Quality Assurance

How to Get at the Heart of Your CX Issues with Root Cause Analysis

Most organizations look to solve customer experience issues from an agent performance point of view. They think that if the customer isn’t happy, the problem must be the agent.

Sometimes this approach even seems to work, for a short time. But before long another fire springs up that they have to put out. Managers spend all their time putting out new fires, without stopping to look for the real underlying cause.

In practice, most agents are good at their job. The real issues are often structural difficulties within the organization that hamper your team’s customer service efforts, leaving both agents and customers unsatisfied.

It’s Time For Some Root Cause Analysis

What is root cause analysis?

Root cause analysis is exactly what it sounds like. You discover the root cause of problems so you can fix the real problem, not just the symptoms.

Root cause analysis is credited to Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota. He popularized using the “five whys” root cause analysis technique. This simple process means asking “why” five times, to find the core of the problem. 

For example, when Toyota found mechanics were drilling the wrong sized holes, they asked why. The answer was because they had the wrong drill bits. But why did they have the wrong drill bits? Because the blueprints were wrong. And so on, until they got to the bottom of the problem. The blueprints were wrong because a new manufacturing engineer didn’t know he needed to submit new designs to quality assurance.

How to apply root cause analysis in Customer Service?

Say your customers are getting frustrated because your agents don’t seem able to help them with a specific problem such as a delivery address update, an account password reset, or an email/SMS confirmation. You’ve had a few complaints. So you take those agents aside and tell them how to fix those issues. Better, right?

But the complaints keep coming in about other agents. You dig deeper and realize that the problem isn’t with your agents. You could find out that this specific topic isn’t covered during training and onboarding. So you make sure it’s added for new team members, hold an extra team-wide training session for your current agents, and problem solved. Or you could realize your issue comes from a design flow: imagine you ask a customer to give you a safety code that they can only find in your app, but they can’t access the app itself! Just like in the Toyota example, you’ve used a root cause analysis technique to look beyond employee performance to the structure beneath.

Benefits of Root Cause Analysis

If you keep putting out fires, well, you’ll only keep putting out fires again and again. Root cause analysis breaks this circle and:

  • Gets you to the real source of problems so you can avoid future fires from happening;

  • Gives you a better understanding of what is and isn’t working for your company;

  • Leads you to more efficient solutions that you can apply team-wide or organization-wide;

  • Frees you from the cycle of solving variations of the same problem multiple times, thus reducing costs related to answering those questions;

  • Highlights common causes of customer issues so you can prevent them in the future

  • Fixing the problems means happier customers. With nearly half of UK customers and more than half of US customers leaving a brand to which they were previously loyal, due to bad customer experiences, getting to the root cause is important for your long-term customer retention.

How Do You Identify Potential Issues?

So now you know what root cause analysis is, but how do you know when you need it? I recommend diving into these three sources of information:

  1. Look at your metrics and ticket distribution. Is there one specific area with a lot of anomalies? Perhaps there’s a high reopen rate on certain types of ticket. Or maybe you notice lower CSATs for a specific market area, or twice the average ticket handling time in one team. Look for any indication that your performance is not uniform.

  2. Get feedback from your team. They’re on the front line, which means they see the problems before anyone else. They can alert you to any unusual patterns. Your agents are a source of fresh up-to-date customer feedback that you can use. Asking for your team’s input also encourages them to listen to customers more carefully on a daily basis, which is good for customer satisfaction.

  3. Analyze your CSAT feedback. Look in depth at customer feedback. Whether you’re using AI or manual review, you want to take a close look at the reasons your customers aren’t satisfied.

Remember, you have a treasure trove of information hidden among the support tickets you receive every week. Your customers are already telling you their customer experience problems in great detail! This gives you a great place to start searching for issues.

How Do You Get A Deeper Understanding Now That You’ve Spotted The Issues?

Here are four things you can do to get closer to the root cause of customer experience problems:

1. Build a QA scorecard

Start by building a QA scorecard that rates different parts of each customer interaction.  As many as 87% of companies currently experience difficulty ensuring quality assurance. A QA scorecard helps ensure you won’t be one of them. A QA scorecard gives you information you can use to make clear data-led decisions. Building a scorecard can also help you find the root cause of poor data quality, helping you maintain consistency.

QA scorecards help you gather statistical evidence about the exact reason your customer experience process is not working as expected.

Your QA scorecard acts as a checklist for managers (or agents) to check responses to a customer. To build an effective QA scorecard you need:

  • A clear vision of what you want to score on. You can’t score every element of every interaction, so pick what matters most. Response time? Agent knowledge? Use of company tone?

  • A firm decision on which criteria are more important. Some criteria will carry more weight than others.

  • Scoring criteria. Common examples include yes / no answers (was the agent friendly?), scoring scales (on a scale of 1 - 5 how thoroughly did they answer the customer’s question?), and written ratings such as “good”, “poor”, or “average.”

2. Use the scorecard on an appropriate sample of tickets

Now you have your scorecard, you’ll want to use it! Start with a sample of tickets that are related to the issue you want to examine. If you’re trying to find out why a certain type of ticket has a high reopen rate, pick tickets that match. If you’re looking to cut down response times for a specific team, choose tickets for that team. One of our clients in the food industry with a team of two hundred CS agents ran an analysis on their refund process (a critical process in the food delivery industry.) They used a QA scorecard to monitor different points. Were the refund requests legitimate? In which cases did they provide refunds? Which delivery drivers had the most refund requests?

Armed with those insights, their customer service director was able to make data-driven decisions. Now they carry out QA scoring regularly, to make sure the refund process is running smoothly, and that the refund costs remain within acceptable limits.

Keep your scorecard straightforward and easy to use, and stay consistent with it. Make QA part of your team’s regular activities and you’ll be able to spot problems before they balloon.

3. Hold some team workshops

Managers are tuning in to the fact that their customer service team knows the processes better than anyone, with 58% of leaders now engaging agents in more regular conversations. Tune in to the collective genius of your customer service team and find out about any flow issues they’ve spotted, or issues they’ve bumped into. Use their knowledge to identify snags that could be the root cause of problems.

4. Do a test run of your new process

So, you’ve figured out a process problem. The next step is to perform the new improved process, and monitor the results.

Ask a specific project team to perform the new process. Keep using your QA scorecard and monitoring results. Are results improving? Great! Not seeing the results you’d hoped? Evaluate and tweak the process, and monitor again. 

Tips for Effective Root Cause Analysis

Like any other methodology, root cause analysis isn’t foolproof. Here are some tips I suggest to get the most out of your root cause analysis:

  • Understand that some customer experience problems have multiple root causes. You might have to tackle several issues, or carry out more than one root cause analysis, before you see the change you want.

  • Always come back to the data. Look for concrete cause and effect data to back up your analysis.

  • Keep your focus on how and why a problem arose, not who caused it. This is about underlying structure, not laying blame.

  • Think about how to modify core processes to prevent the same root cause recurring in the future.

I also recommend keeping in mind the phases of root cause analysis:

  • Define the problem

  • Gather relevant data

  • Identify the probable root causes of the problem

  • Use the data to create and implement a solution

Improving agent performance can only bring you so far. When it comes to customer service problem solving, getting to the root cause of the issues is the way to go. With 69% of businesses believing their customers are satisfied with their complaints handling, but only 26% of customers actually being satisfied, tackling issues at the root will put you ahead of the curve. You’ll gain positive outcomes in terms of agent experience and productivity, and your customers will be happier.