Overcoming Silos through Customer Centricity

by Jaci Jarrett Masztal & Bill Barnes

Recent survey results from Econsultancy (Davis, 2017) show that 40% of company employees report they aren’t adequately supported by their colleagues due to different departments having separate priorities.  In addition, only 29% of employees indicate that they work with collaborative processes to reach customer experience goals.  While most companies like to think they are customer-centric, this is a clear indication that most are not.  Yet to advance market share and increase profitability, customer experience experts agree that an aligned focus on the customer is essential.

So why do organizations allow silos to reign supreme? Why does functional goal achievement take priority over overall business success? Are individual function leaders too influential, are negative impacts suppressed, or are individual functions truly seen as more important than the whole?

Consider the following realities that inadvertently contribute to the problem:

  • There is an undeniable need for functional specialization; the depth of expertise within a functional area is a necessity.
  • Senior leaders do not want to be responsible for what they don’t control, and shared or joint responsibilities diminish individual control.
  • Matrixed organizations that work via cross-functional teams require more coordination and collaboration across the organization than do typical silo structures. This can be challenging as silo employees often have their own way of doing things and departments tend to compete for resources and larger budgets.
  • Most organizations “pay for performance” and individual goals within a given function are easier to track and quantify than individual performance within a group or cross-function goal. Likewise, individuals may not want to be evaluated on team performance when not all individual contributions are equal.

But why does this matter anyway? As long as everyone does their job and does it well, shouldn’t the outcome be the same regardless.  The answer is no — a resounding no — especially if the goal is to ensure optimal customer experience, customer engagement, loyalty, advocacy and business performance.

When functional experts, researchers and CX specialists work separately, they have only limited impact.

So, whose job is it to satisfy the customer? If the role of improving the customer experience rests with the CX team or with customer support, optimal results may not be achieved given the goal may be beyond the reach of these departments. While talented and important in their contributions, these groups do not shape, change or implement. Instead, they monitor, measure and recommend.  These groups are not product designers or engineers, nor are they in charge of sales or training.  Through research, these groups identify issues and recommend change, but they don’t  intervene and innovate for a solution.  When functional experts, researchers, and CX specialists work separately, they have only limited impact.  However, when they work collaboratively, they can have substantial impact, aligning as powerful change agents and delivering a greatly enhanced customer experience.  This is what truly moves the business forward.  The Malcolm Baldrige Quality Management criteria, representing the best organizational assessment models over the last 30 years, highlights excellence across functions rather than just singular functional excellence.

In citing Harvard’s Heidi Gardner research, Casciaro, Edmondson & Jang (2019) confirm that firms with more cross-boundary collaboration achieve greater customer loyalty and delivery higher margins

But, how do you know if your organization is too silo focused? K. Ismail (2019) offers five signs to determine if your organization is too siloed:

  1. Broken Customer Experiences: Service is not streamlined nor integrated but choppy and inconsistent.
  2. Internal Unfamiliarity: People work within their own silo and outside of that they see strangers.
  3. Us vs Them Mentalities: If our team is better, stronger, smarter, we’ll make more money and carry more prestige.
  4. Disenfranchised Employees: Understanding individual contribution to achieving company goals is important and a key driver of engagement. More engaged employees deliver stronger performance.
  5. Task Duplication: Duplication is expensive internally and frustrating to the customer externally.

A truly customer-centric organization cannot be silo focused.  Companies don’t have to have a flat structure or a fully matrixed structure, but they can’t allow silos to dominate or control.  At the end of the day, silo driven organizations will always underperform.

Stay tuned for our next piece on how organizations are becoming “future-ready!”

As an organizational psychologist and Vice President at Burke, Inc., Jaci Jarrett Masztal energetically helps companies connect the dots between internal company culture and employee engagement to the external customer loyalty and business performance.

As Senior Vice President at Burke, Inc., Bill Barnes leverages an extensive background in customer experience to help clients design and implement successful CX programs.  With a deep understanding of CX, Bill knows that in order to for a program to be successful, one needs to understand the internal cultural issues that inhibit improvement and measure customer centric culture, which is the foundation of this work.

As always, you can follow Burke, Inc. on our LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.


Feature Image – ©Nenetus –

Casciaro, T., Edmondson, A., & Jang, S. (2019). Cross-silo leadership. Harvard Business Review, May-June, (downloaded October 5, 2019).

Davis, B. (2017). Customer experience: 40% of companies say each department has its own agenda. (downloaded June 4, 2019)

Dhaliwal, M. (2019). How customers can break down your organizational silos once and for all. (downloaded June 3, 2019)

Dixon, M. (2018). Reinventing Customer Service: How T-Mobile achieved record levels of quality and productivity. Harvard Business Review, November-December, pp. 84-90.

Gingiss, D. (2018). How Company Silos Can Destroy The Customer Experience. (downloaded June 4, 2019)

Ismail, K. | Jan 29, 2018, 5 Signs Your Organization Is Too Siloed. (downloaded June 3, 2019)

Ross, J. (2018). Goodbye structure: Hello accountability. Sloan Management Review, June 27. (downloaded June 4, 2019)

Weill, P. & Woerner, S.L. (2018). Is your company ready for a digital future?

Sloan Management Review, Winter 2018 Issues Frontiers Research Highlights, December 4. (downloaded June 4, 2019)


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