How Brands Can Combat The Silo Threat

Kevin KeohaneFebruary 19, 20196 min

We’ve all been there: After keying (or speaking) personal data into a customer support system, a human (or bot) comes on the line and promptly asks you for the exact same information that you just entered. Upon discovering that your problem is not something they can address, they transfer you to (hopefully) the right department.

… Where another customer support person promptly asks you for the exact same information. Again.

This scenario plays out in similar ways millions of times every day, and it is arguably destroying brand value almost as fast — or faster — than that value is being created. Bots might be picking up some of the load (and doing a fine job of it, in many instances). But today’s consumers increasingly expect consistency from the brands they trust and are loyal to, based on their experiences with brands who do it best.

Conventional wisdom has always been that the stronger the customer’s loyalty, the greater the relationship’s resilience to a service failure. But those buffers are growing thinner by the minute. If I can get my smartphone, tablet and desktop to share my data seamlessly with my house in a few clicks (from my music streaming to my thermostat to my coffee maker), I’m expecting your enterprise-level IT investment to manage the same kind of experience securely, protecting my privacy too.

Andy Main, head of Deloitte Digital, makes the point that brands need to think about moments (“touchpoints” in the old currency) rather than traditional customer journeys, and that feels like a smart lens to apply here. In today’s always-connected, instant-gratification consumer landscape, brands can’t act like Dr. Jekyll during “the sale” and then behave like Mr. Hyde when it’s “customer service” fix-the-problem time.

I’d argue that an intimate understanding of customer experience scenarios across a raft of personas and brand interactions is incredibly valuable for any business as it seeks to better align the experience it delivers.

And at the same time, it’s worth remembering that customers don’t see themselves as intrepid voyagers in some carefully curated expedition called a “customer journey.” They have needs to fulfill and problems to solve at any given moment. And while Main’s “moments” are certainly a more evolved version of the traditional touchpoint, the key point is that the consumer should not be victim to your brand’s internal silos and workflows.

Regardless of internal ownership of particular customer interactions, if your organization is not set up to deliver a consistent, credible, on-brand experience, someone else will find a way to do so.

It’s All About The Silos

For similar reasons, I wrote about the dreaded silo in “The Talent Journey” (2010) and “Brand & Talent” (2014) in relation to both the candidate / employee experience and the customer experience. We come back to the principle that your brand and how you manage it goes far beyond the purview of the CMO and your “head of brand.” You may think about your operations in terms of the discreet processes and challenges of supply chain management, human resources, finance, IT, sales, marketing, support and so on. But from the customer perspective, if any of those seams are visible — and especially if any of those internal organizational lines become bumps in the customer’s road — your silo(s) has a brand problem that your entire organization shares.

Recent research from Inviqa, a digital agency, supports this. Its 2017 study found that 68 percent of digital managers and 42 percent of executives believe silos are the biggest internal barrier to the transformation needed to deliver effective customer experiences.

McKinsey closes the loop with findings that suggest consistency across the entire customer journey (including emotional and communication consistency) is “35 percent more predictive of customer satisfaction and 32 percent more predictive of customer churn than how a business performs at specific touchpoints.” That’s probably why organizations that are more agile than their competitors seem to thrive. Their silos are inherently more pliable, able to react and even more able to predict how and what to change with an alacrity that more traditional and inflexible structures can’t emulate.

What To Do About It

One the one hand, all of this is really as simple as foundational customer-centric thinking that most of us are familiar with and that many other commentators have expressed eloquently elsewhere. On the other hand, the convergence of technology, automation, data, analytics and consumer expectations is taking customer experience-led brand delivery out of the “design thinking” hothouse and planting it squarely in the penthouse boardroom.

There’s no better time to start addressing this than now — and with haste. To do so, Lynn Hunsaker of ClearAction identifies ten types of silos to consider:

  • Organization silos
  • System silos
  • Channel silos
  • Data silos
  • Process silos
  • Vision silos
  • Assumption silos
  • Goal silos
  • Metrics silos
  • Handoff silos

Wherever your business does not have a shared way to align data, process, technology, goals, metrics and KPIs — and an explicitly shared vision of what the brand experience should be — you create the potential for customer service and brand experience failures that cost you customers, reputation and money.

The key? Prioritize the silos that have the biggest impact on the customer at critical moments. You likely can’t address them all at once. By picking the low-hanging fruit first you can not only have an immediate impact, you can in the process begin to shift mindsets within your organization, preparing your teams for the more vexing silo-busting challenges that lie ahead.

Tech consultancy Accenture recommends four focus areas for CMOs to consider in order to create the cross-C-suite collaboration needed to answer the customer experience consistency riddle:

  • Emphasize customer obsession instead of campaign creation.
  • Lead the collaboration that unites brand and experience.
  • Align your tech strategy with your customer outcomes.
  • Be an innovation incubator.

Some of this might sound like so much consultant-speak. But again, you probably can look back to your own experiences as a customer to see the truth in it. The brands that seem to “get” our needs right from our first engagements are often the ones that focused on the customer and innovated past the structural hurdles that we see plaguing their competition. And the brands that (appear to) “get us” are the ones that earn our instant affinity.

The Bottom Line

Essentially, all of this adds up to a simple truth: You have a brand whether you like it or not, and every aspect of your organization plays some role in growing that brand or diminishing that brand. If ever there’s been a time where brand management should be seen as living outside the marketing department, it’s now.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s continue the conversation.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Kevin Keohane, director of brand and talent strategy, PartnersCreative

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