“Where do you want to go for dinner?” The haunting question that has plagued homes for decades. Healthy or fried? Sit down or takeout? Ultimately, the choice never feeling quite right. Now imagine, if you will, a utopia in which the perfect dinner choice is anticipated based on your exact tastes and proffered, without the grief of 45 minutes wasted staring at a list of restaurants you have scrolled through countless times before.
Sadly, we find ourselves still years away from the optimal dinner choice emerging like a phoenix from the flames, but the underlying concept is one that has been applied – quite impactfully – to customer communication. Like dinner options, the number of communication channels available to customers today is seemingly endless: texting, messaging, calling, mailing. If we can do it all, the question becomes, how do we optimize the customer’s communication experience at each stage of the purchasing process?
The answer: Optichannel Communication.
A Brief History
- Single Channel Communication – This long-outdated communication strategy harkens back to the dark ages of customer engagement, a time when brands only had the ability to engage with customers through a single source of communication. In this simplistic strategy, your customer received a bill in the mail and mailed back a payment. One channel for all your communication.
- Multichannel Communication – Essentially the equivalent of the industrial revolution. Suddenly, brands now offered a multitude of communication channels for the customer to choose from. Your customer now had the possibility to receive a bill in the mail, call for more information, reach out about a question on social media and visit your website for payment.
- Omnichannel Communication – With many communication channels comes many problems – namely the loss of information when a customer switches from one channel to the next. Thus, the integration of channels is born. Similarly to multichannel, your customer receives their bill in the mail, calls for more information, reaches out about a question on social media and finally visits your website for payment. The difference? All information and updates from each communication are gathered and stored, meaning they do not need to reexplain or reenter critical information when switching between channels.
Each iteration of the customer communication model has aimed to ease the burden placed upon customers and create a more holistically positive experience throughout the entirety of the journey. But with new strategies come new requirements – most importantly, meeting the customer at their preferred channel of communication.
Optichannel communication utilizes the overarching framework of omnichannel but propels it further by anticipating which channel will be the most favorable – or optimal – to the customer at any given time.
While the focus of other communication strategies has revolved around the channels themselves – offering more options, channel integration – this strategy takes a new approach, looking through the customer lens to anticipate and personalize the customer communication and channel for each stage. Whether it is preemptively messaging a customer who typically reaches out about billing questions via social media, or including a return envelope for customers who always pay their bills by mail, actively connecting with customers via their preferred channels takes the guesswork out of the conversation.
The key to anticipating the optimal communication channel? Data, data, customer history (which is data) and more data. By analyzing previous use, customer characteristics and communication preferences, brands predetermine a customer’s optimal channel of communication and preface the impending interaction with targeted messaging.
The customer communication landscape continues to shift as technology develops and customer expectations intensify. What was once limited to physically mailings and phone calls has grown to become a veritable maze of communication channels and interactions, with customers choosing one or all channels to convey their messages to a brand. Traversing this complex maze and reaching the customer at the right time, with the right message, through the right channel remains the holy grail of communication.