Multichannel versus omnichannel IT support: What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between an omnichannel service desk and a multichannel service desk?

“Omnichannel” and “multichannel” are often used interchangeably. But there is a difference. Axios Systems’ Markos Symeonides explains…

An omnichannel service desk means you can unlock benefits that you don’t get from simply offering IT customers multiple channels of communication with the service desk.

What is a multichannel service desk?

Multichannel simply means IT customers get a choice of channels to reach out to the service desk for support. The best way to understand this is to look back at history. Over the years, new communications technologies have meant new ways for IT customers to contact their service desk:


In the 1980s, when PCs first became popular in the workplace, contact with the service desk was by phone or by walking into the IT department. Both are synchronous and one-to-one forms of interaction.

In the early 1990s, email meant technology users had a second way to communicate. This was the first asynchronous means of interacting with the service desk. If nobody on the service desk was available to answer the phone, employees had a back-up option if they wanted to log a less urgent issue.

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In the mid-1990s, new Web 2.0 technologies enabled interactive web apps made self-service logging possible. Employees could fill in their own Incident records.

In the early 2000s, new 3G networks meant IT customers with feature phones could access the web on the move, making mobile self-logging possible.

Late in the 2000s, 4G networks and the smartphone revolution make native mobile app support possible, triggering the beginning of mass adoption of mobile support.


In the early 2010s, live web chat began to take off as a support channel.

Also in the early 2010s, consumers began using social networks like Twitter and Facebook as a way of communicating with the brands they buy from.

In the late 2020s/early 2020s, the rise of practical service desk chatbot technology makes chatbots a viable alternative to live chat support. They are scalable to handle a volume of demand that far exceeds the capabilities of a “human-only” service desk.


Today, organizations are integrating live chat support channels and chatbots into enterprise collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams so IT customers can get support where they are and save time logging in to a separate IT portal. This reduces the number of steps (customer effort) the employee has to take to get help.

The list of channels will inevitably continue to grow in the future, especially in the digital space where virtual voice assistants are rapidly gaining popularity in the consumer sphere. It is likely that voice support will be the next new support channel—with a friendly-voiced bot talking employees through the steps when they need help.

What is omnichannel support?

Omnichannel is everything that multichannel is with one additional significant feature: cohesion. Seamless integration between channels.

With an omnichannel service desk, an IT user can log an incident through a web portal, receive a confirmation by email, check progress by calling the service desk, and provide feedback through a mobile service desk app. Meanwhile, all the data is tied together by the ITSM platform. To the employee and the service desk the IT customer experience is seamless.

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From the service desk analyst’s perspective, it’s seamless because they have a 360-degree view of the IT customer. Every interaction, no matter which channel it came from is in the ITSM system. They never need to ask the customer the same question twice—because they have all the information at their fingertips.

Omnichannel puts the customer at the center of the equation and integrates all of the channels to give the service desk a complete cross-channel picture of the customer. This means creating a seamless, frictionless experience for the IT customer—not simply deploying new digital support channels because it saves money for IT. The customer journey should look like what they want it to look like—depending on their current context. It’s about giving IT customers choice.

Time is not wasted

In a multichannel scenario, where each channel is managed through a separate point solution, the service desk agent will need to gather information from multiple sources to get a complete history of the issue. This is the equivalent of a worker in a factory having to walk around the site to find the tools they need to complete a task. It’s a good example of excess physical motion—one of the 8 Wastes of Lean. Time is wasted looking for information.

Or, analysts shortcut the process by re-asking the customer the same questions (bad experience for the IT customer), or simply making assumptions (very risky).

The excess motion required to find information slows down the process and can lead to frustration if the agent asks for information the customer has already given.

Prevent repetition

We’ve all been there—calling a service provider to get help, only to be passed from department to department, repeating the same details again and again. If this is happening to your IT customers, you need to make it stop. This is why a unified ITSM solution—one which integrates all channels—is an essential component in an omnichannel service desk strategy because this will provide you with the cross-channel visibility (and centralized data) that you need.

Benefits of seamless omnichannel support

Boost customer satisfaction: Customers don’t need to repeat the same basic information again and again. This reduces Customer Effort and Average Handle Time (AHT). Lower Customer Effort translates to higher Customer Satisfaction. Lower handle time means lower cost-per-call for the service desk. It’s a win-win situation.

Automatic channel switch: When interacting with a service desk chatbot, real-time sentiment analysis (which analyses the tone of their input) can tell if an IT customer is relaxed or irritated. This mood information can be seen by a service desk, so that they can respond appropriately. If the customer is flagged as very irritated, the ticket can be automatically escalated for immediate personal follow-up from an agent to ensure the customer gets the best possible experience.

100% Visibility: The service desk has complete, centralized visibility of the full stream of interaction with the customer—enabling deep analysis of how effective the service desk has been in solving the issue, and unearthing opportunities to further improve the omnichannel experience.

Reduce costs: Giving IT customers a choice of digital channels pays dividends for IT in terms of reduced budget—but only if they use them. When you provide the best possible omnichannel experience, you divert traffic away from the expensive phone support channel and onto more economic digital channels.

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