What Does Omni-Channel Mean?

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for a good buzzword. Some, like “big data” (which has spawned “dark data”) and the “cloud” are so entrenched that they don’t feel like buzzwords anymore. Some I still have to think about, such as Yottabytes (a quadrillion gigabytes); others are just too frivolous, like “emoji”, to take seriously. The phrase “Omni-channel” is a great buzzword because it has an intuitive, self-descriptive feel to it that makes you feel you know what it means without having it explained.

What is omni-channel? The ability to communicate across “all” channels? Insurers have been leveraging most channels, including social media, as a way to communicate with clients and agents as much as possible. So what’s different with “omni-channel” that makes it both meaningful and buzz-word worthy?

Two things actually: consistency and sourcing.

Consistency

One problem most insurers face is that the messaging they use across multiple channels is often different. There is nothing worse for an insurer to give two different messages on two different channels. If an applicant, or an insured or an agent for that matter, receives information from the company’s website, but a conflicting message from the call center, that’s an embarrassment to the insurer. It will undoubtedly lower the client’s/agent’s satisfaction and possibly trust in the insurer. Omni-channel is not only about broad access across channels but it’s also about consistent messaging regardless of the touch point and it needs to be in the context of the user.

Consistency is more than just messaging, it’s also about functionality. Clients and agents expect the same level of functionality across channels. Their take is, “If I can do it through the call center, why can’t I do it on the web?” which leads to, “If I can do it on the web, why can’t I do it on my phone?” This is where omni-channel really starts to take on real meaning (and real challenges). Users expect the same messaging and the same level of customer service across all channels that the insurer supports (and users want all channels supported). There may be some functionality that an insurer chooses to restrict from a channel due to sound business issues such as a specific security requirement, but this should be a conscious business decision made by the insurer to support a specific business strategy – not a limitation imposed upon the business because the underlying IT architecture can’t support required functionality.

Sourcing

The biggest hurdle insurers have in creating a consistent, omni-channel experience for users – regardless of whether they’re applicants, existing clients, producers or even internal users – is that each channel is supported by different groups that are using different tools and often don’t support the same level of functionality. There is often very little cohesion between groups so how one channel group interprets a particular capability may be completely different from the way another channel group interprets it. Thus, there may be conflicting sets of rules and messaging being used by each group. While all channels and functionality will never be controlled by one group, there needs to be governance across the entire channel environment to ensure consistency in the information that is going to be shared to the capabilities that will be supported.

Additionally, insurers need to invest in solutions that can supply that cross-channel capability. For example, they buy one product that can provide a web presence but can’t support a call center operation. This results in hard to manage, disparate network of duplicate rules, functionality and management headaches. Supporting this type of fragmented environment may appear to be penny-wise by avoiding new technology investment but it’s pound-foolish from a customer satisfaction and sales execution perspective.

Omni-channel is a goal worth shooting for, especially if you understand what it really entails. The payback can be enormous. It’s also one of my new favorite buzzwords.