How to Optimize Customer Experience Cross-Functional Teams

‘Cross-functional teams’ can often sound like a business buzzword. While teamwork and collaboration is no doubt important in business, most of the day-to-day work that most employees do tends to be either (a) individual or (b) within their silo. Who has time for cross-functional teams in a modern business environment?

If you start talking about cross-functional teams and what that means for customer experience, the journey for your organization is even more nuanced.

The Funky Task Force

In my experience (and I’m sure yours too), two kinds of cross-functional teams are often assembled: functional teams and dysfunctional teams. A dysfunctional team often gets started with an audible from a senior leader, or as a reaction to a problem.

A squeaky wheel that got escalated.   Then the “fix it now” team forms.   Silos band together to work on the problem, but often without starting with customers’ lives.  And often without a roadmap or the competency to diagnose, understand and rebuild starting with customer needs and emotions. This can be the first misstep for cross-functional teams assemble:  starting with the company’s perspective instead of the customers’.

Cross-functional teams face an additional challenge that can impede their customer experience redesign.  And that is capacity overload.  Often, customer experience projects can be perceived as new work layered on top of the “real” work of the business, and added on to already full-plates.  In addition, teams often aren’t assembled with the commitment of the leaders of the assembled team members in full.    Translation:  they agree in a meeting…but this new work is not on the scorecards or included in the KPI’s (key performance indicators) of the experience team members. Therefore it’s a priority in the meeting when the team is assembled, but may not be a priority when it competes with the way those team members get paid, recognized and rewarded by their leader.  When these teams are assembled without leaders’ attaching reward for being on these teams…the disconnect between what a member volunteers to do (the #CX team) and what they are paid to do (their day job) will often also cause the team and results to be challenged.

These are two very common reasons impeding the success of customer experience cross-functional teams.

In fact, I began and named my new podcast The Human Duct Tape Show to provide examples of how this work is successful when it unites teams and leaders to focus on customers’ lives.  The Customer Leadership Executives on the show talk about how they  bring together the  silos and multiple priorities to create a one-company experience that earns the right to customer-driven growth. They unite the company to deliver a customer journey and experience customers want to have again and tell others about.  That’s how CCO’s prove their value.  And my podcast show is examines and provides you with from-the-trenches examples of how they do it and challenges they face.

Cross-functional teams and the ‘three-hump camel’

In my book Chief Customer Officer I refer to these cross-functional teams as building a “three-hump camel.”  What does that mean?  It’s when a crush of different agendas turn a potentially simple solution into something often more complex, because it has to satisfy all the silo priorities in the room sitting around the table. The example I give in the book — which I’ve sat through in dozens of conference rooms — is a presentation where data was presented on why we were not keeping new customers. A simple action plan was crafted.  But then each silo started adding in their requirements.

The result: instead of creating a focused and simple plan, it becomes solution based on the agendas in the room.

That’s a three-hump camel. Sound familiar?

When you combine the reasons for cross-functional teams being dysfunctional and the prevalence of silo-driven agendas, it’s clear you need a new path to customer experience. That starts with uniting silos and moving towards one-company experience design, starting with improving customers’ lives.

The importance of human-centered design in the process

In the last podcast we posted here, I talked with Scott Dille of Northern Trust about human-centered design. Scott and his team have actually developed a ‘Northern Lab,’ which is akin to a customer room centered on innovation and human-centered design. The goal is real feedback on processes from both customers and employees (external and internal). Not all CCO leaders have the breadth of role that Scott does — he manages employee experience too, which often falls to HR at other orgs — but Northern Trust’s work with human-centered design is one of the most effective ways to move a cross-functional team towards properly thinking about customer experience.

For cross-functional teams to work, then, you need the following things to happen:

  • The operational starting point needs to be customer journey, not silos
  • You need to avoid agenda-driven solutions, i.e. three-hump camels
  • You need to root your analysis and decision-making in human-centered design
  • You need a CCO doing the duct tape work and keeping everyone focused on the customer

This isn’t easy work — back in Episode 2 of the podcast, Margie Dillon of Liberty Mutual told me it took her 9-12 months to even get close to having other senior leaders on the same page around customer experience. It isn’t easy, but it’s vital if you want to see any success from cross-functional teams or the end customer experience.

What other techniques have you seen for connecting silos and getting legitimate feedback to other senior leaders?

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