Why company silos are slowly killing your business

On the crucial difference between company centricity and customer centricity.
This is an excerpt from our eBook The Ultimate Guide to Loyalty and Retention which you can download for FREE here.

Company silos are to an organisation what being a couch potato is to a human. Early on, when the body plonks down in front of the TV, ice cream bucket in hand, it’s all soft and delicious and comfortable. But as time goes on, a certain unease starts to form. Not only does the body grow weak and flabby, the mind starts to wonder: Shouldn’t I be doing something differently? But the doubts are brushed off, because there’s so much amazing stuff to watch on Netflix.
And before too long, the body fuses with the fabric of the sofa.

Once it gets to this stage, fixing it because far more laborious and costly than if you had stayed healthy on a continuous basis.

The reason for siloing

Silos happen because it’s more comfortable to group similar types of people together. This is how humans are wired: Customer support is this bucket, Marketing is this bucket.

The result is a structure than, when the customer gets introduced into the equation, different departments don’t have in-built ways to maintain a unified front; It is a company-centric organisation:

One classic case of a silo-induced communications breakdown is Marketing running an outreach campaign which they don’t inform Customer Service about. Many more customers sign up, which CS is not prepared for. Insufficient staffing leads to long waiting times and customer dissatisfaction.

Another shocking case of company centricity was reported on by This American Life in their aptly titled segment “On Hold, No One Can Hear You Scream” about how someone was literally brought to tears because the company wore her out over many months of passing her between departments.

It’s counterintuitive (and messier) to organise a company around the customer because the customer can touch 3-4 (or more!) different departments a day:

  • They may read a newspaper article about the company having to increase their prices (PR)
  • Read an email from the company that says that some customers may qualify for a discount (Marketing);
  • Contact the Company (Customer Service) to inquire if they qualify;
  • Get handed over to a Retention specialist if they decide to cancel.

It’s very important that someone thinks the process, this journey through from the customer’s point of view and that they have someone to turn to when things go wrong.

In contrast to company centricity, we have to build our organisation in a customer-centric way:

The antidote to company centricity is to assign each customer to an account owner who knows about all customer touchpoints over time, and oversees content and form.

You don’t have to hire a new person into the account owner role. Someone from Account Management or Customer Support can do the job and prioritise it over their usual work. But it’s important to have someone who is ultimately responsible for a given customer. Ideally, they would have a financial incentive to nurture and retain them.

Of course, not always will there be a deep relationship between an account owner and the customer. Depending on the average revenue per customer, an account owner may have to manage hundreds or thousands of customers.

That doesn’t change the principle: Account owners have final responsibility for their customer. They may need to use scalable tools, but they can never say that something customer related is “not their job”.

To circle back to the This American Life case: It was only the fact that the affected person happened to be a well-known journalist that had the company’s CEO become the deus ex machina who fixed the problem. It should not require fame and notoriety to get attention from an account owner.

How to overcome company centricity

The road towards customer centricity is unique for every company. But it’s important that everyone on the inside become aware of the need to start the journey. Over time, people learn to see this problem for what it is: a lack of focus on the customer. And recognising the problem is the first step towards a solution. As people contribute with ideas, the company will gradually become more customer-centric.
While observing, it’s a good idea to write down where you see silos and company centricity in action. Examples make abstract concepts more tangible. And as you gather allies inside the company, your written notes will come in handy.

Conclusion

Old habits die hard. And if company centricity has crept into your organisational DNA, it will take hard work and persistence to overcome it. The reward will be loyal customers who feel treated like humans.
This post contains excerpts from our eBook The Ultimate Guide to Loyalty and Retention which you can download for FREE here.

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Photo by Lauren Roberts on Unsplash

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