Mono-/multi-/cross-/omni-channel? Beam me up Scotty!

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Fredric Joos

Fredric Joos


What does it take to win in the age of the customer? Multi-channel, cross-channel or omni-channel? And what about single- or mono-channel? Can you still be successful without operating multiple channels at the same time?

According to Forrester ‘emotional customer engagement’ is what you need to win in the age of the customer. And how you get there is by consistently delivering great customer experiences, across channels, touch points and all stages in the customer journey. So ‘multi-channel’ is probably not going to cut it in this global, ‘always-on’ economy, as it will not support a ‘cross-channel’ experience. But are all experiences per definition cross-channel?

Before it gets too confusing, let’s try to come up with a clear definition of these four basic operating models: mono-, multi-, cross- & omni-channel. The word ‘channel’ in the context of these operating models refers to ‘interaction’ channels and not to ‘communication’ channels or ‘mediums’. So we are NOT talking about television, radio, billboards,… We are talking about (physical/bricks & mortar) points of sales, online stores, call centers/phone, mail, email, sms, mobile apps, social media,…


In the beginning there was ‘mono-channel’ (or ‘single-channel’): a company sold their products via a single channel to their customers. In most cases this single channel was the physical point of sales: a shop, a store or a branch. Your entire customer journey, from discovering a need over buying the product and getting support was facilitated in this single channel. Or was it? Because, even back in the good old days, you could imagine someone calling to the store to check whether an item was on stock before actually driving over there. What essentially is a ‘single-channel’ sales model from an organizational perspective, from the customer’s perspective quickly becomes a multi-channel purchase experience.


We refer to ‘multi-channel’ when a company operates more than one channel (physical point of sales, contact center, online store, catalogue, mobile commerce, etc.) at the same time to sell to their customers, but without having set up a structured collaboration between these different channels. The individual channels essentially act as independent silos that are exclusively remunerated in function of their respective sales targets.

In a nutshell: multiple channels, one target: sell (and may the best channel win).


Historically, this term has described the capabilities that allow customers to interact and transact with a brand across multiple channels. Traditional examples mostly refer to consumers moving from one channel to another during the course of a single shopping experience, for example, researching an item online and buying in a store, buying an item online and picking it up in a store or buying an item online and returning to a store.

We refer to ‘cross-channel’ when a company operates more than one channel (physical point of sales, contact center, online store, catalogue, mobile commerce, etc.) at the same time to sell to their customers, and has set up a structured collaboration between all channels to allow for customers to seamlessly switch between channels without having to enter the same data twice or without customers having to repeat themselves. A successful cross-channel operating model requires the design and deployment of lead passing techniques (process optimization) and lead passing solutions (tool optimization) that allow leads (and lead data) to flow between channels. Remuneration should be adapted accordingly: channels will not only be remunerated and evaluated based on sales targets, but also on lead generation, lead nurturing and lead distribution.

In a nutshell: multiple channels, one common target: facilitate leads flowing from one channel to the next while minimizing customer effort.


Within an omni-channel operating model, customers are able to interact and transact across all channels and touch points of their preference interchangeably and simultaneously (in real-time). Relative to a cross-channel operating model, omni-channel is a highly aspirational state by expanding the number of channels and touchpoints (within these channels) to meet the customer’s preference and by adding the requirement for real-time data integration: as socially connected consumers move from one channel to another, expecting their stopping point to be “bookmarked”, then allowing them to return through a different retail channel to finish the browsing or purchase process where they had originally left off. For me, omni-channel also requires facilitating interactions between company and customer devices via apps, QR-codes, bluetooth beacons,…

In a nutshell: all channels and touch points your customers prefer, one common target: facilitate each step of the customer journey to maximize customer value and minimize customer effort by allowing real-time switching between preferred channels and touchpoints.

So what does this mean?

Should we all strive for ‘omni-channel’? Or, can even a vintage ‘mono-channel’ operating model still deliver a great customer experience in today’s ‘always-on’ economy? Do they still exist, might be the first question, these ‘mono-channel’ experiences?

When you think about it, most experiences we have today are cross-channel. It is very hard to find any true single-channel experiences. Even at your local bakery, especially during the holidays, most customers call in advance to place an order. Consulting your fuel invoices online, turns your ‘service-station-experience’ into a cross-channel experience. Even paying for parking in the city has gone all ‘omni-channel’ on you when you do so via sms or an app on your smartphone that alerts you when you need to extend your parking time or when it allows you to GPS locate your car upon return…

For me, there is only one mono-channel experience that comes to mind. If you consider the self-service checkout and the cashier checkout at a supermarket as two touch points that belong to the same channel (i.e. physical point of sales), my supermarket experience still is mono-channel. I do not order online to pick up my groceries in the supermarket (my wife does, she’s the efficient one at home). I can sincerely enjoy a trip to the supermarket (albeit that I do prefer –from an efficiency perspective- early on a Saturday morning or late on a Friday evening). But probably it’s just a matter of time before I too switch to a more efficient way of shopping for groceries. I still would like to visit the store (maybe not always), but my in-store experience could be ‘pimped’: an interactive shopping list app with scan functionality, in store GPS to lead me to those ‘hard-to-find’ items,…

What do you think? Is there a future for ‘mono-channel’ or will it all have to be ‘omni-channel’?

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