Secrets of The 5 Whys and Customer Experience Improvement

Every day, we work with companies to transform their customer experiences. Of course we do this for profit – but we also do it for fun. After all, our work reveals answers and drives initiatives that make the lives of customers and employees both easier and more enjoyable.

No matter the size of client or type of engagement, among the most immediately rewarding outcomes are those “Ah-ha!” moments when a previously hidden answer or solution to a problem becomes obvious – once looked at through the outside-in lens of customer experience improvement.

But while problems are easy to identify, solutions can be harder to find – because often times, the obvious answers aren’t the right ones.  That’s where “the 5 Whys” come in ­­– systematically delivering Ah-Ha! moments by getting to the root cause of a problem.

Why is That? (Why? Why? Why? Why?)

If you’re a Six Sigma any-belt, devotee of the Toyota Way, or just a Quality geek—you probably don’t need an explanation about the 5 Whys. For the rest of you, Lean Startup author and entrepreneur Eric Ries put together this great video explanation.

The gist of the 5 Whys is that if you have a problem, like a defective product or poor customer experience, you can often get past symptoms and uncover lower-level root causes by asking (and answering) “Why?” five times. The reasons for each successive shortcoming get you closer to the issues that caused the problem in the first place.

Since this is an idea that’s easier explained in examples, here’s a slightly editorialized one from a bank customer of ours. We’ll trace it from the initial problem to the underlying cause with a bizarre twist in the middle. (There’s always a twist – sometimes several – when you’re doing 5 Whys.)

Is This Branch Going to The Dogs?

Working with a regional banking leader to improve customer experience, we found an anomaly in the research data.  A branch that had been among the highest performing in their previous CSAT studies was driving into the red on several key loyalty metrics.

While identifying the problem was the first step to resolution, we needed to get at the underlying issues to fix it and ensure they could avoid a recurrence. By bringing the 5 Whys into play, the assessment exercise went (more or less) like this:

1. Why is loyalty dropping? Customer enjoyment and satisfaction with the drive-through channel went from near perfect to seriously dissatisfied.

2. Why is drive-through such a large component of customer experience at this branch? Many customers made a special trip – bypassing others in the system – just to go to the drive-through. Turns out that this branch was the first choice of many dog-owner customers, wherever they lived.

dog treats

3. Why did dog owners go to the drive-through at this branch? Doggie treats were handed out to the happy puppies by a proactive teller who worked drive-through most days. She bought them on her own dime and was on a first-name basis with many of the pups (and their owners).

4. Why are customers so unhappy with the drive through now? This teller is no longer with the bank, and none of her colleagues took over her role. Dog owners are (grudgingly) leaving Fido in the car to go inside or heading to the drive-through at a branch closer to home.

5. Why didn’t management know this was important? Management had previously relied on an annual CSAT survey. Without regular VoC data, they couldn’t see the problem… until they started asking “Why?”

Answers, evidence, and solutions become clearer at each step. Today, all drive-through tellers are giving out dog biscuits, engendering rabid loyalty among the highly vocal customer segment of dog owners (a customer segment they didn't even know they had).

Giving You Important Answers to Questions You Don't Know You Have

Even though a fairly simple example, this bank was able to leverage this exercise to unearth insights that boost loyalty and create a competitive differentiator that drives broader awareness across broader audiences.

Other 5 Why exercises reveal more mundane issues like back-end systems integration, lack of training, customer data kept in silos, and treating customers as groups rather than individuals, just to name a few common findings.

Adopting a 5 Whys mentality isn’t always easy. It takes time and discipline, as well as the right people in the room.  And of course there’s potential danger. There is often more than one right answer to a Why question, and understanding how to link the sequential cause-effect path is a critical skill set for any customer experience or quality practitioner.

But any firm that wants to improve customer experience can benefit from the 5 Whys.  And with helpful tips like these to guide your process, you’ll be well on your way to digging up answers and burying the dissatisfiers that negatively impact customer experience quality in your company.

What might you dig up? You’ll never know unless you ask, “Why?”

This blog originally ran on CMO.com, where Michael Hinshaw writes the weekly "Get Customer-Centric" blog.

Customer Experience Strategy, Get it Right to Drive Success

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