This month we’re tackling uncommon approaches to Quality, and you’ll find them worthwhile even if you’ve already “done” Lean.  So far, you’ve learned the 5 categories of service issues that cause 80% of your issues and unnecessary costs, plus the powerful “resolve on first contact” strategy.   I’ve shared a set of 3 complimentary training videos to share with your team to help you see results. Today I want to tackle the underutilized strategy of root cause analysis.

Ask yourself this: “If we’re going to resolve customer issues anyway and if we’ve made progress to resolve them on first contact, why don’t we simply get it right the first time?”

I want you to really think about how the culture of your company would change if all the time and energy that’s currently going into fixing problems after the fact was redirected to value-add activities.

Then ask yourself how committed you are to achieving that possibility in your company.

Empower Employees to “Stop the Line” on the Customer Experience

The most successful Lean implementations give every worker the authority to stop the line to resolve traditional Functional Quality issues before they can cause problems for customers. Although I’ve highlighted the importance of tackling the Experiential side, and often exactly the opposite happens, with issues getting messier and more convoluted as they’re escalated!  In fact, the vast majority of customer service calls result from shortfalls on the part of your company that create an issue for the customer.


  • Short shipments and backorders.
  • Late deliveries.
  • Poor packaging that results in damaged product.
  • Services delivered by a junior resource who is competent, but doesn’t leave the customer with a sense of confidence.
  • People who don’t return phone calls as promised.
  • Errors in order entry that result in returns, credits, and a scramble to get the customer the right product.
  • Invoices, refunds, or credit notes that aren’t processed promptly or accurately.

Those are self-inflicted wounds — every last one of them.  And they’re within your control to resolve for good.

Most often, we tend to blame the people for quality problems; and most often it’s the process that is flawed. So don’t play the blame game. Instead, you want to get to the real source of the ongoing issues rather than simply solving each instance with costly Band-Aid fixes.


Case Study

Process issues caused a small restaurant in Cincinnati to lose a large party’s business.  I joined a group of 14 attendees from the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) conference at a reputedly great little Italian restaurant.  Upon arrival we were shown to a set of tables that had clearly been joined together for our party, but were then left waiting for 30 minutes without any service.  When we flagged the server down, she announced “I can’t deal with all of you.  I can’t do separate checks.  I can’t split the check on multiple credit cards” before diving behind the bar again.  As all of us have some familiarity with streamlining processes, we worked out a way between ourselves to create just 3 groups.  We checked to ensure that everyone had adequate cash to split the bill.  Those who needed receipts agreed that a picture of the bill their smart phones would suffice.

We called her back over to share the good news that we would make this easy on her.  Once again, she got completely flustered and dove behind the bar, at which point we made an executive decision to find another restaurant.  As we exited, the chef/owner came out of the kitchen and frantically said “I can handle all of you!”  Was it the person, or was it the process?  Clearly this restaurant has all those tables and chairs for a reason, and can handle several small tables of 4. There are many restaurant systems available that automatically split a common bill or that can generate multiple bills – we experienced that at every other restaurant we dined at during the conference.  There might be some blame attached to the level of frazzle this woman was clearly experiencing, but it was actually the lack of process that was the problem.  We provided her with a band aid solution that would have resolved the issue that night, however given that this restaurant is about 2 blocks from a massive conference center, taking a root cause approach to ensure that a large party never again walks out the door is likely a more profitable solution.


Have Fun With a Root Cause Marathon

You need to take a root-cause analysis approach to quality issues on the experiential side of your business.  It’s as simple as using the 5 Whys approach that you’re likely already familiar with if you’ve used Lean.  If you haven’t used the 5 Whys before or want to know more about using these on the service side of your business, download 3 complimentary training videos and share them with your team.

Have some fun with a day-long Root Cause Analysis Marathon. When I work with clients, I often have them get their customer service team in a room, identify every single issue that they keep having to resolve over and over, and make a commitment to use the 5 Whys to get to the bottom of each one and solve them for good.

When you divide and conquer the workload, you’ll strip the unnecessary costs associated with them right out of the business, while energizing and freeing up your team for value-add work. Significant savings drop right to the bottom line and customers are delighted when you let them know they’ve been heard and you’ve taken action to make their lives easier.

Stay tuned for next week, as I will give you ONE more Solution in Plain Sight that will help you to further develop a corporate reputation for Quality.

#1 Bestselling Author, International Speaker, and Accelerator Anne C. Graham is on a mission to help 5 million business leaders and their teams double their profit per employee – or more – in less than one year, in less time per week than they’re spending on email per day. Her new book Profit in Plain Sight includes the 5-step proactive P.R.O.F.I+T Plan to do it.  Connect with Anne on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

How often do you find yourself blaming your people instead of taking the time to drill down on where the process has gone awry?  What are the implications when you do?