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Getting to the root of customer issues

by Annette Franz

Your Voice of the Customer (VOC) program is a rich source of data that, when used properly, fuels and informs your customer experience (CX) strategy and provides your company with a significant competitive advantage.

If you think about customer experience management as a continuous improvement process, you’ll be miles ahead of anyone else who believes that it’s enough to just listen to customers at a point in time, and then only respond to individual customers who have reported that they’re not satisfied.

A holistic approach to VOC feedback While closing the loop with unhappy customers is important, it’s even more important to think about your VOC feedback more holistically. This means listening on an ongoing basis and to consider how, over time, that feedback uncovers not just individual or one-off problems but systemic issues as well.

Consider this scenario. You’ve received feedback from several customers about your technicians who come on-site to complete some work but don’t clean up after themselves. At first, you might have thought this was an isolated incident and followed up with individual customers to address their concerns. Over the course of the next several weeks and months, you continue to hear the same complaints from customers. You hear some common themes and even catch headwinds about other emerging trends. Clearly, there’s a bigger issue here. Without listening to customers and uncovering details about their experience with your brand, you would never know that these issues (or anything else about the experience) occurred—unless, of course, customers called customer service to compliment or complain. But it’s not enough to just listen and expect meaningful feedback. You’ve got to design your VOC program to ensure that the feedback is actionable. The eBook, “Closing the Loop to Surprise, Delight, and Retain Customers,” takes an in-depth look at such actionable feedback. In it, we explore ways to ensure that the questions in your surveys are asked and framed in such a way to ensure that it’s not only a good respondent experience, but that you can also act on what customers are telling you. Be sure to download a copy of the eBook to learn more.

Connecting the dots to improve CX A good VOC program design ensures you’ve got relevant and actionable data through which you can improve the experience. But beyond that, you’ll need to connect the feedback to what’s happening within the business to create that poor experience. In other words, discover what’s happening inside the organization that’s driving a bad experience on the outside for your customers.

In the scenario we touched on earlier, what’s happening within the organization that’s causing technicians to leave in a hurry without cleaning up? Is it a training issue? Are they overbooked? Are they only given a short period of time for each visit?

While you can use feedback to make some tactical, cosmetic changes, they are just that—tactical and cosmetic—and they will persist. Customers can’t tell you what’s broken on the inside of your business, but they can tell you how whatever is broken is impacting their experience. Too many companies fix the symptoms and call it a day, only for the issue to happen over and over again.

A bandage is not a cure When you only focus on fixing the symptoms, you’re applying bandages rather than curing the disease. Getting at the root cause ensures that you fix what’s at the heart of the issue, which ensures that it won’t recur. Again, in the scenario proposed earlier, once we uncover the true cause of the technicians leaving a mess, we can correct the system or the process behind that to ensure on-site visits don’t leave customers frustrated. So, to get to the root of the matter and ensure that issues don’t persist, you’ve got to dig deeper and uncover:

  • How are we supporting, facilitating, and delivering the experience?

  • Which people, tools, systems, processes, and policies are involved?

  • What’s causing or creating the good and the bad of the experience?

You can use a number of tools to get to the root of the issues you learn about in your customer feedback, for example:

  • You can identify the issues that customers talk about in their feedback and go straight to conducting root cause analysis, without doing anything else. This is pretty straightforward. (More details on approaches to root cause analysis in a moment.)

  • You can use the feedback to identify specific areas of the experience that require more detail. From there, map that journey to get a deeper understanding of the experience and what the customer was doing before, during, and after. And, as part of that process, develop service blueprints that give you a surface to core view of what’s happening behind the scenes (people, tools, systems, processes, policies) that support, facilitate, and create—or break—the experience the customer is having.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on the former—listening to customers, uncovering common themes/issues, and investigating potential root causes of those issues. But don’t discount the importance of the latter.

As a side note, keep in mind that while themes may arise, you’ve got to be able to prioritize what you’ll solve for, because you probably don’t have the resources to do everything—or it might not be impactful to fix everything. So, as you lay out the issues, think about how you’ll prioritize them, e.g., what’s important to customers, what impact will a fix have on customers (and employees), and what effort and resources are required to fix the issue.

Let’s look at root cause analysis. It’s an important part of your closed-loop process, and an exercise that provides you with answers—not spontaneous or uninform answers, but drill-deep-down answers—to product, service, or process issues.

The answers or the reasons behind an issue are often not that obvious, so it’s important to step back and think deeper about why things are the way they are. There are several things to consider as you conduct root cause analysis. Be sure to do the following:

  • Include all stakeholders involved in the issue scenario. These folks will be intimately knowledgeable about what’s happening behind the scenes to create the issue.

  • Gather data (both feedback and other customer or operational data) that’s relevant to the issue or scenario you are investigating.

The power of WHY One approach that’s frequently used to uncover root causes is “Five Whys.” It’s a simplistic but effective approach. Here’s how it works: State the issue and then ask “Why?” five times to drill down to the ultimate cause. You can adapt this process to your needs; sometimes asking “Why?” five times is too many, and sometimes you need to ask it more than five times.

Let’s use the aforementioned scenario about the service technicians leaving without cleaning up their messes. Note that there are a lot of different follow-up “Why” questions that you could potentially ask, each of which could lead to additional root causes. Oftentimes, there are multiple root causes.

Why are customers unhappy? Technicians don’t clean up after themselves. Why did the technicians not clean up? They felt rushed. Why did they feel rushed? There’s a full schedule today. Why was the schedule so full? It’s seasonal/that season, and we are understaffed. Why weren’t we staffed up for the season? We downsized recently. Why did we downsize and not account for this scenario? Etc. Again, there may be many paths that the line of questioning can go down. Keep going until you can no longer answer “Why?”

That’s when you’ll be at the heart of the matter.

Getting from root cause to better experiences Once you've identified the root cause, you can then outline what the corrected process should look like and the intended outcome. Then, you'll brainstorm ideas on how to resolve the root cause and achieve the outcome. That ideation is important because not every idea is feasible from a timing, cost, or resource perspective, yet they should all be explored.

Like any project or initiative, it’s important to identify up front what success will look like and how you’ll measure it. Once you’ve come up with a solution, develop a plan to move forward, and then implement the solution—be sure to circle back with customers and employees to ensure that the fix has been successful.

In our scenario of the technicians who leave without cleaning up after themselves, what do customers do next? Do they contact customer service with questions about the service that was performed or just to complain? In this instance, true success for an on-site visit means that technicians both explain the service performed and clean up adequately, so customers don’t have to follow up with customer service. A metric might be reduced call volume as a result of the fix.

Operationalize feedback with a closed-loop process An important part of your VOC program is the closed-loop process to ensure that the feedback gets socialized and operationalized. A critical component of operationalizing the closed-loop process is root cause analysis.

If you really want to put customer feedback to good use, you’ve got to fix issues at the source so that they don’t happen again. For more information on developing a closed-loop process that helps you deliver a better customer experience and sets you up for success, be sure to download our latest eBook, “Closing the Loop to Surprise, Delight, and Retain Customers.”

About the Author Annette Franz Annette Franz, CCXP is founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc. Having started her career in this customer experience profession at J.D. Power and Associates in 1992, she has 30 years of experience (both client side and vendor side) helping companies understand their employees and customers and identify what drives retention, satisfaction, engagement, and the overall experience – so that employees, customers, and businesses reap the benefits and achieve their desired outcomes.

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