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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.

problem space and solution space

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.

If payers took the time to ask “why” deeply enough, they would find that technology takes away time from actual patient interaction (the focus of the clinician), and the true need is an integrated solution in the flow of the clinician’s work.

I don’t pretend to think there’s a simple solution to address this (spoiler: there isn’t). But by truly understanding the flow of a clinician’s work, a payer may be able to identify a solution that is adopted in those points of care by the clinician.

Related Article: The Key to CX Success? Planning the Entire Customer Journey

How to Solve Root-Cause Issues: Human-Centered Design

This is where the work gets even more difficult. Root-cause issues are often difficult to address because many require true behavioral change in the organization — and that type of change is not as easy as implementing a new portal, for example, due to ingrained culture and ways of working.

That’s where human-centered design approaches come in. Human-centered design is a way of working that puts people’s needs and behaviors at the center of design and delivery. Once you have insight from the root-cause analysis, then you will ideate, develop a prototype, validate the prototype quickly, pivot if needed, then measure the impact — continuously, while using customer feedback at every step.

Implementing change without taking this approach runs the risk of missing the opportunity to truly meet customers’ needs.

Where to Begin: Start With Symptoms

Solving the root cause of experience issues starts with the symptom or symptoms, which can range anywhere from stagnant revenue to increasing costs to employee feedback. In today’s environment, every company should have a strong pulse of business health that covers multiple dimensions, including customer, employee, operational and financial factors — and most do. Often, experience issues surface in the form of feedback from a voice of the customer/employee program or from account managers.

In our dental payer example, symptoms may have come as feedback through a listening program, such as a decline in provider and/or member Net Promoter® score. Or, it may have been an increase in denied claims or inquiries to a contact center.

Think about your own organization’s symptoms. Maybe employee retention is a problem — it is a tough issue for a lot of organizations right now, and it may not just be something you can chalk up to the Great Resignation. Maybe your organization isn’t providing a vision that resonates, and employees who are not inspired are more inclined to look elsewhere. A “check the box” response of throwing more money at the problem by increasing salaries may do little to address the root issue.

Instead, make it a point to try one of the techniques above to spend some time in the solution space, studying the root cause. The results of that effort are likely to show.