Why Silos Suck: Break Down Organizational Barriers for a Better Customer Experience


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Most large companies (and many that are mid-size or even small) have been struggling to overcome customer service and data silos for decades.

Sadly, this problem – in spite of it being widely recognized as one of the biggest barriers when it comes to delivering a consistent end-to-end customer experience – hasn’t gone away. And it won’t, until a true outside-in view of the experience from your customers perspective is used to see precisely where barriers and pain exist as they attempt to cross silos in an attempt to reach their goals, and changes are made as a result.

silosThat’s why, if your company is serious about making it easier for customers to do business with you, identifying your silos and understanding how your customers interact with you across them is critical.

What kinds of silos do you have?

Every organization has silos. Usually based on functions (finance, marketing and sales, for example) or channels (web, call center and retail) or other departmental or organizational scheme, very few companies actually organize around customers.

If they did (and many of those that do), they would look at these functional or organizational capabilities more as “centers of excellence” than silos, with each focused on their part of the customer experience, having a clear understanding of how the overall experience is affected by their efforts. Under this structure, silos of any kind are:

  • Totally transparent, allowing employees across the organization to “see inside and across” other silos with an understanding of how each groups actions affect customer perceptions in the context of an end-to-end experience.
  • Integrated, in that the “below the line” systems, processes, capabilities, data and apps that support and inform experiences across the customer journey enable the seamless hand-off of customers from one system or process to another.
  • Porous, in the context of information and data about your customers and what they do being able to flow in and out of each silo to and from people and groups in other parts of the organization.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a common reality. Studies conducted recently by organizations including Forrester Research Inc., the American Management Association and others show that the vast majority of executives believe that not only do they have silos, but that those silos are having a significant negative effect on their organizations.

And they’re right. Because we hear from customers all the time about their frustrations as they attempt to accomplish goals when they deal with companies like these across channels or functions. And these frustrations are growing – because customer expectations for better and more consistent cross-channel experiences have radically increased.

Customer experience goes across – not down – organizational silos

The reality is that customer experiences don’t nicely fit into individual silos, regardless of type. Customers interact with a company horizontally, across silos, bouncing from the web to the call center, or from marketing to sales.

Time and again, we see that managers and employees within each silo are often doing their level best to deliver great customer experiences within the context of their “silo” – and the incentives and reward structures they operate under to do so.

The problem is, even when each group is doing their best, it can feel disconnected and broken to your customer. From their perspective, it can be schizophrenic and annoying when the experience of working with the call center or a sales group is completely different from the experience of dealing with accounting, customer service, or installation.

Your silos are squeezing your customers out the door

We see this play out in countless frustrating ways; customers spend significant time repeating the most basic information: name, account numbers, passwords, and more, every time they transact on the Web, over the phone and in-person. Or employees don’t have access to customer histories, much less their wants and needs, and – with a few notable exceptions, such as Amazon or Zappos – corporate websites don’t remember what a customer’s purchased, what they did, where they looked, or what interests them.

Worse yet, as a result of this, your customers can tell that they’re not seen as individuals, and that their wants and needs are neither addressed nor understood.  When people inside these silos making decisions and take actions independent of an understanding of the customers’ overall experience, it should be unsurprising when those experiences aren’t consistent.

Nor should it be surprising when customers vote with their feet, and simply leave. Because they do.

Today, 89 percent of retail customers have said they will (or have) stopped doing business with a company after a single poor customer experience. This compares to a total of 66 percent of business customers who say they’ll leave, with the lower number likely due to the greater hassle for them to switch. (An assertion anecdotally backed up by the fact that 95 percent of business customers will tell others about a bad experience, compared to “only” 79 percent of consumers).

Start by understanding your customer journey.

If you suspect organizational silos are creating barriers for your customers, and are looking for a place to start, one approach is customer journey mapping. Designed to get at an understanding of the journey from the customers perspective, it doesn’t have to be expensive or complex (though it certainly can be).

While actually defining the customer journey from the outside-in means you must have actual (read: research driven) customer insights, a well-designed internal (“voice of the business”) journey map is, in fact, a good way to understand the basic issues, giving you a foundation from which to further define and ultimately solve those issues. And even if you’re a customer journey mapping beginner, there are plenty of resources to help you get started.

By identifying what the customer experience is across an individual or series of journeys, and prioritizing importance to the customer and identifying pain along the way, you can start to connect up where below-the-line systems in different silos create barriers.

The bottom line is this – whatever business you’re in, and whichever customers you serve, the importance of improving their experiences is greater than ever. And while the work it takes certainly isn’t either easy or simple, looking at ways to knock down your silos is a great place to start.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Michael,

    Very good article. There is only one point I have come to appreciate about organizational silos – without them a company cannot scale up and grow. Perhaps, the reason why all the attempts to break them have failed so miserably. “You can destroy a corporation by improving its individual parts” Russell Ackoff.

    Perhaps, it is time for an alternative approach – re-examination of operational KPIs for each silo for their impact on delivery of superior customer experience. I offered some specific examples to illustrate this approach here http://blog.amplifiedanalytics.com/2014/05/cant-buy-me-love-or-superior-customer-experience/


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