Whose Problem is it Anyway?
How do you line up the right parts of organization to take ownership of customer issues?
Over the last twenty years there seems to have been an increase in roles and titles concerned with the customer such as “Heads of Customer Experience” and “Chief Customer Officers”. There’s also been rapid growth in the amount of customer experience measurement. Metrics like the Net Promoter Score or “top Box satisfaction scores” have become pervasive. However, the increase in roles and measurement haven’t always been matched by material improvements for the customer. Taking banking as an example, the data on NPS at the major banks in Australia shows that they pretty much flat lined from 2016 - 2020 until the “kick up the back side” from the royal commission combined with the goodwill they obtained through Covid, produced some improvements. (Source Roy Morgan NPS score research).
Recently airlines have been in the spotlight for service failings and utilities and Telcos have come under scrutiny for billing issues or network problems, so it does seem that further improvements are possible. The Heads of Customer Experience and GMs of service operations that we talk to still complain that other parts of the business aren’t driving customer improvements in the way they want. Our experience is that Businesses seem to look to the roles with “customer” in the title to drive answers even when others own the problems, hence the title of this paper.
There is a risk that creating a role like “head of customer experience” makes that role accountable when often they have limited control of the inputs like processes and systems that deliver the experiences. So, how do you get all the areas of a business to focus on the contributions they can make to customer issues? We’ll explore three related answers:
i) the metrics and measures that show areas where they can take action
ii) how to align ownership, motivations and leadership
iii) applying the right skills to solution designs
1. The right measures and metrics
Customer experience measurement has shone a spotlight on what customers think. However, there can be a disconnect between a macro NPS measure for a business and knowing the things to fix in order to move this score. The organisations that seem most able to act, bring together sources of customer issues at more meaningful levels of detail. They have data they trust on why customers are making contact and they can calculate the cost and customer impacts of these contact reasons. That’s valuable because many of these reasons are symptoms of complaints or dissatisfaction. They are showing customer experience failures. We’ve seen up to 80% of contacts be forms of dissatisfaction. Knowing customers are calling, chatting or messaging to ask “where is my X” or “why doesn’t Y work” or “this Z is broken” gives immediate and actionable insights on the problems to fix.
Uber recognised the insights available from contacts they were receiving. As a digital business they recognised that nearly all their contacts indicated customer problems. Over time they drove out over 80% of these interactions by understanding what they were and then addressing the causes. For example, the ride share business had issues with use of old credit cards on payment. Once Uber understood the volume of contacts and problems this was driving, they were able to build the case for extra investment to tackle the problem. Understanding the reasons for contact and the customer implications (for example the NPS for each reason) provides actionable insights and unpacks averages and macro scores.
2. Align ownership, motivations and leadership
Once the data is clear on what problems exist, the next challenges are, who owns what, and how can you make them take action? You can test that the data is at the right level of detail when it is clear who should own each contact category or experience issue. For example, at one organization a key issue such as “Where is my X” was assigned to the manager of the products. That wasn’t correct because many of the issues related to processes that were managed by a separate operations team. Therefore, ownership of that reason was moved to the area who were really accountable. Making this clear link between problems and owners helped everyone understand how issues could be addressed and who could act.
Ownership of customer issues has to have some consequences for the owner to make them take action. In one company the CEO made problem contact reduction and customer experience improvement 2 of the top 3 priorities for every general manager. That made them much more interested in the data the Head of Customer Experience provided and they could see why tackling some contact reasons would make a difference to their own score cards. These issues got more attention and within a year nearly twenty percent of customer effort was removed, costs fell by the same and NPS increased.
3. A composite focus on solution design
A third problem we have seen is where those who own the problems, may not have the skills or experience to design solutions. For example, a product team focused on digital solutions didn’t understand processes and systems well enough to see where issues could be eliminated.
In this example, some contacts were customers seeing updates on long running and complex processes to restructure their product holdings. The possible solutions included redesign of the processes or enhanced communication. Each of those was a different skill set to those who owned the product. The “solution owners” were different to the problem owners and they had to work together.
A second key issue in solution design is whether the root causes are well understood. In “The Frictionless Organization” we discuss different techniques for root cause analysis such as “five whys analysis” that help break an issue down into sub problems and causes. These techniques often enlighten owners as to what solutions are possible. For example, one Super Fund was disappointed that many customers were calling unable to log into their digital accounts. Root cause analysis unpacked many levels of the issue that could be addressed:
The required format of customer internet passwords was very complex
New customers were not informed of the tricky format and restrictions
There was limited customer help on what formats were or weren’t allowed
Error messages when customers got it wrong were confusing and didn’t explain how to get it right
The front-line staff didn’t understand these format rules and weren’t able to advise
This example illustrates that five elements of the problem had different solutions that could be addressed and needed to be considered together. Some involved major system changes and others just needed front line training. This kind of problem break down made the solutions clearer to all parties and also established a logical sequence of solutions.
In this paper, we’ve explained the challenges in making sure customer issues and problems are “owned” across a business and the techniques that can be used to construct solutions. This was a summary of a complex issue in organization and operating model design and we know there is more detail to discuss. Please feel free to get in touch at email@example.com if you would like to discuss further or call 03 9499 3550 or 0438 652 396.
This article also builds on materials in Chapter 2 of “The Frictionless Organization” by Bill Price and David Jaffe.