10 August 2023

How silos and cross-functional failure destroys your opportunity to delight customers. - guest blog by Jonas Berggren

Infographic showing cross-functional failure

In my last article, I explored some of the most important reasons why many customer experience (CX) strategies don't result in any form of satisfaction for the customer - even at major companies with a substantial budget available to plan how the customer experiences their brand. There is often a disconnect between customer experience aspirations and the reality. Strategy just doesn't translate into experience.

In that earlier article, I identified seven important reasons why companies fail to achieve the customer-centricity required to deliver a high-quality customer experience. Over the next couple of months, I plan to dive deeply into all of those seven identified reasons for strategic failure.

In this article, I will explore the issues around silos and cross-functional communication.

Where Is The Cross-Functional Failure?

Every organization consists of many different departments and functions. Some teams offer internal support to others inside the organization, such as IT or Human Resources. Others have a more customer-facing role and might include the teams focused on advertising, marketing, sales, research & development, or customer service. 

These different functions are often called silos. Any company that does not connect and coordinate these silos will struggle to create a customer-centric service. This could be for many reasons, but as an illustration, imagine the marketing team launching a major promotional campaign that will result in more customer interactions but failing to inform the customer service team.

It's simple to think of this as a game of football. During the recent FIFA World Cup, we saw some incredible individual players such as Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar, but their teams all had very different outcomes in the competition - despite having legendary players that the fans were all desperate to see on the pitch.

No football team can succeed just because of a star player. The star can help the team shine when they have the ball, but what can the team do if the opposition shuts down access to that player? Their star is almost entirely invisible.

Watch Lionel Messi on the pitch. He is superb when on the ball and frequently scores goals, but watch him when he is not on the ball. He walks a lot. He studies the opposition. He studies their play and looks for weaknesses. He lures players towards him to open up space for his teammates. You can often learn more about how to manage a game of football by watching Messi rather than following who has the ball. 

It's no surprise that Argentina won the 2022 World Cup, although France didn't make that final game easy with three comebacks - all from another legendary player, Kylian Mbappé. This is a player who has competed in two world cup finals and is still only 23.

The football analogy makes the link between different teams inside the company obvious. If they are not coordinated and passing information to each other, then the customer experience will not be as expected. 

Even worse, the customer service team is often on the frontline of the customer relationship. If they are not being informed of promotions, new product launches, or any other business activity that will create a spike in customer interactions, then they will be blamed. 

Customers will contact the brand only to interact with a hopeless agent that has no idea of the new product that just launched, or the special 50% off deal. The impression will be that the entire brand is disorganized and not trustworthy. 

Customer service becomes the corporate trash can.

How Have Customer Interactions Changed?

To create genuine interoperability across all customer-facing functions requires an integrated technology platform, information ecosystem, and culture. Traditional customer service tends to focus on fixing problems after they happen. If all these customer-facing functions truly worked together, then wouldn't you be able to anticipate more problems before they ever happen? 

The traditional approach assumes that customer service is always a cost rather than a strategic asset. Involving your service team - and the direct customer relationships they are nurturing - with your product development team is an immediate benefit to the business. Customers want to be heard. They want to build a relationship with your brand that last for decades. Why pass them to a customer service team that is only focused on complaints? All customer-facing roles add value.

Think about how customer interactions have changed.

The traditional customer journey was a step-by-step process moving from learning about a product - usually from an ad - to seeking more information, making a purchase, and contacting the customer service team if a problem needed to be resolved. This linear journey has been completely usurped.

A modern customer may develop a long-term relationship with the brands they love, and this can involve regular ongoing dialogue or other interactions that are not directly related to a traditional customer service problem or query. Customers learn about products from social media, and they also contribute their own views and reviews.

Look at Instagram. As I write this, over 114 million photos have been tagged #Nike. That's not Nike publishing their own slick marketing product photos, it's customers who love the brand and love sharing what they are doing with their Nike products.

Look at #Klarna. Most people know Klarna as a payment app. It allows the customer to buy something instantly without paying, then the app will spread the payment over the next few months. But Klarna has taken the community of brands/ that accepted their payment service and created a marketplace. Users of the Klarna app can go on a virtual shopping trip that allows them to view products up close, receive styling advice from experts, and use live video to interact with the brands they love - before making an instant purchase with a single click.

I've seen courier companies that have started building a marketplace for all the brands they serve. Every customer that checks their app to ask 'where is my package' can be tempted to see what's instantly available in that marketplace. This is a new way to create value and far closer customer relationships. How many different brands could take this approach?

Customer service is no longer just focused on post-purchase problem solving. Customer service involves building a relationship with your customers and making them continuously feel that they love your brand. It is an integral part of their lifestyle. The customer service process is about marketing, it's about sales. As I stressed earlier, all customer-facing roles add value.

Customer Service Is A Goldmine

The Financial Times recently published a detailed feature on online retailers' difficulty getting customers who browse to actually complete a purchase. Online sales now account for around 15% of all retail in the US, so a solution to this problem could be extremely valuable.

Just 2.6% of website visits to online retailers result in a sale. Some brands are focusing on simplicity. The Hilton hotel chain is reportedly focusing on various experiences customers want beyond a great hotel room, such as charging for their electric vehicle. Amazon patented their one-click payment system back in 1999 - it's so old that the patent expired in 2017.

Simplicity in the checkout and payment process is naturally important, but I don't think it's the only issue that needs to be addressed here. We are really exploring how brands can insert their products and services into the lifestyle of the customer - how do they become so essential that the customer starts sharing photos of the product with a hashtag of the brand?

The truth is that most companies are sitting on a goldmine of unused data that can be analyzed to create insight that will dramatically improve the customer-to-brand relationship.

Take the example of an online retailer or online travel company. They know how often the customer browses, what they look at, what they ignore, what they actively dislike, and also what they love. The company will have a record of all past transactions along with this browsing history. It should be possible even to predict when the customer will return again and what they are likely to purchase.

Companies that rely on a regular subscription can build models that predict which customers may be planning to cancel. They can proactively offer the customer an upgrade or other offer that might prevent the cancellation. With the possibility of this insight, why don't more companies actively combine their sales, marketing, research, and customer service data?

Companies that can combine their own data with external databases of weather, or major national events, can try to find useful correlations between different events or outcomes. For example, retailers may have seen a spike in beer and snacks every time their national football team was scheduled to play during the World Cup finals. 

It's simple to create a time-limited offer that reflects these events. A customer that is considering where to buy their World Cup snacks may be persuaded to choose your store if you have sent an individual offer of 20% off snacks on the day of the game.

The information is out there, and it may even be inside your organization right now. Tapping into it and creating actionable insight requires strong collaboration across all your silos because each customer-facing team will have their own forward-planning agenda filled with specific events and priorities.

Connect these together, and you can create a truly customer-centric organization that creates a culture of supporting customers rather than just selling to them.

Conclusion - CX Needs Cross-Functional Coordination

Silos still exist in most organizations, but this is not how your company is seen externally. Customers don't consider the difference between an interaction with your sales team compared to your customer service team. To the customer, there is just one brand, and that's who they are interacting with.

This is at the heart of customer-centricity. See your business and services in the same way that your customer sees them. 

Your marketing and customer service team may traditionally have had different leaders with different objectives and measures of success, but when you start thinking about engagement from the customer perspective, the danger of disconnected silos becomes obvious.

Cross-functional coordination can be achieved in many ways. The most complete is to merge all customer-facing departments into a new team - possibly called 'customer success.' However, this is a radical solution for many executives. At the very least, consider the creation of a Chief Customer Officer with decision-making authority and executive oversight of all customer-facing teams.

A single team member can't deliver success alone. A great team needs to pass the ball and know what everyone else is doing. Messi knows it, and look where he is now.

I will continue this series by exploring the other reasons why companies fail to deliver a customer-centric experience.

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Written by Jonas Berggren, Head Of Business Development NE

Jonas Berggren joined Transcom in 2020 as Head Of Business Development Northern Europe. Prior to this, Jonas was the co-founder and partner of Feedback Lab by Differ. Earlier in his career, Jonas held the position of CEO at Teleperformance Nordic.

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