Do You Know the True Root Cause of Customer Experience Problems?


How do you fix broken customer experience and other business problems? Get to the root cause of the problem — the actual root cause.

In my previous CMSWire article, I wrote about whether it’s better to fix bad experiences or enhance the good ones — and the “Peak-End Rule” for guiding those decisions. I received a lot of positive and interesting feedback, and it got me thinking about the process companies go through to improve an experience.

In human-centered design, we follow a process that includes space and time for exploring the problem as well as for defining the solution — known as the Double Diamond. Ideally, these steps should be balanced. In other words, you need to spend sufficient time in the problem space to diverge, explore and build empathy with the “customer” in order to converge, synthesize the findings and define the problem. Then, using the insight from that exercise, you can move into the solution space to ideate, create a prototype(s) and then define and refine the solution.

Too Much Time Fixing Customer Experiences

What we see in the real world, however, is that many companies spend too little time on the problem-defining (left) side of this model. They observe a symptom and move quickly to solve it so they can “check the box” that they’ve “done something.”

But why do they do this? Because there’s pressure to do so. We must acknowledge the pressures these companies face in today’s economy and lack of power organizations truly have — in this case, “power” is the ability to influence an outcome. But because organizations are at the mercy of their customer base and the decisions they make, they are ultimately powerless of directly dictating an outcome (i.e. customer liking and purchasing their product or service) and must attempt to influence customer behavior towards that outcome “as quickly as possible.”

But because they don’t take the time to understand why this is a symptom, they don’t really get to the root cause. This often results in a change that doesn’t actually meet the stakeholder’s true need or alleviate the undesirable effect (UDE).

We’ll discuss why understanding the root cause is critical to elevating stakeholder experience — and how to go about it in the most effective way. We’ll use examples from the healthcare sector, but it’s important to note that this approach is relevant for any business in any industry.

Related Article: Customer Experience Conundrum: Fix Bad Experiences or Make Good Ones Better?

Why Finding a Root Cause Is Important

If you don’t actually resolve the root cause of an UDE, the problem won’t go away. You’ll end up spending money on a solution that doesn’t deliver significant new value for the stakeholder and/or the organization.

For example, a dental payer maintains a process for gathering feedback from members and providers about their experience with the company. Through that process, the payer hears concerns from providers about increasing claims denials and their need for a better way to check eligibility before services are provided.

Easy, right? The payer creates a portal for providers to look up patient eligibility. But it didn’t take the time to fully understand the provider’s specific information needs or the downstream impacts if that information is not available.

As a result, providers continue to experience an undesirable effect — more denied claims than they believe should be occurring — and they lose money or experience delays in being paid. The investment in the portal has done little to move the meter.

How to Find the Root Cause

The process for investigating and finding a root cause usually isn’t that difficult. There are several proven tools and methods for doing so. The following are three of the more common approaches that can apply to exploring the root causes of customer experience issues:

  • The Theory of Constraints, developed by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, is a process improvement method designed to improve profits by managing constraints that prevent an organization from achieving its goals. Its primary focus is on removing or managing constraints to increase manufacturing throughput — although it can also be useful in other scenarios.
  • The five whys technique, developed by Sakichi Toyoda and popularized by Toyota in the 1970s, is a very common approach for root-cause analysis. It encourages people to start with the symptom and ask, “Why did it happen?” for each potential reason, five times in succession, to get to the actual issue.
  • The Fishbone Diagram, one of the most popular and useful Six Sigma methods, is a structured brainstorming session and/or tool that forces teams to explore and consider all possible causes of a symptom, not just those they have thought of or that they suspect to be the root cause.

Consider the provider from the lens of a traditional healthcare payer. These payers are looking to better engage with the providers who ultimately provide the medical services to and are able to influence health outcomes of the member/patient base.

However, these clinicians continue to deal with more administrative burden as payers continue to offer more “solutions” — i.e. one-off technology elements that address a single issue for a single type of patient like diabetes management solutions — with limited successful adoption and utilization.



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