Silos are a relic from a bygone age — when “customer experience” as we know it didn’t exist and top-down communication was the norm. Back then, it was easy to work within a self-contained departmental bubble – brainstorming, collaborating and ultimately crafting something you thought the customer would enjoy based on what your department had gathered about them.
You may think that silos only exist in smaller companies – but history tells us that even large corporations can be plagued by these customer experience fossils:
Making a Mess of Music
Sony is the perfect example of how silos can wreck a customer experience. Back in 1999, Sony made an announcement that was going to change the way we experienced music. They were releasing a new, digital Walkman.
This was a full two years before the iPod would come to dominate the industry, and just a few months before the very first MP3 player was released. Here, Sony was demonstrating that it planned to embrace the internet and all the benefits of digital technology, and customers were excited about the potential that awaited them.
But then, enthusiasm started to wane when they announced not one, but three different music players. There was the Network Walkman, a device that used a flash memory stick to hold data and could only play music files with Sony’s proprietary ATRAC format. There was also the Vaio Musiclip, a cigar-sized, pen-like device that could hold two hours of music. Then there was the memory stick Walkman.
Three different devices to serve a single purpose.
Nevermind that there were already devices on the market that could hold hundreds of megabytes of music and used the much more popular mp3 format. Sony’s problem was that it was plagued by the customer experience silo – different departments all designing their own solutions to overtake the music industry and all of them competing with each other.
Even now in 2017, we can look back and see what happened. Sony’s innovative foothold on the music player market crumbled significantly — overtaken by Apple and other devices.
Why Customer Experience Silos Exist
According to research from New Voice Media, 41% of customer experience professionals say that operational silos are holding back the customer experience significantly. Operational silos are a traditional means of organizing a business — people segmented into different departments and roles based on their skill-sets.
According to Tim Packard, the CMO at New Voice Media, “operational silos encourage behavior that is beneficial to those within the silo, but often not in the best interests of the organization as a whole — or to customers.”
He continues, “[a]s a result, office politics develop, as the teams and departments compete more with each other than they do with competitors. Collaboration becomes a rarity, decision-making becomes poor, and teams become inward-looking.”
And, in cases like Sony, the bigger a company becomes, the more distant it becomes from its customers. It’s the difference between going down to your local deli to order your favorite sandwich, and having it prepared just the way you like it, and trying to get that same customer experience from your local Walmart.
What’s more, every department has their own version of the “ideal customer” based on whatever available data they have. Because data is seldom shared between departments in the case of silos, everyone’s working with their own skewed impression.
So what can be done about it?
Building Bridges, Not Silos
Fortunately this isn’t 1999. We have more innovative technology and influential data at our fingertips than ever before. This is a prime opportunity to build bridges between departments for a better overall customer experience — not silos that are independent of each other.
Because customers’ needs are so complex, and they encounter so many different touch-points (both digital and traditional), getting the “big picture“ can be difficult. Here’s how to tackle the challenge head-on:
Set Broader, Clearer Goals
When everyone’s on board with a common goal, everyone works together toward the same end result. By reinforcing the brand’s values and priorities, everyone – from every department – understands how they contribute to the end goal and their place in it. Don’t hesitate to test this out as well by taking on the role of customer and trying to contact the company across certain channels. Is the experience unified? Is it easy to understand and follow?
Include Everyone in the Process
From customer service to managers to everyone in between, getting feedback about where your company is in terms of customer experience and how it can improve is vital. This means asking and involving everyone in the process. Along the same lines, ensure everyone has access to the same data. Much of today’s CRM software allows all users to make real-time changes that are visible to others.
Customers appreciate when you know them and can quickly assist with their issue. Having to ask them again and again for their name, account number or product ID can test their patience, and lower their confidence in your ability to deliver the solution they need.
Encourage Open Collaboration
Every company handles this differently, from “buddy systems” across departments, or by shadowing someone in another department for a day to learn more about their customer interactions. Encouraging open collaboration and conversation helps members of your company get involved in building and reinforcing the brand’s values. Social ties become stronger and everyone competes — not against each other — but against the real competition, resulting in a better outcome that’s more customer-focused.
As you can see, it takes time and a concentrated effort by executives and managers to break down stale, old silos. But the benefits of doing so don’t have to involve costly software or technology. Open communication, collaboration and a deeper understanding of how the brand communicates to customers are tools that we all have in abundance – and they’re free. The end result drives a more competitive spirit, but also encourages greater company loyalty, improved customer satisfaction and overall growth. Who could ask for more?
Have you experienced operational silos at your own company? Did the business replace them with a more collaborative and teamwork oriented strategy? How did it work out for you? We’d love to hear the experiences and stories from anyone who has moved from an old-fashioned customer service silo to a more open communication style. Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below!
About the Author: Sherice Jacob helps business owners improve website design and increase conversion rates through compelling copywriting, user-friendly design and smart analytics analysis. Learn more at iElectrify.com and download your free web copy tune-up and conversion checklist today!