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How do you fix something that’s not working?

For many businesses, identifying a problem and going to market with its solution is often difficult. On the surface, what might appear as the problem may actually be only a symptom of a much larger, underlying issue. More often than not, many brands get caught up in fixing these symptoms by addressing the issues that are easily visible, without actually identifying and remediating the root cause. Thus, the resulting solutions are often short-sighted and ineffective, with similar or new symptoms reappearing as customer needs change and businesses grow.

In an increasingly customer-centric world, avoiding band-aid solutions to customer experience problems starts by having a framework in place to evaluate the totality of an issue. Root cause analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving method inclined towards the discerning of a hidden root cause of an issue — not just the symptoms.

Essentially, a root cause analysis uses these questions to uncover the optimal solution to any challenges:

  • What’s the REAL problem here?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What can we do to prevent it?

As explored below, there are some simple ways to conduct a root cause analysis and they can be directly applied to evaluating any customer experience issues. In this blog we tackle:

  • Why you should do a root cause analysis
  • A simple framework for performing a root cause analysis
  • How a root cause analysis can help you address customer experience problems and make improvements

Why you should do a root cause analysis (RCA)

When it comes to customer experience and customer service, businesses should consider conducting a root cause analysis when facing any problem for a few key reasons:

  1. It helps management address customer concerns, negative reviews, and recurring problems from a top-down view instead of a bottom-up approach. This can lead to identifying overarching structural problems.
  2. Scalability: fixing symptoms, or only a small aspect of an issue, usually leads to solutions that are not scalable as a business grows and customer experience management becomes more complicated.
  3. It ultimately improves customer experience. Addressing the root cause of an issue demonstrates that your brand is doing everything it can to solve these challenges — and that you take listening to customers seriously.

Let’s take a look at root cause analysis in action with a real-world example:

When a popular airline saw a gap between on-time departures and what customers thought about the punctuality of their departures, they knew something didn’t quite add up. Planes were leaving on time, however, a majority of complaints were still about departure delays.

To remediate the problem, the airline initially considered two solutions to improve customer experience:

  1. Offer more compensation to those few who do experience delays.
  2. Do everything possible to prevent any delays.

While those may seem like good solutions, they don’t actually solve what specifically causes customers to rate departure times so negatively — especially since compensation provided to delayed customers was already meeting industry standards and eliminating delays altogether is virtually impossible.

The airline began to dig deeper by asking their customers more questions and conducting a root cause analysis. In doing this, they uncovered some incredibly interesting feedback — delays weren’t necessarily the issue, but rather, how delays and information about them were communicated to passengers.

While the airline was rated highly by customers for overall communication, their root cause analysis revealed that when it came to addressing delays, they were quite poor. The airline didn’t stop there. They needed to find out why communication about delays was so bad — and why was exactly what they asked.

Q: Why are our delay communications so bad?

A: Pilots and airline staff are inconsistent in how they address passengers about delays.

Q: Why are pilots and airline staff inconsistent in how they address passengers about delays?

A: There is currently no framework, guide, or strategy defining the protocol for addressing delay concerns.

As you can see, if this airline had fixed the surface level issues as they first considered, the poor ratings would have continued — and at a significant expense. Instead, improvements were made to ensure that communications regarding flight delays would be consistent and meet customer expectations.

How to perform root cause analysis with the “5 Whys”

There are a few ways to conduct a root cause analysis, with the most popular method being the “5 Whys technique.” Let’s explore this technique with a quality control example.

A large car manufacturer discovered that their technicians were drilling the wrong sized hole on the chassis of their newest model car and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for this vehicle were declining because of a recall. Management, keen to get to the bottom of this, used the “5 Whys” technique during their root cause analysis. Let’s walk through how they did it:

Q: Why is the operator drilling wrong size holes?

A: He was provided the wrong drill bit.

Q: Why was he provided the wrong drill bit?

A: The blueprints said the hole is supposed to be 5 millimeters, which is too big for that part of the chassis.

Q: Why are the blueprints wrong?

A: Quality control never took a look at them.

Q: Why did quality control never take a look at them?

A: The records show those blueprints were not assigned to them during the review process.

Q: Why were these blueprints not assigned to the quality control group before production?

A: The new manufacturing engineer didn’t know he needed to submit a design review ticket.

While this example may seem simplistic, it demonstrates that a root cause analysis can reveal issues hiding behind the surface or the symptoms of the problem. In this case, the symptom of the problem was that holes on the chassis were drilled incorrectly and that operators were using the wrong drill bits.

The actual problem, however, was that a new employee wasn’t adequately trained or reminded of a mandatory process to ensure that product quality.

Root cause analysis can solve customer experience challenges

Customer experience challenges can take many different forms and show up in a variety of customer-facing touchpoints. Although each CX problem you address may require a different solution, getting to that answer each time can be done with root cause analysis. Let’s walk through getting started.

Step 1: Build your team

Team members should be chosen from the area that you’re analyzing, plus any additional or relevant subject matter experts who bring strong insight to the challenge at hand.

Step 2: Gather customer experience data

Root cause data comes in two primary forms:

  1. Operational data: These are generally metrics within your company and may vary by your industry. Some common ones are the number of cancellations, average order values, customer churn/retention, and the products/services used by customers. That last one may also include customers not taking advantage of a feature or service you make available to them.
  2. Experiential data: These are your customer service complaints, customer feedback from surveys, and, in some cases, online reviews, although you would want to collect more consistent data in place of this highly voluntary form of data. Regularly collecting customer experience feedback is your best bet for getting to the root of CX-related problems.

Proactive customer experience data can be collected from an easy-to-manage experience management software. With Delighted, you can leverage today’s top survey methods (Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), Customer Effort Score (CES), and more) to collect and analyze customer experience data in one, comprehensive dashboard.

Moreover, this experience data can be sorted into categories that make sense for the problem needing to be solved. For example, you can analyze the feedback data by customer segment to see how customers using certain features or purchasing from particular locations rate their experience. With Delighted, you can also set up saved filters on the feedback, or Trends, to monitor how these customer segments feel. This gives all feedback the context your team needs to begin their root cause analysis.

A proactive approach to collecting customer experience feedback is beneficial because it allows businesses to stay one step ahead of any impending issues. Survey methods like NPS or CSAT surface and prioritize the issues your customers face, so your team can begin their 5 Whys analysis and address the root cause of any customer experience problems.

For example, a bakery may discover that their company’s NPS (essentially, a loyalty metric — learn more about Net Promoter Score here) is high for its brand, but low for a recently released service: on-demand muffin delivery. In this case, the problem they’re looking to solve is why customers are willing to recommend their business to their friends or family, but not this new service.

Step 3: Run your analyses

Continuing with the example above, a look at the CX data reveals that there is a 20-point gap between the NPS of the new service and the NPS of the company as a whole. Armed with this knowledge they can now operate within the 5 Whys framework:

Q: Why are NPS scores so low for our new muffin delivery service?

A: Some customers say the muffins we deliver don’t taste the same as the ones in our store.

Q: Why don’t they taste the same as the ones in our store?

A: Customers are saying the muffins are cold.

Q: Why are the muffins cold?

A: It takes our delivery drivers up to an hour to make some of their deliveries.

Q: Why does it take them so long to make these deliveries?

A: There’s a lot of traffic in the morning and some of our customers request cross-town deliveries.

Q: Why are we making cross-town deliveries during rush hour?

A: There are no geographic or time limitations for our delivery service.

The root cause analysis of the above example reveals a pretty straightforward answer to this CX challenge: delivery customers who live too far away from the bakery are receiving cold muffins because it is taking drivers too long to reach them.

Knowing this, your team could decide to do the following to improve this situation:

  1. Add geographic or time limitations (when a delivery can occur) to deliveries to ensure muffin quality (potentially raising delivery service NPS).
  2. Ignore the NPS scores on the new service because the revenue generated outweighs the lower scores.
  3. Use a disclaimer to educate cross-town customers that their deliveries may take a little while, and include reheating instructions so customers can get the fresh-from-the-oven taste the in-store muffins have.

Root cause analysis for CX begins with data

Like tackling most problems, having the right data and using it to make intelligent and impactful decisions is critical when addressing any customer experience difficulties.

With Delighted, customer feedback can be collected in minutes, and brands like Bonobos and Patch have used us to overcome their customer experience challenges by getting to the root of their problems.

Get started with our survey templates and explore how easy it is to launch a customer experience program to identify what’s working and what’s not for your business.