busting barriers

Bust these three barriers - or fail to drive CX change


As John Kotter says: “Innovation is less about generating brand-new ideas and more about knocking down barriers to making those ideas a reality.”

8th Feb 2021

On our continuing journey exploring John Kotter’s 8 Steps to Accelerate Change and how you can apply them to the CX world, we have reached the fifth step: Enable Action by Removing Barriers. (Catch up on earlier posts in the series here!)

According to our recent work on understanding how companies improve their customers’ journeys, one of the top obstacles to improvement is organisational complexity.

This is reinforced in our experience mapping journeys, where we find “hand-offs” during the journey to be one the biggest challenges. Ensuring customers’ progress continues when they move between departments isn’t easy. During onboarding, it’s not unusual for three to six different parts of the organisation to be involved.

This is where experience design comes in.

As Kotter argues, “innovation is less about generating brand-new ideas and more about knocking down barriers to making those ideas a reality.”

There are as many ways to remove barriers as there are many types of barriers. But three prime categories come to mind: process improvement, reorganisation and technological investments.

Process improvement

It’s strange that we don’t hear much buzz in the CX blogosphere around process improvement, because it’s critical to success. I tend to avoid Six Sigma teams, because while the core Six Sigma concept requires voice of the customer as an input, I find this is rare in reality. All too often, Six Sigma becomes a way to outsource the work to customers in the name of reducing “waste.”

Heart of the Customer recently worked with a global manufacturer to understand their supply journey to their customers. We were there to document all the good work they did. What we discovered is that they previously had very strong relationships and put in a ton of joint innovation effort.

But their “process improvement” teams considered this waste. Instead of customer barbecues, site visits, and joint innovation projects, all communication was centralised to customer service. As a result, they lost all the goodwill they had previously earned, and slid down from partner to third-tier vendor.

However, done right, Six Sigma and other process improvement approaches are a key CX capability. Process improvements can reduce handoffs, accelerate results and save costs – all good news for both the customer and your company. Just be sure to keep the Voice of the Customer front and centre.


This one can be painful. But since silos are one of the biggest problems in customer experience, sometimes combining (or separating) groups is the best way to improve the journey. We worked with a global research company to understand their project managers’ journeys.

While this was formally an employee experience project, it was commissioned because the project managers spent so much time working through internal complexity that they had a tough time serving their external customers well. The company had previously centralised all the back-end teams, such as finance and IT, in order to build efficiencies and save costs.

What they discovered was that this created barriers to getting work done. In fact, their more senior project managers had all learned back-end workarounds to get their work done, calling senior finance analysts and getting them to sneak their projects to the front of the queue.

Our client discovered that the best way to improve the journey was to undo the centralisation, putting their teams closer to the customer so they could be more responsive.

Technological improvements

As CX matures, technology is becoming a more common tool. But many of our clients still use manual processes to support the journey – processes that break down under stress. Manual processes also make it more difficult to create operational transparency, educating customers as to where they are in the pipeline.

Advanced companies are using technology to streamline the journey. At a minimum, customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems provide transparency as to where a customer is in the process, such as through onboarding.

Journey orchestration systems automate the journey and can send internal and external messaging when a customer gets stuck. And CIOs are getting more involved in customer experience, enabling a cleaner, faster journey.

While training has traditionally been the primary focus in removing barriers, it is limited in its impact. Process improvement, reorganisation, and technology when combined with training have much more power to remove barriers and improve the customer experience.

None of this, of course, is completely within the domain of a customer experience programme. That’s why it’s so critical to start with Kotter’s first steps – creating a sense of urgency and building a powerful coalition – so you are able to involve the rest of your organisation. All hands are needed on deck to create an improved customer experience.

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Sven Esser
By SvenMuc
08th Feb 2021 11:41

Technology improvements and development takes place in high speed... while reorganisation is falling far behind. CX is driving change and is transforming our business (acting with customers in B2B & B2C) by 180 degree. For this, reorganisation is a must have.

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