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Are Your Silos Showing?

Are Your Silos Showing
Does your company share a single, objective view of your customers? Are teams adept at sharing customer insight across the organization and encouraged to do so? Does your brand present a consistent, unified face in all channels? If you said anything other than “yes,” your silos may be showing.
Over the weekend I dug into Gillian Tett’s The Silo Effect. As a PhD anthropologist turned financial journalist, Tett offers a fresh perspective on organizational culture. She contends that silos — formal and informal structures erected to promote efficiency — are actually stifling progress in many companies. While Tett is critical of silos, she also recognizes their value. The challenge is not to rid ourselves of silos but instead to “master them, instead of allowing them to master us.”
According to Tett, some silos have been bad news for the economy. She traces the roots of the 2008 global financial crisis to rampant tribalism within Wall Street. Despite being technologically linked, teams of traders at the big banks worked in separate silos. This prevented them from knowing what other teams were doing, greatly increasing overall exposure to risk. Regulatory agencies charged with oversight had it worse. Their over-specialization kept them clueless as they spun their wheels in the bureaucratic muck.
This got me thinking about how silos might affect customer experience (CX). At one time, it didn’t matter much if a company’s departments varied in how they did business with customers. Rarely would a customer interact with a company through multiple channels and departments. But the digital revolution has given us greater operational transparency, elevating customers’ expectations where consistency and seamlessness are concerned.
When we advise clients on digital transformation, we emphasize the cultural and organizational changes that should accompany any digital investment. So we’ve identified three types of silos, and the means to master them, to help ensure customer experience success.

  1. Departmental silos can inhibit customer empathy. A client who’s a member of an-house design team recently complained to me that while her marketing department collects customer satisfaction data, it was rarely shared with her or others in the firm. Were the marketers info-hoarding to keep others in the dark? Not at all. The marketers simply didn’t realize their insights could be valuable to people outside their group, and they hadn’t put the mechanisms in place to facilitate sharing it. Given the difficulty of creating great customer experiences, departments must work together as never before. Their leaders must incentivize them to not only gather customer insights but also to support their peers in developing empathy for customers. Without tight internal cohesion and open sharing of insights, it’s impossible to achieve the coordination needed to create and deliver differentiating customer experiences.

  1. Data silos can lead to customer journey roadblocks. Consider this: a loan department creates an application form requiring users to input personal information. The form does not distinguish first-time users from longstanding customers and requires the same data to be entered, whether or not the user has entered the same information previously. An inconvenience? Sure. But it also signals that the firm doesn’t know its own customers. Or worse, doesn’t care enough to treat valued customers differently from complete strangers. Multiple data management platforms and systems that can’t track customer contact histories unintentionally put up roadblocks that prevent users from reaching their goals. Systems that lack personalization capabilities keep marketers from accurately targeting and serving customers. To be effective with data, companies must evolve toward a single view of customers that takes into account segmentation and touch point preference.
  1. Channel silos can erode customer trust and confidence. If your brand presents itself as sleek and streamlined on your website but clunky and out-of-step on your mobile app, customers may wonder which one is the real you. A 2013 Accenture study showed that 65 percent of consumers say they feel “extremely frustrated” when presented with an inconsistent experience across channels. Inconsistencies like these often result from separate teams with different objectives creating channel-based solutions, despite trying to serve the same customer. In such situations, teams may also have little incentive to work together. But when the same customer is using multiple channels to communicate with you, it’s critical to avoid a disjointed presentation that can disrupt your brand’s credibility. Start by establishing a clear, channel-agnostic vision for your brand. To ensure this vision is delivered consistently, support all marketing efforts with a unified content management system, data platform and marketing platform. It may be tempting to reap immediate efficiencies at the expense of enterprise-wide quality but as digital channels proliferate (at a clip of 20 percent each year, according to a McKinsey study), you can bet that such narrow solutions won’t be effective for very long.

Creating better experiences often comes down to maintaining an outside-in point of view. This allows customer insight to penetrate and guide the organization. Seeing your brand from a customer’s vantage point can help prevent internal divisions and cultural differences from getting in the way of customer experience effectiveness.

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David Stallsmith

David has expertise in applying user insight and design thinking methods to solve complex customer experience, marketing, and employee engagement challenges. He’s an accomplished strategist with extensive experience across a range of industries, notably branded manufacturing, technology, financial services, retail, and healthcare.

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