When I entered the Customer Service / Customer Experience industry in 2008, I could have never predicted how often I’d end up using the word “silos.” I guess I’ll never escape my southern agricultural roots.

For the purpose of this article, we will be referring to silos as the division of people and information into independently operating functions. It may sound innocent enough, however, silos are without a doubt one of the largest detractors to the overall customer experience. Why do we have them? How can we break them down and prevent them? The answers to these questions and more are soon to be revealed.

Why Do We Have Silos?

In the beginning, there were silos. At least that’s what it feels like. Most leaders have a natural inclination to break themselves off and subsequently fortify their territory. This mentality is not surprising when we consider the fundamental desire we all have to protect what is “ours.” Silos are established for many reasons. Here are some of the most common:

  • By Design - Sadly, many executives like to create a competitive environment amongst their own direct reports. They think simulating a dog-eat-dog world will accelerate innovation and cause the best leaders to rise to the top. In reality, everyone gets burned out competing against their peer group. There is very little left-over for your actual competition.
  • Laziness / Ignorance - So often silos are created because leaders don’t take the time to understand what other leaders are doing. Out of convenience, they purchase their own tools, develop their own process--and the biggest killer--their own independent team culture. Suddenly it doesn't matter if the company makes a mistake...“as long as it didn’t happen in ‘my’ department.”
  • Fear / Defensiveness- We do so much under the banner of “protecting ‘our’ team. Leaders default to the creation of mini fiefdoms to protect themselves, an action that is often far easier than learning how to collaborate with peers and work together effectively. If things truly have gotten to a point inside of an organization where you have to create a separate functional unit to protect those under your care, it’s probably time to move on.

It’s easy to justify a silo mentality and even to develop a sense of pride around it. “Look what I created...who needs these other teams...we are clearly the best.” Our pride should come from customers who have been served well. Who cares if your department knocks it out of the park if ten minutes after the customer experience is destroyed inside of another touchpoint. When it comes to customer loyalty, the business will either succeed or fail as a whole.

It should be noted that not all independently-operating functions are bad. There is a time and a place when organizing people into smaller, semi-autonomous groups can be a very effective strategy. The key difference is that these puzzle pieces do in fact come together to form a larger picture and one that your customers can be proud of. As expressed in the book Tribal Leadership:

“Alignment, to us, means bringing pieces into the same line—the same direction. The metaphor is that a magnet will make pieces of iron point toward it. Agreement is shared intellectual understanding. Tribes are clusters of people, and people are complex and nonrational at times. If a tribe is united only by agreement, as soon as times change, agreement has to be reestablished.”

The work of Customer Experience Management largely consists of motivating and aligning the various “tribes” towards a CX strategy, and constantly evolving/reinforcing that strategy over time. Additionally, it is identifying rouge silos as they form, and working with leadership to break them down. This is a cycle that will repeat itself time and time again as humans are naturally drawn back into a silo-state.

How Can We Prevent Silos?

How can we prevent the silos that hinder us from taking shape? How can we break down the ones that are already there?

The answer lies in the form of a strong “CX Change Coalition.” By uniting established leaders from each group into a change coalition, the "us versus them" mentality is eliminated. It becomes possible to view the organization from the lens of the customer and make far better decisions collaboratively. This group can guide a number of transformational activities, including centralizing Voice of Customer insights, journey mapping, and bonding the organization together around a common language of change management.

Hindering silos can often be seen most clearly in the areas of technology and knowledge management. Most department leaders have a tendency to rush into buying their own toolsets without considering the needs of the larger organization. The average enterprise organization has literally hundreds of tools, with very little overarching strategy or organization. This type of behavior results in trapped data and rogue processes that create, you guessed it, an nstant silo. When we amalgamate the business around intelligent knowledge management and toolset strategy, we are overcoming barriers to exceptional CX.

It takes time and effort to break down a silo-state, but the benefits cannot be overstated. Whether it is digital transformation, culture reformation, or a customer experience revolution, eliminating silos makes it all possible. It’s akin to removing rocks out of the soil in preparation to plant a healthy crop. Since we are going with farming analogies here, I hereby certify you as a silo breaker! Go forth and unite your organization around a great customer experience strategy.