Functional Silos: Is a Brave New World Afoot?


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I recently attended an event in Sydney, and it was a real eye-opener to hear how companies are navigating their way through the evolving customer experience landscape. As with most industry events, there were a range of people and companies present, bringing all the accompanying diversity you might expect (and hope for!). But what actually rang true for me were the similarities between companies that at first glance seem like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I heard similar stories time and time again about the paths these companies were on when putting customer experience programs in place, and the way that many executives are still struggling with businesses designed around functional silos.

I have always thought this last bit around functional silos was odd. I know it makes sense to have functional specialties separated by department throughout a company. This arrangement helps to create efficiencies by ensuring the skills are collected in one place to provide certain services. However, it seems to me that as businesses have grown, merged, acquired, and grown a bit more, that the cracks between these functional silos have widened significantly.

I always remember a comment made by a business customer I worked with a few years back. We were conducting a B2B study amongst key accounts and one individual was praising how nice the client representatives were while noting the gaps between our functional silos. He said, “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Both are charming, but they’ve never met.” It is a quote that has stuck with me ever since, and I was reminded of it again at this event, hearing others describe similar symptoms of the same root causes.

However, the part that remains odd to me, more than 10 years later – just as it was back then, the customer is too often the glue between departments in an organization. Not the systems or processes supporting the organization – the customer! Why is this still the case so often? How many times have you, as a customer, had to call a company only to have to explain your situation two or three times to two or three different people until one of them can figure out how to help you? Is it me? Maybe it is me, but I am confident enough to bet it’s not.

Nevertheless, it is a funny turn of events that has seen organizational structures designed to create efficiencies for the business – on the one hand – lead to the creation of inefficiencies for the customer on the other. Even funnier, new IT systems are often still being designed to plug the gap – by showing disparate teams their combined impact on the customer experience despite the best of intentions all round.

So, where do we go from here? Is this heading towards the customer experience equivalent of matrix management? The silos need to remain as there is too much process and pain invested in their creation, but the secondary business structure that is needed to support the customer is coming from another source altogether. Sometimes this support is coming from software systems tying it all together, sometimes in other ways, such as with the Internet of Things (IoT).

The promise of IoT is at the center of a lot of discussion enabling new actions, and as a result, businesses are able to do things they weren’t able to before. I’m not sure whether the whole thing is a red herring or not. It may be too soon to tell, but the promise is certainly there. So far, there has been a steady adoption of IoT technologies in industrial settings, but I’ll be eager to see how things unfold as IoT moves into service-oriented enterprises and organizations, as the value these smart technologies could bring is endless.

Moreover, as more systems and functions are connected for the purpose of more streamlined, high-level business insight, more integrated customer insight will also be possible. As this industry moves more heavily into IoT, companies will be able to gain more understanding about consumers, employees, and customer experience than ever before. Through this more comprehensive understanding, barriers will inevitably be broken down, and businesses will be armed with the information they need across all silos of the organization, and combine this to create a 360-degree customer view. It could be that technology helps bring us (or at least the data) together in ways we can’t yet imagine. But I’m not sure we’re there yet.

Perhaps we need something more in the here-and-now to get us started? Back at the event I was cheered to hear how people were organizing themselves differently in the face of these challenges. I heard a great story of one company creating cross-functional teams, mixing people from marketing and IT into one team designed to support the customer in a more end-to-end manner. It’s an approach we always recommend at Confirmit, and while it was bumpy to begin with, they are now seeing the benefits. It’s a brave new world. Let’s mix things up a bit – and let’s lose the silos.

Phil Durand
Phil has worked in customer experience measurement for twenty years. In his role at Confirmit, he works closely with customers to help define and design global Voice of the Customer programs that deliver business change.


  1. 34% of CEOs said the number 1 reason that companies do not deliver value is the lack of a Customer strategy, and 28% said the number 2 reason is silos….so it proves your point

  2. When, mid-post, you state ” the customer is too often the glue between departments in an organization”, to me that’s ‘code’ for the cultural DNA of the enterprise. Beyond management models (matrix, holacratic, etc.), servant leadership, cross-functional teamwork and less hierarchical organizational structures,, the quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, attributed to Peter Drucker, is a core element of the ongoing proof that stakeholder-centricity, and an emotionally-considered humanistic approach to customers and employees works. In the constantly evolving stakeholder experience world, this separates the unenlightened, mediocre and merely good companies from those that are truly great.

  3. When people start implementing internal processes the first area the usually focus on is removing the handoffs. The boundaries between teams, departments, whatever are when the ball gets dropped most often. If a great experience requires that no ball gets dropped, that the customer is not the glue that holds the organization together, then silos MUST be eliminated.

    One way of doing it is the cross-functional teams that Phil recommends. In my experience, like Phil’s, this is the way to organize.

  4. Thank you for the comments and supporting stories everyone. Good to know this resonates with others. Thanks for reading.


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