Ask executives of consumer-facing businesses what’s at the center of their companies’ operating strategies, and the smart ones will tell you, “our customer.” That’s the right answer.
But as organizations get larger and more complex, they often develop departments of expertise and responsibility, and in some cases these silos can become rigid and opaque enough to obscure the customer. The digital team stays in its lane, the HR department in theirs. Maybe there’s a monthly meeting of department heads. Maybe it’s a once-quarterly conference call. Before you know it, every department has become so specialized, the only silo that thinks about the customer is the customer service team.
The Trouble with Silos
Ultimately silos make it more difficult for organizations to react nimbly to changes in the market or in customer behaviors. They get in the way of innovation and make enacting new, integrated ideas an uphill battle. Maybe most importantly, they’re in direct opposition to the entrepreneurial spirit that made the business a success in the first place.
Of course there are benefits to specialization and division of responsibility, but more often than not, silos stifle business success. The good news is there are ways to avoid them forming – and ways to break them down when they do. That starts by keeping the customer at the heart of your business and in the minds of every team member – with these three strategies.
The startup mindset is silo kryptonite.
#1. All Team Members Impact the Customer
There’s no such thing as one consumer touchpoint in an organization. Whether undertaking simple, everyday tasks, or embarking on large-scale projects like transforming your retail experience, everyone in the organization has a responsibility to the end customer. Think about data analysts – they don’t communicate with customers directly, but they could analyze customer complaints and provide insights to improve customer service online and in-store. Businesses need a culture where every team member understands and values how their work directly impacts the end customer. And this culture must be permanent, part of the very fabric of the business. Imagine your organization in the form of a Venn diagram with your customer at the center; the goal is to align all the circles (your departments) so there’s as much overlap as possible. So much so that at given moment, any team member can answer the question: “How will our customers respond to this?”
#2. Keep the Startup Mindset
The entrepreneurial approach is so praised because it works. Customers’ preferences and behaviors change almost constantly. But startups are nimble and agile. They constantly challenge processes, question procedures and ask why. If an entrepreneurial culture permeates an organization, it has the power to prevent silos before they start to form. Because entrepreneurs are naturally curious and not afraid to take calculated risks. And they can’t stay in their own lane. You have to be committed to being nimble as a culture, and you have to be committed as an individual. It’s this startup mentality–thriving in the unknown– that makes a silo’s rigidity no match for an entrepreneur’s spirit. But you and everyone in your department (and in adjacent departments) must commit to their inner entrepreneur wholeheartedly. That’s when silos start to crumble, responding to customers’ changing behaviors becomes almost instantaneous and a positive customer experience has the room to flourish.
#3. Build a Transformable Business
Aspiring to be a transformational company is Silicon Valley circa 2000. Instead, aspire to be a company that can be transformed. Because a new trend uncovered by the marketing team today could radically change the course of a product in development tomorrow, or even shift the entire business strategy for the year ahead. Being a transformable business means keeping communication channels wide open – externally and internally. There needs to be a feedback loop between a business’ customer and every customer touchpoint in the organization. Tearing down silos and turning them into open communication channels keeps businesses transforming at a rate their customers demand. That’s how to stay nimble enough to be disruptive and flexible enough to follow your customers.
Mashing up company silos builds collaboration. And it’s the businesses who actively seek to break these silos, across all their internal customer touchpoints that will deliver a memorable customer experience. One that leaves their customers longing for more. And then some. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
We think so. Here, let us prove it.