How To Move On From Silo Delivered Customer Experiences

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I’m reading a great book on service design. It’s something I’m delighted to have stumbled across. Serendipity is a wonderful thing. The authors are at least 10-15 years into their game yet I only just found them. Even though I’ve been talking their language in a parallel world for years, they seem to have more focus and a better ‘sonic screwdriver’. So I’m learning fast.

They also have some great quotes. One of which serves perfectly for exploring an idea I’ve had lurking in the back of my mind for a few months now. They talk about how ‘gaps between silos that seem small from the provider’s point of view can accumulate to form experience crevasses for the customer’.

Silos Suck

This is a profoundly well made point. We are still in the era of efficiency as opposed to effectiveness. The way organisations pursue this goal is to systematically atomise the world then take each piece and figure out how to get the best return aka lowest cost delivery.

This almost inevitably results in separate ownership and focus on isolated objectives. This is the start of why gaps turn into crevasses. These owners are rendered unconsciously incompetent since they are left unaware of the greater context in which they operate. Their mandate is just a slice of the full picture. Yet this remains the time honoured way in which we try and bring things under our control. For instance:

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  • Does a BPO partner providing voice based advisors get their outside-in impact? This is unlikely given the SLAs they are likely to have signed up for.
  • Does an in-house chat team understand where they appear during a customer journey? Especially in organisations which have separate channel owners who are allowed to manage their operation as a cost centre aka power base?
  • Is the ‘put it in the cloud’ SI partner able to see anything beyond API issues and associated performance issues when delivering interaction infrastructure?

Thus ‘services are often created in silos and experienced in bits’. Such players lack the vital context of understanding what the end user is trying to accomplish. More to the point, many will point out that they too are victim of system and workflows that are the product of silo organised design.

Is there a way out? Before giving my own idea on this, I want to tie in another theme which I see is also part of the issue.

Have you noticed the number of articles recently which explore the merging of functions to get over the silo issue? The most popular proposed marriage is that CTOs and CMOs get hitched. Not far behind are the recommended coupling of Sales and Marketing, Marketing and Customer Service. The list goes on. This internal M&A activity has caught the imagination of many and offers a way of saying that the future must be different.

This desire to evolve is also being explored in terms of changes to reporting lines. I’ve noticed this is a cause of much frustration for newer disciplines who feel they are not being understood. For instance I’ve just read an impassioned plea from UX industry leaders who want to make their contribution more effective. This involves them escaping Product and Marketing clutches through stronger CEO links and more expert executive sponsors who will therefore ‘get’ their value.

So What’s Better?

In both examples the instinct is to flatten the organisation. But to my mind the drift of the conversation is misguided since it focuses on internal models of reorganisation which inevitably bring up issues of power, budget and control – the glue which keeps silos in place.

Also if we follow the logic of either solution we either end up with ‘organisation-as-a-single-function’ or many more niche disciplines gaining their own VP sponsor to give them a voice. That’s possible but a new set of management issues are generated as a result.

Instead I wonder if this would work.

Everyone employed by you has an organisational home, probably based on their specialisation. In terms of identity and function its leaders provide the right level of motivated and skilled resources. Somewhat akin to specialist coaches who ensure high performers get the support they need.

However these resources are on permanent loan. Their day to day work is configured within the demands of one/many customer journeys. They no longer belong to functions/silos. They belong to journeys. This sucks in many different functions needed to create, deliver, support and improve a specific journey. The context is now unequivocal. It’s whatever the organisation decides is the ‘best’ competitive response to the full end to end customer need.

Importantly these will vary by journey. Everyone in that cross functional team works towards that aim. Informed by whatever combination of VoC and agile innovation the organisation finds most effective for uncovering and servicing customer needs.

In this reality, VPs now own journeys not functions. Although in mature teams this could be expressed as group leadership for those who worry about the limitations of individual super hero leaders.

Organisation charts on the intranet would detail both the journeys and traditional functional homes. But for external audiences, it’s only the journeys that would feature. Imagine them etched across HQ’s reception area for all visitors to latch onto as to why that organisation exists. This is way beyond the tokenism of recognising that customers pay the bills. It directly matches customer priorities against organisational resources.

Imagine the conversation. “What journeys do you work in?”

How would that change the landscape for the BPO, SI and chat teams I mentioned earlier?

Worth A Discussion?

The genesis of this idea came from a transformation programme I’ve been running for the last four years. Customer service leaders enrol into a six month crowd sourcing activity to change how they manage service quality and advisor performance.

Early on there is a seminal discussion we have on what quality is and who has a voice in defining it. People often find this a challenge: finding the right words to ground their rather woolly sentiment around ‘wanting to meet customer expectations’.

We’ve discovered that universal customer service needs such as ‘consistency’, ‘ease of engagement’ and ‘effective solutions’ can be tackled at this level of generality. But it is only when we look at the customer situation associated with each journey that their more unique requirements start to emerge. These then dictate how the overall journey flows, which engagement channels are best suited, the SLAs that really count and so on. It is this level of refined detail that is starting to matter as organisations move up their CX maturity curve and look for new sources of service differentiation.

So how does this relate to my previous point about organising around customer journeys? My contention is that this way of focussing people and the associated organisation of priorities would produce fewer ‘gaps-into-crevasses’ outcomes than traditional silo based ones. Therefore customers would enjoy a better brand experience. I’ll assume you have stumbled across the rest of the equation that then links positive experiences with improved commercial outcomes.

So what do you think? How can you see this working? Leave your thoughts below. But please let’s forget the reasons why it won’t work since they always get sorted once enough upside becomes visible. Just give everyone your insight into how this could be tweaked into a shape that could be adopted.

  • How would people deliver their outcomes based on being recruited for and organised around ever evolving customer journeys?
  • Where and why would it work better?
  • What are ways around issues you can see from this approach to organisational structure?

Over to you.

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