The irony of technology is that it’s often marketed as customer experience management, yet it inevitably creates its own set of customer experience snafus. Examples I’ve heard recently include: “You’ll have to log-in to our other site” or “That mobile app isn’t available for the type of account you have” or “That went to the fax machine at our national site”. Is it possible to prevent most of these customer experience hassles?
System silos are sure to grow like wildfire with the ongoing proliferation of platforms, portals, and apps to solve specific needs. This is good: competition promotes better performance (nicer features, fewer bugs, higher uptime, etc.). And at the same time, this is not good: proliferation introduces more places for your data to be stored, more user interfaces to learn, and more misunderstandings between suppliers and customers (red tape nuisances, mustering patience to understand the lack of logic, chasing things that fell into a black hole, and tiresome delays).
The diagram below illustrates how many brands provide a technology solution for various components of marketing. It’s not the number of brands, per se, that cause a challenge; it’s the number of business areas being automated and incompatibility of certain brands that increase complexity. The systems comprising the combination of all of these automation areas is referred to as a company’s marketing technology stack. Add to this the wide variety of technologies in use for order entry, billing, shipping, and other necessities for running a corporation, and the array of systems that need to talk to one another is truly overwhelming.
Source: chiefmartec.com and KoMarketingAssociates.com
Why System Silos Exist
Sometimes system silos are the result of business acquisitions, with time lags in migrating data from one system to another. Other times system silos are caused by inability or hiccups in migrating data from a legacy system to a newfangled system. This is often due to inadequate or tardy change management planning. Workarounds are common when workers struggle to adopt a new system, and continually revert to the old system or manual or homemade methods.
System silos crop up like dandelions when organizations or individuals are empowered to buy technologies. Technologies are shiny objects. They are alluring as a sure-fire fix to hairy challenges. They are exciting, with promises of immediate gratification.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Comparing what you have to what a technology provider is selling almost always seems to favor the less familiar option. Once you have begun to deploy a new system, the inherent pains continue the greener grass cycle.
System silos are necessary for efficiency and effectiveness in processing certain types of data and operations for certain parts of the customer life cycle and for certain parts of the value delivery cycle. It would not be possible or desirable for a single mammoth system to take on every needed task.
Even so, efficiency and effectiveness go out the window when customers get the runaround. If customers are so fed up that they leave, what good is it to automate in the first place? The answer is not in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but in understanding and managing the hassle factors.
System Silo Costs
An unexpected side-effect of technologies is that they can gobble up people’s mindshare and bandwith to the extent that strategic thinking and collaboration are reduced significantly, except when it’s in the service of making the technologies work. If you’re finding that your staff meetings, ops reviews, and other gatherings are dominated by technology issues, system silos are undermining your potential.
Costs to consider when determining the ROI of solving system silos (and preventing them!) include:
- Customers’ time to adopt the system.
- Customer Success teams’ time to aid customer adoption.
- Customer Service time to process requests.
- Technical Support time to resolve issues.
- Technology purchasers’ time to validate compatibility and use case competence.
- Users’ time to absorb, adopt and apply the system without workarounds.
- All of the upstream organizations’ time to comply with the needs listed above.
- Lost opportunities due to remedial expenses tied to all of the above. (precious resources diverted to fixing rather than value creation)
Solving System Silos
CRM was a huge lesson for companies in the 1990s when it was all-the-rage as a be-all end-all customer retention and loyalty-maker. CRM heartaches were heard far and wide as headaches piled up. Those lessons learned for any system, portal, or app include:
- Don’t overestimate what a system can accomplish.
- Don’t select a system based on internal criteria.
- Don’t over-customize a system.
- Don’t expect it to be successful without extensive, early analysis and planning for process and people needs prior to deployment (ideally, prior to purchase, and even prior to selection).
Even so, technology buys today overwhelmingly ignore those lessons learned. And today, there’s a whole tech stack to consider.
So let’s revisit the question posed at the beginning of this article: Is it possible to prevent most customer experience hassles? Yes, to a large extent. Here is how:
1) Customer Experience is #1: Customer experience is your over-riding decision criteria. Why? Because what makes customers happy makes your top-line and bottom-line happy. What causes hassles for customers causes hassles for your customer-facing teams and alliance partners, and in turn, for your upstream teams. What causes churn for customers causes churn for employees and investors.
- So conduct due diligence in evaluating the effects of any new system, portal, or app on how it will affect the end-to-end customer experience journey.
- See it through your customers’ eyes. Use empathy mapping to see it purely.
- Do whatever you need to do to make system additions and adjustments as seamless as possible for customers.
- If anything might not be seamless, communicate proactively. Let customers know what to expect.
- Carry the ball for the customer rather than pushing the inconvenience on them.
- Take initiative to prevent black holes. Minimize uncertainty for customers.
2) Categorize Technology Types: Certain systems are critical to business success. They are mission-critical for value creation and delivery to customers. These are categorized as core technologies. Others are supportive of core capabilities, and may be categorized as management technologies, support technologies, research technologies, etc. Focusing foremost on core technologies simplifies decision criteria and due diligence standards.
3) Prioritize by Following Customer Data: Create a hierarchy of technologies, starting with what is needed by customers, then what is needed by customer-facing staff, then business intelligence based on customer data, what crosses organizational boundaries, what can prove return on investment, and what is enhancing proven processes. This prioritization centers decision-making on customers’ well-being as the source of your success. It guides decision-making in a systematic and logical way, favoring the greater good.
4) Learn Change Management Techniques: When I worked at Applied Materials for many years, the change management specialists in the company reported to the vice president of information technology. Initially, this seemed odd to me. Then I came to realize that organizational adoption of anything requires careful analysis of stakeholder viewpoints, expectations and needs. I gained an appreciation for the value of learning formal change management techniques regardless of one’s functional area, and especially for major investments that impact customer experience. (Which is just about any major investment.) External stakeholders and internal stakeholders must be thoroughly understood and accommodated in your decision-making, roll-out, and ongoing use of every system.
As attractive and innocent as any system may seem, there is no silver bullet to be found in a system. Plug-and-play may be true, but there’s more to the big picture. Ripple effects of one system can wreak havoc with other systems, processes, and people. End-to-end customer experience is the litmus test for system decisions. The more holistic our viewpoint, the better we can gauge implications all-around. Start with customer experience criteria, and keep it top-of-mind throughout system decision-making in order to solve system silos for customer experience excellence, and accordingly, for superior business results.
Originally published as an exclusive Advisors monthly column in a 12-part series on CustomerThink.com.