Breaking organisational silos at UX HK

by Foolproof

Top-of-mind for UX professionals at last month’s UX Hong Kong 2012 (UXHK2012) was ‘breaking down organisational silos’, which in fact related heavily to a round-table session we were running during the event.

The fact that so many speakers were focused on organisational silos and how they could be broken down to drive effective change, suggests that UX professionals from all types of organisations around the world have arrived at a shared view, that UX has matured as a discipline and earned the right to play a leading role in supporting business strategy and change. This common view point shows how far the UX industry has come in the last 10 years.

Breaking down organisational silos

When Foolproof started out back in 2002, we were working mainly on tactical briefs, improving the design of sites or processes but rarely gaining the opportunity to influence strategy or the broader perspective on customer experience. Today, Foolproof, and some of our peers, are getting the opportunity to work on high value, strategic engagements higher up the organisational chain. So, this in itself is surely a win for the UX industry. UX professionals have finally been given a seat at the strategy table and we’re winning briefs and projects that in the past would have gone to some of our creative design agency cousins without UX agencies warranting any consideration.

So where do we go from here? Well, as I mentioned at the beginning, a lot of the emphasis at UXHK was on breaking down organisational silos, and for good reason. It’s these silos that are now the main barrier for organisations that wish to become more customer-centric and to take a strategic approach to customer experience management.

Big organisations tend to be extremely departmentalised, with business functions split into areas such as Product, Sales, Marketing, Operations and IT. These departments act as almost independent silos, sitting alongside one another and very often poorly integrated or not incentivised for co-operation. In recent years Digital has been bolted-on as an additional silo, more recently Social has also been added and even split further between acquisition, onsite experience and mobile. These structures lead to an isolated view, focused purely on each silo’s own short-term goals such as channel optimisation, revenue, cost reduction and profit to name a few. The result of this is a fragmented and disjointed experience for customers as they come into contact with businesses in different ways.

This silo mentality gets in the way of creating coherent and joined up customer experiences and hence jeopardise lifetime customer value. If the silos don’t act in concert with a shared vision of the customer experience they’re aiming at delivering then it’s unlikely they will create a perception of good service and live up to their brand promises.

In many organisations that I have worked with, this is very much the case. No-one seems to be wholly responsible for the entire end-to-end customer experience (well apart from the CEO). It’s this problem that is creating the circumstances for UX practitioners to come in and begin to effect change. We’re being asked to come in and unpick what the patchwork of interactions that makes up the typical customer experience and to create a strategy for joining them up in a meaningful and valuable way.

Agents of change

I believe that the future of UX lies with us acting as ‘change leaders’ in organisations – be it client-side or standing firm with a strong voice, opinion and evidence from agency-side. Make no mistake, this is no easy task. Organisational silos are deeply entrenched in most companies, but that doesn’t mean customer experience cannot be managed strategically and effectively if it’s prioritised at the top of the organisation and managed downwards consistently. Think about companies like Apple and Amazon that have had a mantra in their DNA of obsessing about the customer experience. These are the organisations that are succeeding today, in a market where the consumer has more power and where poor customer experiences are easy to share and uncover.

There were four takeaways from the event which we would like to share, which I believe UX champions can take forward to effect change:

1. Create strong leadership and sponsorship.

This can often come about in the form of finding and supporting someone in the organisation that champions UX and helping them on their career path through delivering exceptional UX led work and supporting their voice within the organisation.

2. Make a connection between customer experience and drivers for brand value.

Really understand and be aware, of all of an organisation’s customer experience touch points (the experience drivers), work hard to get these right and find a way of measuring how this can impact on hard measures of value. Have a measurement framework in place. Net Promoter Scores are not necessarily the right answer but are one such metric that organisations are using.

3. Create a vision that can inspire and create organisational alignment.

Create a shared vision within the organisation so that everyone is bought into it and ensure it drives passion and inspiration and functions to bring the organisation together. Working as one towards a shared end goal of delivering a better customer experience.

4. Create a roadmap and business case to bring everything together.

Develop a UX strategy framework which is a long-term plan to align every customer touch-point with the organisation’s vision for user experience. It should be noted that focus should also be on achieving a measurable increase in commercial yield.

What do you think?