Don’t Break Down Silos!

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I’M OFTEN amused when I consider the silly expressions we regularly use in business conversations. We talk about stepping up to the plate, pushing the envelope, raising the bar, taking it to the next level, and giving 110 percent. Or my favorite, “We need to re-double our efforts.” Full disclosure: I’m certain I have used every one of those at some time or another. In fact, I’ve probably even used them in writing this column over the past 10 years.

For customer experience (CX) leaders, a common expression is “breaking down silos.” I’m assuming this originated in agriculture, since a silo is generally known to be a tower that holds grain, and breaking it down does not seem to be a good thing at all! Or some may be familiar with “silo” as a military structure for holding a missile. Breaking one of those down would seem to lead to catastrophe. But bringing down silos in a business context is generally considered a good thing, meaning that we should work collaboratively between departments and functional groups.


The reality is that silos are important in business. It’s how we carry out tasks. In most businesses, we divide our work into logical groups to market, sell, develop, build, stock, ship, service, and so on. It makes sense that we separate tasks into logical groups to get things done.

Here’s the problem: Customers don’t care how we get things done.


Most companies are guilty of passing the customer from one function to another. The sales team passes customers to an onboarding team, which passes them to an account manager, and if customers have an issue, technical support or a contact center gets involved, while the finance team addresses billing issues. The result is a disjointed experience for customers. Ultimately, customers are seeking a seamless and personalized experience, one that is simple and efficient. Unfortunately, the silos we build often stand in the way.


So if silos exist and they are essential to getting our work done, how can we deliver the experience customers are seeking? What if CX could become a connector across our silos? What if every part of the organization had a similar commitment to the customer? And what if every department understood what the customer goes through working with their organization? It’s about making CX pervasive. CX cannot be a silo and should not be confined to one area of the company. Instead, it should be a unifying element with a holistic view of the customer’s journey.

Here are a few ways to develop a customer experience strategy that is pervasive:

  • Form a cross-functional team.It’s essential to have involvement from various departments. These members serve as liaisons representing their function, working with the CX team, and communicating themes and information back to their team. These members are the advocates for the customer across the organization.
  • Reach out.It’s important for CX leadership to reach out to different functional leaders to understand their needs. Most leaders want to deliver a great experience to customers. So ask them how you can help. What customer data will help them make decisions? What feedback would be useful? Ultimately, what can the CX team do to help them succeed?
  • Involve the customer.Most obvious, it’s important to gain the perspective of customers to understand their challenges. Start by mapping the customer’s journey to determine the most important touchpoints and obstacles they encounter. Involve the cross-functional team so they all gain a common view of the customer journey and are all involved in action planning. Follow this by consistently gathering feedback to validate your findings and measure your progress.

Sometimes I believe we think of CX as just another project within the company. Put simply, it’s more than that. Customers are evaluating companies based on their experience. They review, they rate, and they rant. Customers are demanding seamless, personalized experiences. To achieve this higher standard, we must think bigger. CX needs to be a formidable strategy, pervasive across the organization, embraced by everyone.

Start somewhere. Form a team, reach out to a department leader, launch a journey mapping project. If you are a CX leader in your organization, expand your view of CX and get started.

There’s no need to break down silos. Instead, CX can be the common element unifying every department around the customer. 

Patrick Gibbons is a principal at Walker, a leading experience management services firm. He leads marketing and experience management programs and can be reached at pgibbons@walkerinfo.com.

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