I originally wrote today’s post for Medallia. It appeared on their site on December 14, 2022.

Fact: Your brand has connected customers. That shouldn’t be a surprise. These are customers who interact with your brand via your website, their mobile phones, your apps, their internet-connected appliances, social media, and more.

Also fact: Connected customers have connected experiences. What are those? In their latest whitepaper, The Executive’s Guide to Breaking Silos and Delivering Business Results, Medallia notes that connected experiences happen “when businesses provide a thoughtfully- and purposefully-designed experience that’s consistent throughout each and every one of a customer’s interactions with a brand, whether that’s via the brand’s app or website, via a customer support chat or phone call, or in-person.” The customer feels like they’re interacting with one cohesive organization, regardless of department, channel, or person they interact with.

Sadly, these connected experiences disappoint – or don’t exist at all. In the October 2020 version of their State of the Connected Customer report, Salesforce found that “76% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments, but only 54% feel like sales, service, and marketing teams don’t share information. That’s a problem because “74% of customers have used multiple channels to start and complete a transaction.”

Importantly, Medallia also notes that, “to make connected experiences happen takes coordination on the back-end, behind the scenes. Businesses need to bring together the right people, technology, and processes and align on everything encompassed within the customer journey horizontally across the business.”

Critical to making that happen is silo busting, whether that be breaking down or connecting silos in the organization. Silos inhibit or prohibit collaboration, communication, and data sharing, and both employees and customers are undoubtedly impacted. Their experiences are siloed, not seamless and certainly not consistent. Forget about that smooth omnichannel experience.

Silos kill innovation. They create nightmares for the customer experience. When departments and channels don’t talk and share customer data, the experience is fragmented and frustrating. You’ve experienced this: Think about having to re-enter your information when you go from website to phone or providing information when transferred from rep to rep.

Organizational silos cause pain for your employees, too. They lead to reduced efficiencies, waste resources, kill productivity, reduce morale (with a them-and-us mentality), and are detrimental to your ability to create a customer-centric culture.

I know you understand this. Sadly, misery loves company. According to Dimension Data’s CX Benchmark Report (2020), 54% of organizations report their customer experience operations are managed in silos. And only 33% of customer experience professionals say they can actively communicate and collaborate across teams to drive improved CX.

So, what’s a brand to do?

Here’s the thing. Silos are more of a mentality than a physical thing. There are no physical walls in place to keep you from talking to your colleagues in another department or from sharing data, information, or what you’re working on with others. Department or business unit leaders choose not to share information or to collaborate. It’s a leadership issue. It’s a culture issue. It requires a shift in mentality! And that mentality can be a huge hurdle when it comes to putting the customer front and center and improving the customer experience.

How do you shift the mentality? It’s worthwhile to spend some time on this because, as a barrier or a showstopper, you need to know how to create that shift in order to get things done. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Culture: Deliberately design it to be customer-centric. By definition, customer-centric cultures are collaborative cultures. The entire organization rallies around the customer. Also by definition, the entire organization must work toward a common goal, to deliver a seamless and consistent experience for the customer. That cannot happen in a fragmented organization. It can only happen when everyone works together. There can be no collaboration if silos exist – or if silos are not connected. How can employees work together with their colleagues if these silos prevent them from doing so?
  • Leadership commitment and alignment: Breaking down silos is not only a culture shift but also a mindset shift; and of course, that means it comes from the top. Both company executives and department/business unit heads must lead the charge. They create and sustain that open culture, where collaboration is encouraged. What can they do?
  • Work toward a common goal, in a very vocal way, i.e., talk about the common goal and how each department impacts it. Communicate it.
    • Speak the same language, using a common vocabulary when it comes to the customer and the customer experience.
    • Improve cross-functional and organization-wide communications and interactions by initiating, supporting, and facilitating the conversation starters. Model it.
    • Share stories and acknowledge successes and cross-team collaboration. Recognize those who live it.

When collaboration is encouraged, the employee experience improves. Working together not only removes friction for employees but also for customers. It eliminates the barriers that inhibit a seamless experience across the brand. And that’s a win-win for both constituents.

  • Corporate statements: Make sure you’ve defined and communicated the company’s mission, vision, values, guiding principles, and brand promise. These help to get everyone on the same page. While they may not break down silos, they’ll create alignment and break down some of the mentality barriers that exist with silos.
  • Communications and collaboration technology: Put systems into place that allow employees to share information, learnings, and more across departments, channels, business units, etc. Use technology that facilitates and encourages communication and collaboration. Additionally, encourage collaboration and cross-functional teamwork – through journey mapping, action planning, design thinking, etc. – in the interest of the customer. Having these tools and technology in place facilitates and supports an open culture.
  • Journey maps: By definition, when you map customer journeys, you must involve cross-functional stakeholders, which (a) gets them collaborating and sharing and (b) helps them see how various departments impact a single customer journey. (As a side note: It’s also helpful to have a senior executive with sufficient clout to make real-time decisions in the room, when needed.) As a result of that epiphany, they realize they must work together to improve the experience. 
  • Governance structure: Establishing your cross-functional steering committees helps to ensure that action plans are executed, and outcomes are measured – cohesively, in a collaborative fashion – across the organization; the governance board functions as the engine and the oversight committee of a customer experience transformation. They get people working together toward a common cause/goal. They ensure alignment and accountability, and their cross-functional collaboration is priceless.
  • Upend your organizational structure: What if you flipped it on its head? What if you reorganized your business to match the customer experience, the customer journey, the customer lifecycle? What if you organized like this – or in whatever journey your customer takes through the relationship with your organization – rather than by product line, business unit, or line of business? And what if the flow of data and information matched this structure?
  • Research (marketing, communications)
  • Purchase (sales, contracts, billing)
  • Install/Learn (delivery, installation, training)
  • Use (design, service, support)
  • Community (community managers, social media)
  • Renew (account management, sales, contracts, billing)

Just something to think about.

And, by the way, because I wasn’t sure where to add this one: make sure you link customer experience (or other) incentives the same way from department to department. Don’t give people a reason to hate what’s happening in – or to not want to be involved with or help – other departments. Create an environment that’s conducive to working together toward a common goal.

When you break down silos and connect the organization, employees are connected, which means customers will have a connected experience. In the aforementioned whitepaper, Medallia shares a great comparison between connected and siloed experiences. In connected experiences, tech stacks are optimized, data gets analyzed in real time, and brands shorten time from insights to action. The customer wins. And the bottom line is this: with connected experiences, brands not only save money but have greater revenue potential, as well.

The word “silo” does not just refer to a physical structure or organization (such as a department). It can also be a state of mind. Silos exist in structures. But they exist in our minds and social groups too. Silos breed tribalism. But they can also go hand in hand with tunnel vision. ~Gillian Tett, The Silo Effect

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.