be of interest and relevance to our clients.

Before reviewing this, first start by looking at the typical customer journey and also possibly survey your clients to see what their preferred contact channels are. Not surprisingly, in the last few years, you may find that increasingly, some form of digital engagement is now a preferred option.

In addition, your Customer Service or CRM Application ideally should be the foundation for any other apps, so having a strong Customer Service or CRM application is a key consideration. Additional functionality to be added then, depending on your marketplace and audience could include:

Portal or Self Service. Enabling customers to create their own ticket and check where they are as well as possibly accessing a knowledgebase and even a community.

Email Queues and routing. Often a key is the ability of email correspondence to be filtered and queued and if need be, escalated to the right agent.

Click to Dial and Voice recording. An ability to record voice calls and create and record voice calls, again if this is right for your channel. You may need to think deeply about data storage if this is a requirement.

Web Chat and Web integration. Often one of the first engagement channels and available in many CRM applications now as an in-built or easily integrated add-on app.

Bots. Closely linked to webchat in many instances to help guide and answer before a human agent is needed, if at all. Almost a separate topic for a post in itself.

SMS. This can be as simple as sending reminders to clients and you need to consider if you require 2-way SMS which is not always as easy to achieve.

Social Media channels, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. Again, understand and explore how your customers want to talk to you, B2B customers may want different channels to B2C customers

For many customers, reading through the literature, a webchat and some degree of self-service capability are often the first items on their list.

First steps on the Road to Omni-channel

So, as mentioned earlier, the key to looking at taking that vital first step is to ensure that you understand the resources and time you have available since as an SME, rather than an Enterprise level organisation, who will have the resource capacity and budgetary limitations which may preclude a big bang type of approach.

Reflecting on the fact you may not want to do a big bang approach or are able to manage a cultural change in one hit, then you may want to do this in a phased or gradual approach, partly to manage investment cost, but also to ensure these new channels are relevant to your client and to better manage your training and buy-in from your staff.

So, these are my recommended steps:-

Step 1: Mapping your customer journey and interactions

There is no point in creating a Facebook channel or WhatsApp channel for instance, if your customers are not actually engaging in this way or indeed have no desire too. As always understanding and even asking (using customer surveys) your client base into how they would prefer or how they would like to engage with you and then importantly trying to qualify this requirement is often an important preliminary step. Afterall, this Omnichannel strategy is and should be in large part driven by your client’s desire to engage with you in multiple ways.

From this exercise, you will be able to understand the order of priority and if done right, gauge the likely volume of interactions per channel. Having a CRM system with good reporting statistics here, for example, number of cases/tickets created by these customer types can be a good starting point in helping you to review, budget and build that ROI Use case.

Once justified, you can set about step 2 with confidence.

Step 2: Choosing and prioritising your Channels

This really can be dictated by both budget, CRM application constraints (remember, ideally you want a seamless approach) and by the first step in identifying what your customers are looking for. Of course, the next key element is budget availability and the ability to train your staff and the cultural change they may need to adopt if for example, Webchat or Facebook was introduced. This may require a rapid answer, even if Bots are used in initial stage, transfer to agent needs to be seamless. So, a lot to think about.

Here are perhaps what I would consider the top five channels to consider, but these need to relate to your own research findings. Typically, in my view these are:

1/Email channels routing

Often overlooked, but a queue or inbox for easy assignment, nearly all CRM Customer Service modules from the leading Vendors now offer this as an option which may just need to be configured and deployed. Email in my experience, especially for B2B technical support is often the easiest starting point for many clients.

2/Self Service

Next and for me, possibly the best first channel is introducing a Self-Service portal. Why? Well, this serves the function of not only gaining plenty of information on an issue, but the ability to also automate standard responses such as logging the case and giving clients a reference number, plus more often than not, you have the ability to build Knowledgebases, so clients are able to resolve simple problems themselves, see step 3.

At one point, I was tempted to look at webchat as an easy first step, but thinking about this, this means more potential pressure on your customer service team, they have to monitor the chats and be able to respond and also log or create ticket in the CRM system if this is not fully integrated. It is useful, but my first thought here is in in taking pressure off the Customer Service team and again, according to the Bain report in 2020 mentioned above Self Service is often preferred first step for many clients.

Now you can look webchat as some time has potentially been freed up, this is my logic


Often seen as Livechat, embedding chat into your website pages to be able to offer advice in particular areas or on particular pages such as a helpdesk page, enquiry page or on a particular product/service or pricing page is now much easier to do and to integrate with your cloud-based CRM platform. A word of caution here is in terms of not underestimating the training and cultural change required here. Humans expect a quick response in seconds when interacting with Chat. This chat can be expanded to see if Bots could or should be used, again this really depends on the volume of traffic and affordability, see item 5.

4/Self Service Knowledgebase and Communities pages

Offering the ability in customer service role to either raise a case or ticket as well as having the capacity to be able to search for self-help articles from a knowledgebase of approved articles, relating to common questions. Again, self-service has the benefit of enabling clients to create and track their cases and upload additional information as well as searching for their own answers. Usefulness of this will depend on your customer

4/Social Media Engagements

Recently, especially for B2C brand engagement from various social media platform, with Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook being the favourites, these can be useful additional channels of communication and most CRM customer service platforms will now offer this capability to some extent. Again, don’t underestimate the cultural change and training needs of staff when working with social media.


Involving more time and investment and a deeper understanding of client’s needs, chatbots can do some of the initial ‘heavy lifting‘or engagement with customer but the key to their success is the ability to swiftly escalate to a human, especially in a B2B situation. Interestingly, studies have shown, especially since pandemic that clients do not mind conversing with a bot, even when they know it is a bot, as long as the bot is effective.


Finally, don’t forget this last item. How and what are you going to report on. This is something to consider from the outset, how you report and measure interactions across these many channels.

Step 3: Choosing your Platform

As mentioned previously, in the early days of omni-channel for most SME’s the choice was in finding and binding together a CRM system possibly with customer service functions with a range of other apps to create your own omni-channel approach for your customers, although in many ways this may have created a hodge-podge of apps linked together with different integrations, it may at least have served functionally.

In the last 5 years, especially with the rise in CRM cloud and application vendors, through acquisition and through development, most vendors have now evolved their own offerings, so you now have a rich choice from the leading players to be able to create an Omnichannel experience for your customer and ensure everything is within one platforms application suite, greatly easing both deployment and training and also importantly seamlessly capturing the data to create the 360 degree view of the customer as well as enabling a much easier reporting and data collection.

So, what are key decisions?

In my view, probably the key item before you embark on this process in earnest is ensuring you are on the right CRM platform for you. Time taken to investigate the omnichannel capabilities is time well spent if this is going to be a critical initiative. Not all CRM platforms are alike or work as well in a Omnichannel approach, so as far as possible you want a single platform suite. The degree of fit with your future requirements will to a large extend emerge from the first two steps, but the key here is to remind ourselves of that desire for a seamless, connected customer experience. You may need to take a deep and hard look into your CRM capabilities to fulfil your vision.

Step 4. ROI Justification of investment

Mentioned earlier and something to come back to now, is that sometimes one of the key items overlooked is if this journey is necessary? Can you justify the cost, time and effort in investing in a full and rich Omnichannel approach. For this, the key is in gathering the facts beforehand on the likely volumes of calls, how many agents are needed, what channels would be used. It may be a good idea to have a pilot project first if the cost is going to be significant. In any case, you need to plan. After all, this type of project is most likely to involve new training and new skills for your agents, possibly acting and working in a team for example with social media channels, all of this needs to be taken into account.


Having been involved with many CRM projects over the years, sometimes hard questions need to be asked which is why I have ended this post on considering the Return on Investment (ROI). Just because you can or want to implement something new, this still needs to be justified with facts as far as possible.

As always with any type of CRM project, you need to consider not just the technology and the processes, but also the people. By this, I mean the impact on training or adjusting to new possible ways of working. Underlying this, a key theme should be making the organisation more efficient but in also where possible, taking away some of the low-value added or drudgery tasks that your agents see as possibly wasting too much of their valuable time. As always, it is vital to run Business Process workshops with your Users/Agents to get their input and ideas, as well as helping to engage their enthusiasm for change. This will also help to embed ownership of the project as well as allaying fears about task replacement, often a key concern for personnel in today’s environment.

Again, this is why a Step-by-Step approach can often be the best way forward, since you can implement, measure the effectiveness and track key statistics and your user’s engagement before planning the next stage or channel. And as the list above shows, the more deeply you embrace Omni-channel then the more time and investment is required. So for many SME’s a big bang approach is often not the best use of money or resources, unless the volumes are considerable and you can clearly understand the benefits and ROI of each channel before implementing it.

As always, these are my personal thoughts, based on the last 20 years working in the CRM industry and working especially with a wide variety of SME’s.

31st October 2022