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Your Customers Don’t Want to Be Trapped by Your Silos

A customer arrives at a service department he visits frequently to take care of some account maintenance. Before he leaves, he asks the department receptionist if she can pass along a document to another department. What’s the receptionist’s answer?

“I don’t take that. You’ll have to see So-and-So, who’s not here now.”

And what’s the customer supposed to say in response?

“Oh, of course you don’t take it. I know that! I’m an idiot! Let me go right now before I disturb you any further. I’m sure I can figure out some other way to get this to the right person all by myself. I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”

How many things are wrong with this picture? Between the de facto rudeness and receptionist’s complete lack of effort to accommodate the customer in any way at all, it’s too painful to try to parse out the potential damage of this incident.

It would have been a huge mistake with any customer. This happened to be a longstanding customer, whose past business has been valuable, and whose future business (assuming it’s not negatively affected by this incident) would, theoretically, be excellent, considering the typical lifetime value and where he is in the service lifecycle. In addition, this particular customer is part of a core group of influencers and community-builders for the organization.

Silos are for Missiles and Animal Feed, Not Customers

It’s particularly infuriating when customers who have relationships with multiple service units within a larger service organization can’t get what they need and end up banging into silo walls. The unbelievably negative impression could have been avoided easily, even if the receptionist herself was merely a victim of “silo enforcement,” rather than a perpetrator of it. All she had to say was something like:

“I’ll be happy to pass this along for you. So-and-So is actually the person you need and he’s not in right now. Next time, though, if you could, please just drop it off down the hall; his hours are…”

This is by no means an optimal solution. It wouldn’t resolve any of the organization’s internal problems or ease the difficulties of doing business with them. So why aren’t I advocating for full disruption of this organization’s “silo culture,” or arguing for a single point of resolution? Because in many organizations, if there is no way to improve incrementally, there will literally be no improvement at all.

A slightly more gracious, slightly less obtuse interaction may be the closest this organization can get — at least in the immediate future — to a more satisfactory customer experience.

And isn’t the customer entitled to that?

Onward and upward,


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