Skip to main content

Breaking down silos

arms and legs

The word silo has more than one meaning.

In a nutshell

  1. No individual business function can drive towards customer-centricity, because it requires a connected eco-system that is both transparent and permeable. 
  2. Siloed business functions are the enemy of the outside-in thinking so vital to customer-centricity.
  3. Technology is an enabler of customer-centricity, but it needs a layer of insight that connects the customer back to business outcomes and organisation change.

It can stand for efficient demarcation of resources or a total lack of contiguous advantage.

A quick dictionary search gives us:

  1. A structure, typically cylindrical, in which fodder or forage is kept.
  2. A pit or underground space for storing grain, green feeds etc.
  3. A system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others.

There is also a military definition:

  1. (Silo: Military)
    An underground installation constructed of concrete and steel, designed to house a ballistic missile and the equipment for firing it.

If you combine definitions 3 and 4 you could come up with a definition for silo in the world of customer-centricity.

  1. (Silo: Customer-centricity)
    A system or process that puts walls of concrete and steel between the organisation, their employees, and their customers, forever impeding their desire to be customer-centric.

And there are so many ways that silos impede the desire to be more customer-centric.

No matter how empathetic an individual employee is to a customer, or how much effort a company has put into customer-centric cultural change, no individual business function can make the drive towards customer-centricity alone. Customer-centricity requires a connected eco-system that is both transparent and permeable. The very things that silos aren’t.

Seth Godin’s quote is very relevant here – companies are rarely organised for customer-centricity.

“Traditional corporations are organised for efficiency. Or consistency. But not joy. Joy comes from surprise and connection and humanity and transparency and new.”
– Seth Godin

Silos are not just concrete and cylindrical, they come in many shapes and forms. Functional silos, process silos, channel silos, hierarchical silos, measurement silos. The impact these silos have on the way we deal with, and think about, customers is enormous. Silos are designed to be thick and impermeable – keeping the outside from coming in. This is why they are the enemy of the outside-in thinking so vital to customer-centricity.

Organisational silos

As customers we’ve all been on the receiving end of organisational silos. Employees also experience this frustration – where the call centre is not fully briefed on the marketing offer, resulting in confused customers. Or when IT systems don’t match up. I recently sat in on a contact centre where the staff were trying to manage 5 different systems across 2 screens just to get a view of the customer’s problem.

You also experience the impact of functional silos where the finance team and the marketing team are at odds. My daughter was recently sent a personalised offer from her bank to top up her KiwiSaver and get the $521 government credit. She worked out how to do it and rang them, quite excited only to be let down when she found out she wasn’t eligible because she was under 18. Even though the contact centre apologised for the mistake, in her words, the whole company was ‘stupid’. In other words, disconnected communications and customer experience lead to a poor brand experience.

As companies strive to improve their customer experience we see them evaluating organisational structure and responsibility. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that the majority of global CMOs surveyed by Forrester say they now have responsibility for CX, and forty-four percent would like to further grow their influence.

Process and hierarchical silos

Jeff Bezos’ annual letters to Amazon shareholders are essential reading for anyone wanting to share his customer obsession philosophy. Bezos’ 2016 letter speaks to both the process silos and hierarchical silos that afflict Day 2 companies.

“Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you're not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organisations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, ‘Well, we followed the process.’”
- Jeff Bezos

TRA helps organisations confront the challenges of process and hierarchy by helping them develop deep customer empathy. Realistically, most of those we work with are operating in Day 2, not Day 1. Helping them embed systems whereby customer information and insights can be shared freely across the business gives our clients a deep understanding of the customer where one might not already exist.

Channel silos

"Our view at TRA is that total customer experience is made up of both brand experience and customer experience. Brand can be a connector – giving a consistent tone and voice across channels and touch points."

We’ve all experienced the frustration of having to explain yourself and your details over and over again to different people in an organisation.

As new channels and touch points emerge, old ones don’t disappear. We know that customers want omni-channel experiences, and that they don’t distinguish between channels in their journeys. We can be watching a company’s ad on TV, checking delivery of an item from that same company on our iPad, and on hold to their contact centre asking about the delivery of that item all at the same time. Channel choice is led by context, and what the customer wants to achieve.

Our view at TRA is that total customer experience is made up of both brand experience and customer experience. Legacy IT systems can mean it is difficult to achieve a consistent view of the customer across the organisation. Here brand can be a connector – giving a consistent tone and voice across channels and touch points.

Measurement silos

Just as there is often no single view of the customer, many organisations we work with are struggling to achieve a measurement system that joins the dots. They measure brand building, customer experience, and advocacy, but do not have a method that accurately shows the commercial impact of all this activity, or how they work together. Information is siloed in a way that does not show connection.

With no way of linking customer-centricity to commercial outcome, it is not surprising that marketing departments struggle to make the case for brand building activity. Or that improving specific interaction experiences can take precedence over total customer experience. By working to a marketing model that links brand, interactions, experience and advocacy, TRA gives a holistic view of the brand experience.

TRA’s role is to bring the customer into the organisation – in whichever way works best. Often this takes the form of adding a layer of insight to our client’s own data. Joining the dots between various forms of measurement, whether that be VOC, survey data, behavioural data or social conversations.

It is interesting that with all the investment in technology for managing customer relationships (according to Gartner, CRM continues to be the fastest growing enterprise systems segment and is projected to hit $36.5B in 2017), customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy remain elusive goals for most businesses.

Technology is an enabler, but without the layer of insight that connects the customer back to business outcomes and organisation change, it cannot live up to its potential. Increasingly we are being asked to advise on how to embed the customer into the organisation by working to add a layer of insight over technology platforms, joining up the dots between measurement systems, and then working to create organisation change.

It's a new and exciting world of insights. One that works to connect businesses with their customers, and the commercial outcomes of customer-centricity.

Headshot of Karin Glucina, Partner at TRA in black and white
Karin Glucina

back to top

Discover more content

Stay in touch!

Sign up to receive our latest thinking straight to your inbox each month.