Cross-channel, multi-channel, omni-channel: What’s the difference?

You’ve heard the buzzwords: cross-channel, multi-channel, omni-channel. But what exactly do those terms mean? While they’re frequently used (and misused) interchangeably, they’re each distinct and have different implications in customer service. Read on to decipher what these words truly mean and establish how your business can practically implement these strategies to strengthen the customer experience.
Though multi-channel, cross-channel and omni-channel are often used interchangeably, learn the differences in order to craft a clearer customer experience.

Virtually any article on customer service or customer experience these days contains one or several of the following key words: multi-channel, cross-channel, and omni-channel. Though these words are often used interchangeably, each has a different definition and application. To demystify the jargon, here’s a quick guide to what these terms actually mean and how they can be applied to your business’ customer interactions.



A multi-channel approach simply means that you are using more than one channel to reach customers. This concept isn’t necessarily new, right? Whether it was telephone, mail, or in-person, there’s almost always been more than one way to reach a company. However, with the rapid proliferation of channels in recent years – from text messaging to social media – the notion of multi-channel is more important than ever. It’s expected there will be an average of nine customer experience channels for more organizations by 2017. As customers now have more channels at their fingertips, businesses must follow suit to keep up with customer preferences.

An example of a multi-channel approach is when a company offers customers multiple mediums to choose from to reach the business – whether email, phone, text, or website – and customers are given the ability to select whichever option they’d prefer to communicate through.



Cross-channel refers to the idea that a customer uses a combination of channels to perform a task. A cross-channel approach builds off the multi-channel strategy. Since customers now have access to more channels, it’s natural for them to use more than one to accomplish their goals. This approach allows customers to use multiple channels in tandem.

For example, a customer who has a question regarding a product may start by looking at the company website’s FAQ, then call a customer service representative to gather further specifics.



Just as cross-channel builds on multi-channel, the omni-channel approach builds upon both of the previously stated strategies. Omni-channel recognizes that customers are actively using multiple channels (often simultaneously) and aims to streamline those interactions. By saving customer preferences and information, and referencing that data in all subsequent interactions, an omni-channel approach creates a seamless and consistent customer experience across channels. Essentially, it means that all the channels a business employs work together.

For example, let’s say a customer makes a payment online. But the next time around, the customer calls a representative to make the payment. In this scenario, under an omni-channel approach, the customer service rep will be able to immediately reference the information from the past payment interaction. The customer doesn’t have to repeat all of their account information and preferences, because the representative already has it.

But why does this all matter? Simply put, customers don’t live in a single-channel world. From mobile phones to smart watches, the way customers communicate is different than it used to be. People expect and demand to be able to use which channel they want, when they want it, where they want it. And if businesses don’t comply, they’ll fall behind to competitors who are more than willing to meet customers where they want to be. Furthermore, businesses who integrate these strategies will not only boost customer satisfaction, but they can save time and money while doing so by streamlining their customer interactions.

So with these definitions in mind, revitalize your customer service and put these terms to work!

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James Mastan

About James Mastan

James Mastan is Director of Solutions Marketing in the Nuance Enterprise division, and has over twenty years of high-tech marketing experience. Previously, James held various marketing leadership positions at Microsoft and more recently founded and ran a marketing consulting company and a mobile application start-up company.