Silos don’t have to hurt your CX, but they often do


Let’s talk about silos for a second.

The concept of silos is so pervasive in business that I don’t even need to define what they are for you — there’s nearly a 100 percent chance you already know.

And, to be honest, they’ve been around for years. Machiavelli was actually writing about them in 1513.

There’s an argument among some future of work thought leaders that silos don’t even need to exist anymore. The theory goes like this: it’s a time of hyper-competition, so you need the best people. Why not get the best people and then match them to the work? Who cares if someone is a marketer vs. whether they’re smart and adaptable, right?

I see some benefits to that way of thinking, but it’s a long way off. HR still hires the same way it mostly always has, and silos make our brains comfortable. We understand who our boss is, who is on our team, our reporting relationships, and our tasks. When organizations experiment with eliminating silos — holacracy, for example — it’s often riddled with problems. 

Silos will be around.

What does that mean for CX?

Silos and CX

Some claim “silos are ruining customer experience,” and that certainly can be true. It doesn’t have to be true.

We tend to approach silos and use the term negatively. But as I noted above, they serve a purpose. They provide comfort and context for who we work with and what we do. That’s a source of strength.

Silos become a problem for CX when each silo has different metrics, different incentives, and different definitions of what a “target customer” or “ideal customer” is. This often happens, unfortunately.

If you understand the human condition even a little bit, you know it’s very hard for two managers with different incentives to arrive at the same place. There will always be a disconnect, because Manager A needs to prioritize Condition A (to get more for himself), and same with Manager B.

Those disconnects come out to the customer. Maybe your brick and mortar operations are amazing, but your digital is a train wreck. Maybe you’re great with your FB page, but never answer customer questions on Twitter. It can be any number of things.

When silos dampen consistency, then it’s a CX problem.

So what do you do?

You align the silos. That’s literally the only way. Ideally the process of how you align the silos looks something like this:

  • Vocabulary
  • Incentives/compensation
  • Shared activities, i.e. journey mapping
  • Cross-silo competencies

I’ve written before about reducing dueling silos, and I mention it frequently in my books too. If you ever want help with how to get executives on the same page and remove them from a silos-strictly mentality, you should also check out any episode of my podcast. We consistently discuss aligning senior leadership teams with every guest.

Anything else you’d add on silos?

3 comments to " Silos don’t have to hurt your CX, but they often do "

  • As I like to say, your silo is my focus area. Whenever you take the advice offered here: “Why not get the best people and then match them to the work?” you create a silo around that piece of work.

    While I don’t like using Apple as an example, it is easy to understand. If you munged the iPhone and iMac silos together, I can’t see how that could possibly do anything good for customers. Focus is good, therefore silos are good.

    Many words are emotionally charged. Silos is one such word. If you want to criticise a function or business unit, you call it a silo. If you want to applaud it, you call it a focus area, or perhaps a strategic initiative, or maybe just a ‘business unit’.

  • Maurice, thank you! Love this way of collaborating and distinguishing!

    Hope you are having a great Saturday!

  • [sticking with the Apple example]

    I agree focus is good – however to get the most out of the Apple Ecosystem, It seems keeping two separate silos would inherently limit potential for the ideal CX – wouldn’t it?

    This is by no means my area of expertise, but my gut feeling is that these “silos” could limit communication, ultimately limited productivity and innovation.

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