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Voices

Bridging Organizational Silos with Customer Empathy

Alex Allwood
October 02, 2018

3 minute read

Who owns the customer? We all do. While this aspirational statement is good in theory, it can be difficult in practice because we often work in business silos.

The reality is, siloed functions and a siloed mindset are entrenched in our organizational DNA.

Business silos, which can be functional, product/service or channel, negatively impact customer experience (cx) efforts: the sharing of customer information, cooperation on customer effort, a willingness to work together for customer good and coordination of activities and processes.

Departmental silos have their own goals, incentives and agendas; they often have a limited customer view, understanding and interest and their focus is product/service-centric or serving internal stakeholders.

Improving customer experience requires a unified and coordinated approach. Without it, the work is disconnected and undertaken incrementally in projects that don’t aggregate to enhance customer value and sustainable growth.

Bridging Organizational Silos with Customer Empathy

Changing the silo status quo through customer empathy

In my experience, the most effective enabler in changing the silo status quo is helping people across the business develop their customer empathy skills – meaning understanding the customer’s perspective and considering their feelings in the decision-making process.

Empathy is a unique human trait that connects our head to our heart. When we act with empathy, our customer’s needs are at the center of our problem solving and decision making, and that guides the design and delivery of products and services that enhance customer value.

Cultivating a culture of customer empathy requires forging a deep customer connection with executives and employees. Empathy is not learned by sitting at our desks in front of a computer screen. Empathy, much like other skills, is learnable, and when intentionally practiced, this skill becomes part of day-to-day behaviors.

Developing customer empathy skills through customer journey mapping

Immersing executives and employees alike in the customer’s world assists in the development of empathy skills. I encourage businesses to walk in their customers’ shoes by using a “Service Safari,” talking with customers and listening to their experiences, reading verbatim comments in surveys, and mapping the customer journey.

Importantly, best practice customer journey mapping is undertaken using data captured through qualitative research. Many journey frameworks still use an inside-out approach, mapping the customer journey from the business’s perspective. This approach misses the most critical insights – customer emotions; how customers are feeling at each touchpoint, their highs and lows, their pains, gaps and frustrations.

Bridging Organizational Silos with Customer Empathy

Best practice customer journey maps feature an emotion graph. Customer emotions on a journey map help people forge a human-to-human connection and are expressed using aggregated data, customer verbatim comments and the customer emotion graph. The emotion graph uses visual language to communicate the experience highs and lows over a period of time.

Building the silo bridge through storytelling

When you tell your customers’ story, it creates a deeper customer connection and understanding of the experience from the customer perspective. I find that it’s not until employees and executives move from passive listening to active storytelling that they truly empathize with how the experiences they provide make their customers feel.

For example, I always kick off my client coaching sessions, whether it be 4 people or 40, with a customer empathy exercise. In one of these sessions, even though all the group members had been exposed to their customer journey map, I asked one of the executives to present the verbatim comments. Active storytelling had a dramatic impact on developing his empathy; he concluded with the statement, “I had no idea our customer experience was so poor – I am gutted.”

For mature CX leaders, their challenge comes in sustaining continued effort; that is, embedding a culture of empathy as a ritual into everyday organizational behavior. This requires embedding empathy practices that keep the customer’s needs at the center of problem solving and decision making, and critically, through a cross-functional approach.

Alex Allwood
Alex Allwood
Alex Allwood’s focus is connecting customer and culture to empower customer-centric growth. Working with B2B2C, Alex helps improve experiences that enhance customer value and distinctively differentiate for competitive advantage. With a 20-year track record in leadership, operations, and marketing, Alex’s strength is developing customer experience strategy: customer understanding and empathy, experience vision, and guiding principles and the customer narrative to enable collaboration and alignment. Alex is principal of the customer experience consultancy, All Work Together; has authored the book “Customer Experience is the Brand”, and is a speaker on customer-centric transformation.
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