Becoming a Silo Slayer


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At Live Path, we pride ourselves in being asked back by our clients, year-after-year, to provide reliable counsel regarding their strategies and customer experiences.  One of the biggest problems we encounter are the ongoing “silo wars” that foster internal competition and behavior that often works to undermine customer experience.  Since we started actively writing about this in 2005, very little has changed, and you can see these battles represented almost everywhere:

  • Bickering within a single marketing department, where different teams “own” different customer segments, and all have different strategies.
  • Infighting between sales and marketing teams that may not see eye-to-eye, or demonstrate mutual respect
  • Complaints by front-line customer service staff about perpetual problems that never get fixed by those responsible for them

Those are just a few examples.

Without question, the problems become proportionate to the size of the organization.   (Side note:  That’s one of the reasons we don’t embrace the idea that any organization is “too big to fail.”  Indeed, by failing, we learn.  Failure keeps us honest.  By protecting companies from failure, we rob them of their incentive to succeed by serving others well.)   However, whether a company is big or small, the silo wars are alive and well —  it doesn’t matter if there are 15,000 or 150 employees (or less, even).

What we almost unilaterally find is that a silo culture is perpetuated from the top down.   Perhaps part of this stems on the post-industrial business educations we’ve given people, which emphasize and reinforce silos.  Typically, at the C-level, companies issue strategic imperatives and revenue goals, and task executives with taking ownership of a portion of revenue generation, or managing a cost-center.   Executives form their strategic plans, addressing these strategic mandates, and those plans (and accompanying tasks and assignments – along with KPI’s and metrics), and this flows down to employees.  It’s highly numbers and task driven focus.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with tasks – they help people know what they need to do.  There’s nothing wrong with numbers, either.  They pay the rent (unless you’re in the red).  The problem is, while lofty goals and mission statements abound, the strong emphasis on tasks and numbers focus, combined with the fact that management continues to push harder for results, can have a detrimental result.  We can unwittingly build cultures where people will do almost anything to check the boxes on their task lists … and will try anything to drive the numbers.  Sadly, this can sometimes mean true strategic focused is sacrificed — teamwork is compromised, and sometimes, goals are attained by manipulation and/or compromising the business in other areas.  Many employess find it hard to take the time to stop and “be strategic” or solve complex problems.  The perception is that it’s too hard, and too time consuming for very little personal gain.

In truth, many executive goal setting sessions give little more than lip service to delivering great customer experiences.   This is reflected in the reports that measure CX related progress each year. We talk a good game, but the proof is in the results.  In many organizations today, from a CX perspective, there’s just not much to sink your teeth into.  While there are typically more customer-focused initiatives than the past, there’s very often no clear framework that empowers and incentivizes executives to work cross-functionally to help orchestrate a really awesome, comprehensively great customer experiences.  So, the organization is incentivized to stay in the comfort zone, and keep to the the silos.  This has a myriad of impacts, including the following:

  • People view customer experience as little more than a buzz word
  • Staff place emphasis task completion, rather than the people they serve
  • Teams myopic in their vision and activity because there’s little incentive to do otherwise
  • Organizations have poor linkages between silos responsible for managing customers at various stages of their journey / experience
  • People do not understand or embrace their true role, responsibility and ownership of the customer journey
  • Staff doesn’t know how to enable truly customer-centric, proactive experience planning & collaboration
  • CX improvement initiatives happen within silos, and may fail as a result

Ultimately, this makes it easy for companies to routinely “drop the customer ball” at various stages of CX, alienating prospects and customers and losing revenue — despite their investments in CRM, MRM, marketing optimization, business process improvement,  etc.   This also sets up a lousy culture for innovation and service, because when people are forced to work from the “neck down” (that is, heads down and task focused),  it’s nearly impossible to work from the “neck up” (strategically, cross-functionally).  This not only frustrates forward progress, it can drive away truly innovative people away from your organization.

What can be done?  Well there’s certainly not a simple answer.  This is why clients knock on our door.  However, here are a few things we’ve found that work quite well:

  • Crafting executive mandates to emphasize focus on ownership of customer journey, collaborative problem solving and cross-functional responsibility helps companies shift focus positively on teaming for success.
  • Developing a clear, persona-driven understanding of the customers you serve helps companies better aligning the organization around the creation of positive experiences for those people.
  • Aligning the KPI’s, metrics, and revenue generation to customer experiences helps companies slay the silos and develop a culture that is more truly and holistically focused on the people they serve.
  • Conducting real customer research, spending time with customers and developing an honest view of what real people experience with your company, breeds honesty within a company – especially when it aligns to captured data.
  • Making experiences and problems tangible, makes them more unilaterally understood.  This also makes it easier to identify necessary improvements and rally teams for problem solving.
  • Developing shared, customer-centric performance metrics and establishing cross-functional collaborative goals and expectations is an effective way to develop commonalities between teams that inspire teamwork.
  • Shifting the emphasis from finger-pointing between “competing” teams on to creating a desired outcome helps direct energy at solving customer problems — ideally within limited time frames for fast results!

In our experience, when companies get these things right, the numbers and success follow.  It doesn’t take perfection.  It takes iterative improvement, dedication, honesty, integrity and embracing what’s most important:  serving people well.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Leigh Durst
Leigh (Duncan) Durst is the principal of Live Path. She is a 19 year veteran in business, operations and customer strategy, ecommerce, digital and social media. As an active consultant, writer, speaker and teacher, she is an advocate for creating remarkable customer experiences that harness digital media and improving business outcomes.


  1. Leigh, you have touched on one of my favorite subjects.

    For years I helped companies with internal customers, till I realised this was a flawed concept. Internal customers implies silos, and one department servicing the other, rather than people in different departments working in tandem as a team to satisfy the customer.

    In a survey of 400 CEO’s we found that 38% said the number one problem preventing a good customer experience was the lack of a customer strategy and 30 odd percent said the lack of internal cooperation (read silos) was the number one problem preventing good delivery of customer experience.

    What is worse is that many companies feel that because they have a customer service manager, the customer will get serviced. He has little authority to make things happen and the other departments go their merry way without worrying about the customer.

    My book, Total Customer Value Management talks about this and assigns customer roles to various departments.

  2. Chimneyed communication and silo operations are sure signs of organizations that are poorly configured to deliver employee or customer value. If an enterprise is to become customer-centric, or stay that way, a stable model needs to be the foundation. The best model I’ve identified for applying all of the ideas addressed in the blog is the Seven S Framework, developed by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman while working McKinsey in the late 1970’s, and still in use by McKinsey today.

    What the Seven S Framework helps to do is focus full corporate effort and emphasis on customer initiatives, optimizing experiences and performance for all stakeholders:

  3. @Gautam — Yes, the passing the buck approach, and the idea that CX is “someone else’s job” is just laziness, and executives that perpetuate that myth need to go! Your data backs up other stuff that’s being published.

    @Michael, great post. I believe I had some exposure to 7S when I was in management consulting, and we apply something pretty similar in our engagements. Of course, you’ve gotta get in at the right level to apply something like this. What we see is that a LOT of CX initiatives themselves start within the silos. While gains can be achieved, it’s challenging because the work is typically so limited in scope that it’s hard to impact things in a broad manner. It’s an ongoing challenge that requires diligence and delivery over time!

  4. Thank you, Leigh, for your reminder that the purpose of an organization, according to the father of management, Peter Drucker is to create and retain a customer. Too often the C suite run their silos as if the purpose of the organization is to make money and outshine a peer. Drucker enjoyed saying to use such a short-sighted mission was like saying the purpose of life was to eat! Organizations must make money to survive; people must eat to survive. But, holding up money-making as the driving force fuels the competitive zeal to win against peers rather than collaborating to be successful. As you say, it starts at the top with the partnership orientation of senior leaders. Goals and metrics must be crafted to reinforce “co-laboring” (working together). And, they must keep the organizational focus on customers. The late Sam Walton pointed out that the customer can fire everyone in the organization from the CEO to the frontline worker simply by spending their money elsewhere.

  5. Leigh, I’ve always enjoyed your angle on things. Over the past couple years I’ve heard more and more customer experience professionals echo your points, saying these were somewhat new revelations for them now that their VoC/CRM/loyalty technology buys at the start of the recession have been deployed. Yet there are still a significant number who don’t yet appreciate the silo implications you describe. Here are some ideas as to why that is:

    What I’ve noticed is that CX technology is often viewed as a silver bullet, perpetuated in part by marketers who call their solutions CX, and in part by business silos that are tasked with CXM and who don’t have cross-company visibility/mojo.

    I’ve also noticed reluctance to think big about CX: to plan from the beginning how data will be used widely to sharpen the company’s alignment to what matters most to customers, to seek customer inputs that could be instrumental in informing enterprise strategy and processes and policies, to apply customer inputs to reframe roles and rituals and motivations and deprivations, to transform the company rather than transform a touchpoint or the customer.

    What’s most ironic is that customer satisfaction management led eventually to customer experience management — and although customer sat was surrounded by quality tools that would enable a more holistic, internally engaged, and scientifically guided approach — what we’ve morphed into in our CX thinking is generally absent those quality tools: 7S, cascaded goals, pareto, fishbone, inter-relationships, gantt, pert, and so on.

    Regarding the myopia described above, the C-team is typically to blame for not appropriately scoping the role of head facilitator of CXM. When you think about its importance and the variety of skills and exposure it requires, the head facilitator should be one of the most well-rounded people the organization can find . . . or at least the head facilitation team, collectively, should be.

    The recent conversations on about whether CXM is only about interactions points to the silo-ized treatment described in your article, Leigh. My view is that customer experience insights provide the context for everything managers do — similar to financial insights providing context for everything managers do. And when that context is missing or disrespected in favor of silos — silo-thinking, silo-information, silo-systems, silo-organizations — the company, employees, shareholders, and customers all miss out on what could have been, as you point out.


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