10 Silo busting ways to improve customer experience

This article first appeared in Customer Experience Magazine (February 2015).


Delivering a winning customer experience requires a joined-up organisation. Customers hate dealing with fragmented companies. They get frustrated when they have to tell the same information to different people and annoyed when they have to deal with different departments.


A simple example. I purchased furniture online from Next and needed to change an item. Whilst buying other things from a Next shop, I visited their Customer Service desk to make the changes but couldn’t. I was told that online was a completely different department and I would have to call them. They just don’t understood the channel-hopping customer of today. Compare that with John Lewis who dealt with an almost identical situation in store. As a result, I bought more from them and will return to Next only reluctantly.

The whole concept of customer focus means being joined up from the customer’s perspective. It starts with outside-in thinking with the customer as an influence on every decision the company makes. Customers don’t care about your organisation structure; who reports to whom, how you measure performance or your isolated systems. Quite right too. All too often however, companies still use organisational silos as an excuse for a failing customer experience.

Here are ten ways to demolish the silo thinking and practices that so often get in the way of delivering a great customer experience. I do not claim that they address everything a company needs to do but I suspect those that practice them are more likely to win the battle for the customer.

  1. Map in detail your customer journeys, including the different communication channels customers want to use. For each step on that journey ask these questions:
    1. What matters most to the customer? Check with customers: many companies assume they know but don’t.
    2. Which channels does the customer want to use? Again, this may well be a wider choice than you currently provide
    3. To deliver well the things that matter most, across those channels, what is our designed experience? Don’t leave the customer experience to chance.
  2. Build your CRM system around these customer journey, not your processes. The clue is in the acronym – it begins with a C not a P! This will ensure that staff are not battling systems to deliver the customer experience. Capture data in real-time across all channels to build an up-to-the-minute single customer view.
  3. Develop a set of coherent metrics that tell you how well your business is delivering on the things that matter most to customers and the business outcomes they are generating. Ensure that these are widely shared, understood and acted on.
  4. Share the unadulterated voice of the customer across your organization to let employees know what customers really think. Make the data and particularly any follow-up actions a part of their everyday work, not something to look at when they have time.
  5. Make retention, up-sell and advocacy a central element of bonuses to maximise the focus on keeping hard won customers. If it affects their wallets, people are likely to give it a bit more attention.
  6. Make it easy for people to deliver a personalised customer experience by giving them simple access to all relevant customer data. This means one, all-embracing CRM system. Remember that personalised interactions are high on the list of customer expectations. Customers expect companies to use the increasing quantity of customer data they hold for their benefit, including interactions that meet the specific context of that customer and not a bland, ‘one size fits all’ experience.
  7. Foster a set of shared values that underpin customer focus and guide employees. Rules are an ineffective way of guiding staff faced with customers with unique needs. A few carefully chosen values/principles backed up by effective coaching and recognition underpins great service in companies like Nordstrom, Zappos and First Direct.
  8. Put customers at the heart of how you explain to employees, customers and shareholders why the company exists. Use customer stories to illustrate business issues and solutions. Such stories are easier to relate to than figures alone.
  9. Appoint a Chief Customer Officer to coordinate strategy and be the customer champion on the senior management team. GIve her the resources and power needed to drive change across the organisation. Make sure she is a master of persuasion – she will need to do a lot of cajoling to get the required change enacted.

And the top tip …

10. Work for a CEO who understands the power of customers and the business value of a winning customer experience. If the person in charge can’t show they get it through their actions (not just their words) then success is an even greater challenge.

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