4 minute read

How do you like to receive information? By paper, smartphone, laptop, or other device? Does your preference change depending on the information you’re receiving?

Multi-channel communications (also known as omni-channel or pluri-channel) is the process of combining digital services and printing techniques to communicate the same information in different ways to customers, employees and other stakeholders.

Demand for multi-channel communications is booming as businesses move away from telling their contacts how important, time-critical information will be sent, to designing customer journeys that put the recipients’ channel(s) of choice first.

So which channels of communication are the most popular? Let’s explore the options.

Channel choice for a mobile-first world

Perhaps one of the greatest influences on channel choice is the explosion of mobile phone use.

According to the Ofcom communications market report, by 2018 smartphones had become the most popular internet-connected device (78% of UK adults use one).

So, what does this mean for channel choice? Organisations thinking mobile-first can design customer and employee experiences that reach recipients on one device but via many different channels. The secret is to understand the channels in use and ensure the information is presented in the best format: whether that’s an email announcement, text notification, social media alert or web portal.

About email

The idea that email is a communication tool of the past isn’t supported by the evidence. Despite the preference among millennials for chat apps (according to an Ovum survey of millennials in the US and Germany they prefer them for business-to-consumer interactions) the tide is still very much flowing in favour of email, with 84% of all UK adults carrying out this activity according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It’s easy to understand why email remains popular. Email platforms like Google’s Gmail for example are simple to access from any device and information can be quickly retrieved. As a channel for customer and employee communications, email is great for sharing general updates and linking people to content you want them to view online. The limitations are with security and deliverability.

We don’t advocate using email for communications that contain personal data as email isn’t secure. Increasingly sophisticated phishing attacks have also made people more wary of email addresses they don’t recognise. The result, higher spam filtering which can inadvertently restrict your valuable content from being viewed.

Email is still preferred by older generations and it’s anticipated that it will be at least 5 years before the preferences of the younger generation begin to tip the balance. So make sure email is in your mix, but think carefully about the information you’re sharing via this channel.

About social media

According to the Ofcom Online Nation report, 49% of UK internet users access the internet for instant messaging communications (29 million) for example WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Whilst advertisers, marketers and customer service teams have been quick to recognise the value of social media, very few organisations are using features like instant messaging for one-to-one customer and employee notifications. As the switch from email use to social messaging apps grows in the coming years, this could become an important channel of communication.

About secure web portals

Ofcom research suggests 51% of UK internet users bank and pay bills online (30 million). The banking and payment industries have worked hard to develop secure online web portals where customers can be confident their personal data is safe. This highly secure, but accessible channel is also proving popular now for other customer and employee communications. It’s a trend that looks set to continue, especially since the introduction of the GDPR in May 2018. Companies, consumers and employees are more mindful of who holds their data and how it is transmitted and stored, and secure web portals offer a protected alternative to sending documents by email.

Text messages

Concise, timely and attention-grabbing, text messages enable organisations to engage their audiences with pinpoint accuracy. Not only are recipients highly likely to read your content (82% of people open every text they receive), they’ll do so within a shorter timescale than both email and social media – usually within a few minutes. Text messages are a particularly powerful tool for personalising communications, for example sending appointment reminders or creating personalised post-purchase promotions.

The obvious constraint with text messages is the limited amount of content they can contain while the use of specific messenger apps raises issues of variable coverage and security, limiting the type of information appropriate for distribution via this channel.

About chatbots

Chatbots help organisations interact and engage with customers and offer instant customer service.

But the jury appears to be out on their use as a communication tool. On the one hand the chatbot market is expected to exceed £1 billion by 2024 but on the other, recent research by Acquia (The ‘Closing the CX Gap’ report) reveals that one in five consumers want brands to ditch chatbots. 45% of consumers generally find chatbots ‘annoying’, and 78% of consumers say the problem with automated experiences is that they’re too impersonal.

About print

In our connected world, it’s easy to assume everyone embraces digital communications. But the Ofcom Online Nation report, highlights that in 2019, 13% of adults do not use the internet. This figure has been consistent for five years and suggests this hard to reach group are unlikely to change their communication preferences any time soon: so providing print is still essential.

And even for some internet users, there is still a preference for print: people liking the convenience of a paper record for specific information – like insurance schedules or share statements. Print is more tangible, physically accessible and stimulates more senses than digital communications which means recipients tend to pay more attention to the content. As a communication channel this allows you to include more personalisation, QR codes for mobile interaction, and an abundance of creative options.

In recent years, green considerations around energy and materials used to create printed documents has had an impact on its popularity, but advances in green energy and renewable resources have made the medium more sustainable, which has put print back on an even footing with online.

Datagraphic has been successfully delivering document automation across some of the UK’s best known businesses for more than 20 years. So we understand the nuances of each and every channel you’ll use and we’ll use our experience to ensure your multi-channel communications strategy delivers an exceptional and consistent customer or employee experience, improved efficiency and costs savings, and more robust compliance with data security and regulatory requirements.


  1. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0025/149146/online-nation-report.pdf
  2. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/householdcharacteristics/homeinternetandsocialmediausage/bulletins/internetaccesshouseholdsandindividuals/2018