Suppose your local garage, which supplied your car and now deals with its ongoing maintenance, calls to remind you that your car is due for a service. You would normally ask them to pick up and drop off the car, so that you do not have to struggle home after dropping off your car. This time, however, the rep has a different suggestion.

The new model of your car is out, he tells you. He wonders if you would like to borrow it for a day or two while your car is being serviced. All you have to do is drive your car to the garage for its service.

It will be immediately clear that this suggestion has several advantages. The garage does not have to find someone to pick up and drop off your car, for a start. You get a car to replace yours, and the convenience of not having to rearrange your diary. You also get an extended test drive—a chance to properly experience what it would be like to own the car, not just 10 minutes round the block. You can explore all its features, take it for a proper drive, and see what it’s like in the city.

This is a true story. This was the offer my regular car dealership made to me earlier the week. A test-drive of the nw model while my car was in for service. 

This dealership had, in fact, just broken down the silos between customer service and marketing, in one single, inspired move. It had improved its customer’s experience, made it more likely that the customer would buy the new car, and reduced cost of servicing. 

Silos and specialisation

Silos are more or less a fact of organisational life. They actually have a useful purpose, in that they allow people to specialise in particular areas. These include functional areas, such as marketing, finance, and sales, and also particular aspects of each of these: social media, campaigns and public relations in marketing, for example. The problem with specialisation, however, is that we become less able to see the ‘big picture’. We focus on our own area, and fail to appreciate that what we are doing could have implications for another area of the business.

Worse, silos can damage your customers’ experience. Customers end up having to repeat information or actions, and get very frustrated. They may also be bombarded with messages from the organisation, all from different people, which is annoying enough in itself. If the messages contain contradictory information, however, that’s also confusing. Silos coalesce around organisational issues, and not necessarily customer needs, and that tends to show.

Breaking down silos across the organisation, both within and between functions, is therefore an important way to improve your customer experience. It can also, however, as the car dealership example shows, improve your operational processes.

Thinking about functions in new ways

Breaking down silos within departments, such as within marketing, offers potential. The big wins, however, come from removing barriers between departments. This is particularly true for those that do not traditionally work closely together, such as customer service and marketing. There are a number of things that you can do to remove these barriers:

  • Improve communication and the flow of information and encourage innovative thinking. In the car dealership example, the suggestion was only possible because information was shared about issues with pick-up/drop-off drivers, and new models arriving on site, and because people thought creatively about how to solve problems.  
  • Align objectives across the business. If everyone’s objectives are focused on improving the customer experience, it becomes easier to work together on that.
  • Make decisions across departments. Boards have always made cross-departmental decisions, but that also needs to happen at lower levels of the organisation.
  • Make someone responsible for liaison and cooperation. It sounds counter-intuitive to ask people to cooperate, and then make someone responsible. However, having a formal liaison point can help when there are disagreements or difficulties. 

Thinking across functions, and focusing on the customer experience rather than organisational convenience, can fundamentally change how the organisation works. More importantly, however, it can improve your customers’ experience. Happy customers stay, and recommend, and businesses thrive. This is definitely an opportunity worth pursuing.

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