Building Customer Focus into Organizational Silos

Organizational Silos

Silos exist in every organization.

And for all the talk of tearing them down or somehow replacing them with social media, they serve a needed, structural purpose.

The challenge for most organizations is that each silo — and the employees within it — is concerned and focused on their own numbers, metrics or goals.

They view success from a vertical perspective.

But, as our peer Christiaan Lustig notes, the customer often moves between silos horizontally.

Which was the challenge for a recent higher-education client.

Organizational goals were positioned and measured vertically through each department, but no one was responsible for — or even measuring — the overall customer experience.

The following is how we addressed then co-created a solution to establish customer focus in organizational silos.

Customers Don’t See Silos

In the case of our higher-ed client, the average customer interacted with 5.2 departments as they moved through common tasks such as attending an alumni event, buying football season tickets or registering for new classes.

However, because each department or silo was focused on specific metrics, the overall customer experience often suffered.

For example, attending a football game:

Athletics was concerned about ticket sales, not getting customers to an on-site Alumni event.

Alumni Relations was focused on securing donations, not post-event traffic problems.

Operations just wanted people to park — anywhere — regardless of where they were trying to go.

The Customer Happiness Silos

In this case, siloed goals contributed to an overall experience map which drastically changed the satisfaction score (smiley face v. sad face) as the customer moved between departments.

Leadership agreed that overall customer experience was the top priority, but were unsure how to implement such a change throughout each department.

Reorganizing the Org. Chart

In an ideal situation, each department performs at its best and the customer enjoys a positive experience.

But because each department was focused on their own goals — which negatively affected other components of the customer experience — the overall result was poor.

Organizational Chart

The org. chart (simplified above) for this university followed a standard structure. Chancellor at the top, followed by levels of Vice-Chancellors, Directors and Managers, each within their own department.

But even with this basic view, you can identify the problem — the only position that has a comprehensive view of each department is the Chancellor.

And for this Chancellor, maintaining a deep behavioral understanding of the customer experience was not a proper or relevant role.

At this point we identified the challenge as not choosing one department over another, but rather unifying departments and employees with common criteria to measure decisions from a customer perspective.

Customer Experience Department

Initial discussions centered around the idea of creating a customer-focused department within the existing org. chart.

Precedent for such a department is not uncommon when under the senior leadership of a CXO (chief experience officer) or CCO (Chief Customer Officer). However, both titles and subsequently roles, responsibilities and organizational fit are often limited by department overlap or the weight of additional layers.

As a prototype of this customer experience department was tested, it became clear that while the department could help improve the overall customer experience, traditional silos began to redevelop due to a lack of clear hierarchy within the system.

Pressure still existed for departments such as marketing, IT or communications to meet numerical targets; giving customer experience goals the same level of importance as opposed to the primary criteria by which to evaluate other decisions.

This, again, caused departmental goals to supersede the customer experience.

Next, the group considered a task force or committee to represent the customer, however pulling members from different groups into a collaborative committee did not change the goals for those groups.

The final solution for our client was redesigning the organizational chart to include a customer-focused team at specific layers within the existing structure.

Customer Experience Layer Organizational Chart

This organizational layer addressed two key issues for the client:

  1. creating internal support for the overall experience based on the customer’s perspective
  2. separating customer goals from departmental goals

In this solution, the Customer Experience Group (CEG) is designed to be an advocate — or a type of service ombudsman — for the customer rather than a department focused on optimizing acquisition, retention or profitability of the customer.

A check and balance system which provides criteria for other departments, but not direct oversight of their goals and objectives.

By including two layers within the overall structure we placed experience decisions at a strategic and tactical level, being careful not to place emphasis too high or too low in the organization.

By shifting the organizational silos to include a layer of customer experience management, the university was able to separate the experience from department goals.

The revised org. chart below reflects this change.

Customer Experience Group Org. Chart Goals

Customer experience now informs other departmental goals — providing the needed criteria and correlation — instead of absorbing direct responsibility.

This allows the CEG to provide customer experience knowledge as well as scenario modeling to understand the cause and effect possibilities of departmental decisions on the overall customer experience.

The university Chancellor can now understand the entire organization from a performance and experience perspective.

Changes, Challenges and Next Steps

As you can imagine, this type of organizational change is not adopted instantly. Nor does a single case study provide the depth and detail required to build, educate and implement such a system.

Silos often exist due to the protective efforts of those within the silo.

Challenges such as existing relationships (good and bad), uncertainty and personal opinions all had to be acknowledged and addressed as the project went forward.

But these discussions were often easier to manage with establishment of a shared customer focus, instead of one employee’s or department’s opinion versus another.

The structure we have co-created with our university client is one possible solution to their challenge.

It will require reflection, redesign and reimplementation as the solution is executed within the organization.

But it will not require destroying a perfectly good silo.

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