Does your business have a silo detective? This might be the highest-ROI effort of your customer experience council, chief customer officer, chief operating officer — or better yet, every employee. Things that don’t make sense in the way business is done can almost always be traced to silo-ization. And the pain of business silos is well-known to everyone, whether employee or customer.
But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Silos in business, like most things in life, have “two sides to the coin”. The good side: variety, ownership, accountability, specialization, and efficiency — yes, we need these. The bad side: short-sightedness, self-centeredness, inaccessibility, and inefficiency — of course these are painful. Use wisdom in determining whether a silo should be eliminated. In some cases, elimination creates its own set of downsides. Overall, the key to dealing with silos inside a business is in expanding our perspectives and motivations in the work we do. This is the genesis of collaboration and universality (i.e. compatibility) needed to overcome the negatives while benefiting from the positives.
Your silo detectives should seek ways to expand perspectives, motivations, collaboration and universality whenever a silo is identified.
This article is the first in a monthly series that will investigate silos impacting customer experience excellence. Each article in this series will explore the in’s and out’s of spanning silos for customer experience excellence.
Did you know there are at least 10 silos impacting customer experience?
1) Organizational Silos
“Another department handles that” is all-too-common for customers to hear. In customers’ minds, “You have to go to X to get that” or “I’ll transfer you to Y” means delays in getting on with their objective. It means hassles: having to re-explain the situation, or worse, having to recite yet again account numbers and security answers.
Obviously businesses must have departments to specialize knowledge and streamline work. What’s missing for the customer experience is information-sharing, empowerment and collaboration among departments to minimize delays and hassles. Additionally, chronic thorns in customers’ sides typically span multiple organizations, emphasizing the dire need for organizational collaboration.
2) Channel Silos
“We only handle in-store transactions; you’ll have to contact the dealer you bought from, or our online group.” In customers’ minds, this means extra costs, delays, premature roll-outs, and lack of brand integrity: am I dealing with one brand or a mish-mash of opportunists?
A variety of sales and service channels help customers get what they need when they need it. What’s missing for the customer experience is integrated data, policies, and procedures, and experience continuity across sales channels, across service channels and between sales and service channels.
3) Systems Silos
“You’ll have to log-in to our other site” or “That mobile app isn’t available for the type of account you have” or “That went to the fax machine at our national site”. In customers’ minds, this means red tape nuisances, mustering patience to understand the lack of logic, chasing things that fell into a black hole, and tiresome delays.
Businesses acquire other businesses and adopt new technologies, and it takes time to consolidate or integrate. What’s missing for the customer experience is proactive communication about what to expect, carrying the ball for the customer rather than pushing the inconvenience on them, and taking initiative to prevent black holes.
4) Data Silos
“That’s in another database” or “thanks for being transferred to me; what is your account number and situation again?” In customers’ minds, this means repetition, wasted time, and uncertainty.
Businesses capture data all along the customer life cycle, from different sources, and in various formats. What’s missing for the customer experience is minimization of the mundane and laborious steps to get what they need.
5) Process Silos
“Welcome from your dealer” and “welcome from your success manager” and similar messages from so many departments might underscore your enthusiasm for the customer, but multiple groups sending onboarding notes, or requesting survey feedback, and so forth indicate broken processes. In customers’ minds, this means means extra reading, redundant interactions, and confusion about who to go to for what, another set of things to integrate into their already busy life.
Businesses have many moving parts that serve customers and want customer inputs. What’s missing for the customer experience is simplicity, with a focus on their own life/business rather than a sizable amount of their mindshare on the supplier’s business.
6) Vision Silos
Different people managing different parts of the customer experience have different visions of the customer experience strategy. Information Technology’s vision may be at odds with Marketing’s vision, and so on across the C-suite. Furthermore, voice-of-the-customer managers envision survey responsiveness that maximizes referrers, while loyalty managers envision renewals that hit monthly quotas, digital marketing managers envision personalized interactions, and customer care managers envision first contact resolution. In customers’ minds, this means enticements to behave when and how the company wants them to, and policies and requests that don’t always seem to be in their best interest.
Businesses have targets for growth, cost containment, and risk reduction, adjusted for each functional area. What’s missing for the customer experience is an irrefutable feeling that their well-being comes first, when and how it best fits their objectives, as a trust-builder and precursor to organic growth, cost containment, and risk reduction.
7) Assumption Silos
Different people throughout a company have different understandings of customers’ realities. Focus on survey scores rather than customer survey verbatims, journey maps focused on a touchpoint, and other common practices obscure an accurate big picture of the end-to-end customer life cycle. In customers’ minds, this means inconsistent empathy for their plight, and inconsistent experience across their end-to-end journey or life cycle.
Businesses are busy with running the business, and it takes a concerted effort to create a common understanding across thousands of employees. What’s missing for the customer experience is “doing the whole job” across customers’ needs and feeling valued as a long-term customer as much or more than a new customer is valued.
8) Goal Silos
Customer-facing staff have customer experience goals, but staff that doesn’t interface with customers typically do not see a connection of their work to customer experience; they’re focused on productivity or other internal criteria. In customers’ minds, this means products, processes, policies and business models that don’t always respect customers’ expectations.
Businesses have multiple obligations: shareholders, industry analysts, customers, and so forth. It’s easy to dilute the over-arching importance of customers as the lifeblood of funding for all the business does. What’s missing for the customer experience is getting things right the first time and all the time, as much as is humanly possible — preventing the need to rely so heavily on customer-facing staff and enticements.
9) Metrics Silos
Performance measurement of the business may be different from performance measurements of organizations, individuals, and teams. Particularly when it comes to dashboards, incentive pay, and recognition. In customers’ minds, this means heroics take precedence over prevention of issues, they’re directed to give a certain rating when the survey comes around, issues are resolved for individuals rather than customers collectively, and the supplier is content with industry-leading survey scores rather than resolving chronic issues once and for all.
Businesses measure what’s tied to goals; this may work well if the goals are accurately tied to accurate assumptions and well-founded shared vision for customer experience excellence. What’s missing for the customer experience is prevention of issues and anticipation of their expectations and reactions.
10) Handoff Silos
“That’s not my job” may be heard anywhere in a company, and anywhere across a customer experience journey or the customer life cycle. “That’s the fault of Y” is often heard by customers when sloppy handoffs occur between software or hardware or services, or between headquarters or branches, or between alliance partners, and so forth. In customers’ minds, this means headaches in trying to achieve their objectives, a possible bottomless pit of time and effort to figure things out on their own.
Businesses need to define scope and boundaries to maintain productivity and return on investment. What’s missing for the customer experience is prevention of surprises and true solutions toward their objectives.
Your silo detectives will certainly be busy identifying missed opportunities among these 10 silo categories. Missed opportunities mean precious resources are wasted, potential growth is unrealized, money is left on the table, avoidable churn of customers and employees takes a toll on the whole business, and return on investment across a wide variety of business endeavors could be much higher.
If you’re seeking to stand out from the crowd, span silos. If you want to thrive in ease-of-doing-business, span silos. If your aim is customer experience excellence, it’s imperative to span silos.
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Lynn: this is a good list. I suggest adding ‘accounting silos’- an issue I identified as causing a massive service breakdown in a 2008 article I wrote, The Winner’s Curse: Sometimes It’s Better to Lose a Sale.
With my clients today, I can identify the customer service problem ‘hot spots’ by first looking at the General Ledger chart of accounts, and learning how the company has created departmental P&L’s.
When service organizations and warranty operations are established with departmental P&L’s, when their managers are compensated on departmental profitability, customer service often suffers. This is precisely what happened in my example. The department responsible for supporting the client didn’t want to incur the expenses because it harmed their monthly profits. Similarly, Sales didn’t want to take on the expense because that would make their profit numbers look bad. Besides, Sales had already been credited with the revenue. Therefore, time to move on.
Many CFO’s don’t recognize the customer service problems that are created by these accounting silos.
It’s great to see a fellow silo disciple. I believe that most companies don’t know there own silos and acknowledge the impacts to CX. My CX experience see more than 70% CX issues are surrounded by silos. I also see many CX resolutions only addressing a single silo, which can break another silo if not vetted End To End. Great article!
Thanks, Andrew. That’s a great example of conflicting goals, metrics, organizations, and processes.
It’s this type of detecting that needs to take place when people come across things that aren’t working right.
Too often, managers’ reactions exacerbate the situation, or ignore it, figuring that it’s just too complicated or political. Asking “why” 5 times often uncovers most of the culprits. Then seeking ways to expand perspectives, motivations, collaboration and universality can lead to solutions that minimize the negatives.
I’ll keep your example in mind for future articles in this series.
That’s true, Tim. Knee-jerk reactions to fix a single silo often have a ripple effect on other things, making things worse elsewhere or over the course of time.
Systems thinking is a very little understood, yet essential, concept for successful management of most things in life, regardless of the application. Unfortunately, many of the resources that explain systems thinking do it in a way that is too scientific for typical managers, citizens, and lawmakers.
In this article series about Spanning Silos for Customer Experience Excellence I’ll help readers apply practical tools to get at the heart of the negatives efficiently and effectively.
Thank You Lynn for concrete and overwhelmingly interesting article.
Really good post Lynn, and very true. I agree with Andrews comment too, department heads and account managers etc. are more concerned about the success of their own silo and it easy to understand why when their salary and bonuses are based on that too.
If you haven’t read Gillian Tett’s book “The Silo Effect” you should. Lots of great examples … all explored through an anthropologist’s lens.
Thanks for these great comments!
We’re continuing the exploration of each of these 10 silos, month by month:
February’s “spanning silos” column is 4 Ways Silo Detectives Drive Organizational Collaboration
Great insights for focusing organizational efforts and culture to asses and create enterprise-wide solutions, systems and practices that make knowing and meeting customer experience expectations paramount. And refining “silo” efficiencies secondarily based on such. The norm is for the tail (silos) wagging the dog. It’s all about treating the whole patient, not just dealing with separate symptoms which can do more harm than good. Thanks Lynn.