Embed CX Operations to Succeed!


In the book “Team of Teams”, General Stanley McChrystal describes how the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF), of which he took command in 2004, was transformed to respond to the unorthodox battle tactics deployed by Al Qaeda in Iraq. After repeated failures, he and his staff discarded centuries of hierarchical military thinking and reshaped US military forces into a matrix organization that was “faster, flatter, and flexible”. This was no small feat given the engrained culture of top-down decision making, forces that had no accountability to each other, and that a war was taking place around them every day.

What CX organizations can learn from General McChrystal

A lesson from “Team of Teams” that applies to Customer Experience organizations is the JSOTF’s “embedding program”. In this program, a member of one team, such as the Army Special Forces or the Navy Seals, would be assigned to another force. The goal was to enable cross-functional information sharing and the forging of cross-functional trust.

The program was initially met with resistance as individual services were unwilling to trust a stranger from another service branch. To address this, McChrystal and his core leadership had two criteria when picking the Linchpin Liaison Officers, or LNOs, as they were called:

  1. If it doesn’t pain you to give up the person to the program, pick someone else; and
  2. If it’s not someone whose call you’ll take at 2:00 am, pick someone else.

McChrystal believed that the best people will always find a way to succeed. Through the persistent effort of the early LNOs, trust between forces developed, understanding of capabilities across forces were shared, and grass-roots dialog was enabled resulting in cross-functional cooperation to win the war.

Ultimately, this strategy resulted in a matrix of teams that broke down stove-pipes, decentralized decision-making, and were able to beat Al Qaeda at their own game. McChrystal pointed out that his own role changed from a hierarchical decision-maker (and bottleneck) to operational spectator as smaller teams took over the tactical fight.

A Customer Experience organization is a “Shared Service


Similar to Human Resources, it is a centrally-managed group that serves all the other organizations of the company. Typically, an HR Director and staff are located physically, or “embedded”, within the business group to which they are assigned. The HR staff attends staff and business meetings, builds relationships within the group, and learns the unique needs of that organization. In result, HR better serves the employees of that organization.

As a Shared Service, Customer Experience teams should assume a similar practice. CX teams should embed themselves to learn the business model of the organization they serve, address their unique requirements for Voice of the Customer feedback, and provide analysis that is pertinent, meaningful, and actionable to that organization. The CX “liaison” should be of a talent and level to work comfortably with the executives of the business to influence and enable change.

The best practice of an embedded CX program at EMC is in Customer Service. The Program Manager, or “liaison”, within EMC Total Customer Experience (TCE) team responsible for the Customer Service works in close proximity to CS management and has developed a working and personal relationship its executives. He’s come to understand EMC’s service models, the goals and objectives of the organization, the key drivers of its success, and its operational metrics. His analysis of VoC data is tailored to the CS’ objectives and resonates with its executive staff. The result of this relationship is that Customer Service is fully engaged in the CX program and views continuous improvement of customer experience as a primary strategic goal.

A conscientious effort to develop understanding and trust between organizations is critical to the success of a “shared service” function

such as CX. CX departments cannot expect client organizations to take action on CX data without an educated cross-functional dialog of the results. It’s this communication with the business unit that brings life and action to the CX data. Relationships and trust are critical to this dialog.

In “Team of Teams”, General McChrystal explains that success against Al Qaeda in Iraq was ultimately achieved through management change. All the power of the US military had previously been unsuccessful when used in the conventional way. Only a willingness to accept a change in management philosophy turned the tide of the war. CX organizations should give similar thought to the operational changes we can make to foster a stronger the relationship with our internal customers to enable similar success.

Brad Barker

Consultant Customer Advocate

Total Customer Experience

EMC Global Services

Email: Brad.Barker@emc.com

Twitter: @BradB555

About the Author: Brad Barker