There’s nothing particularly new in the insight that our functional orientations can breed inside-out—rather than outside-in—thinking. Sales, marketing, customer support. These functions exist, first and foremost, to support a separation of enterprise concerns, the roles and responsibilities designed to make an organization go. But sometimes they also create a sort of myopia.

The same holds true for channels, which are another artificial construct. Channels exist to align people and processes with key customer touch points, where these touch points often depend on certain specialized skills. But while these channels may serve the needs of the organization through the specialization of duties, they don’t always serve the needs of customers themselves.

When functions and channels show through, they reveal seams in your brand. Unseemly seams. Big, conspicuous ones, like those left by a welder when function matters over form. These seams are often the result of your organization getting in the way of execution. Customers notice and judge you harshly.

Last summer, I moved into a new old house. As these things often to go, I wrote what felt like a blank check to poor fortune, as I navigated a minefield of expenses, including the purchase of a new refrigerator. I ordered it online, begrudgingly accepting the terms of a three-week backorder.

Three days later, this well-known retailer asked me to review the experience. My thought: What experience? The value hadn’t been realized. I overlooked it as a common orchestration error until they reminded me again and again over the next three weeks.

These, my friends, are what I mean by seams.

But look around and you’ll see other seams. Pricing inconsistencies, inflexible fulfillment and return policies, employees who display indifference or even contempt for customers. These are seams.

They make you look pretty silly, particularly when others are getting it right.

This week’s snowstorm in the Northeast of the U.S. created major travel headaches for many of my Gartner colleagues. But it also served as something of a smoke test for modern customer experience. The verdict? Mostly pretty darn positive. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many airlines are generally getting it right. Rebooking happens auto-magically. Alerts are dispatched to customers’ preferred channels. Bags are easily tracked on mobile apps. Function and channel operates in the service of the customer.

The highest performing companies recognize the unintended consequences of artificial boundaries. They know that customer experiences may be defined horizontally, but they’re executed vertically. They build the connective tissue between these vertical boundaries to hide the seams. They begin with a view toward serving an audience, making this objective the guiding principle of all of their efforts.

Your company will always have artificial boundaries that put pressure on the delivery of a seamless experience. It’s your responsibility is to recognize them—and then ensure your customers never do.
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Gartner, Inc