What is Omni-Channel and Why Should You Care?
By now, you’ve no doubt heard about omni-channel. (If not, you can get up to speed on the basics here on our blog.) And perhaps you may think it’s only relevant for retail organizations. But omni-channel is not just about units sold or customers converted: it’s about serving your users as best you can, meeting them where they are, and using your data to power an exceptional experience. This concept extends far beyond retail. Great experiences matter for everyone, including non-profits, NGOs, and of course governments.
In government, you don’t need a huge budget for digital, or a wealth of advanced software to start down the path of omni-channel – but you do need some key information and the right mindset. That, coupled with an appropriate strategy, will help you apply an omni-channel approach and provide more efficient service delivery, putting your citizens at the center of your digital experience.
Trust in government is a precious resource. And providing an omni-channel experience for citizens is not only a good practice, it also increases that trust. Conversely, introducing moments of friction into an experience can instantly erode trust. Think of a time you’ve called customer service for an issue with, say, your cable subscription. Typically the first thing you have to do is enter your account number. Then, after navigating the menu system, if you’re lucky enough to get to a human being, what’s the first thing they do? They ask for your account number, and you ask yourself, How can these people solve my problem if they can’t pull up my account number 3 minutes after I entered it?
Government services are no different. When citizens get conflicting information on a government website, or can’t pull up what they need on a mobile device, or have to give someone the same information multiple times, their trust is eroded, one experience at a time. Citizen trust is hard enough to earn and keep, don’t let your user experience work against you to erode that trust.
Elements of Omni-channel
As discussed on the blog posts linked above, Omni-Channel has 2 primary elements:
- Channels. Channels are the means of an interaction. Some examples of channels are a customer service hotline; a desktop website; a physical office; a mobile app; print materials. All of these are means through which an interaction takes place between a government (or brand, or service provider) and a citizen (or customer, or user, etc.).
- Touchpoints. Each specific point of interaction is a touchpoint. Examples of touchpoints include a phone call with customer service; an in-person visit to the DMV; an email newsletter; an FAQ page on the website; a printed mailing. Each touchpoint represents a step in a citizen’s journey on their path to achieve something (e.g., to renew their license).
Understanding the journey that someone has to go through is key to understanding what they need from you and what their context is at each point in their path. Journeys are comprised of touchpoints happening over channels. The better you understand journeys and are able to smooth the friction from one touchpoint to another across channels, the closer you are to offering a real Omni-Channel experience.
There’s a major element of Omni-Channel that lurks behind the scenes and powers everything above: data. Data is the driver that enhances the citizen experience; what you know about your users tells you how to plan for them. Most government organisations (like so many non-government organisations) are victims of siloed data. Some of those silos are in place for regulatory reasons, but others are often the result of years of a lack of an internal content strategy or simply reflect the way things have always been done.
Breaking your data out of those silos is key to providing a useful omni-channel experience. Seeing the data forest and the trees will also help you provide more efficient service delivery, which is what omni-channel is all about. Knowing how, where, and when citizens use government services (to use just one example of a useful data set) can help government agencies target their services most effectively and ensure that all citizens have access to the services they need. Opening up your data may provide inspiration as well – you can’t think of great things to do with your data if you don’t know what you have.
Getting familiar with your data, your channels, and your touchpoints is the first step on the road to an omni-channel approach. Where to go from here? Our next blog post in this series will highlight some great examples of omni-channel in the government and NGO space to offer inspiration, as well as walk you through some tactical steps you can start on immediately to put your data to work for you and your citizens.