How to find the root cause of customer issues?

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We all have at least a few times heard about such thing as the “root cause of customer problems”. But what is meant by it? When a customer calls the customer support team to get needed help or information, it is almost always handled in the same way: the agent asks for details of the issue, determines the nature of the issue and either tries to resolve it on his own or transfer the call and delegates the responsibility to solve the problem to the responsible department or specialist. So where is the “root cause identified” stage in this process? 

First of all, let’s state that there are numerous situations when agents misunderstand the real nature of the problem and delegate it to an inappropriate employee for resolution. Another fact is that wrong understanding and identification of the root cause can increase the average resolution time which leads to poor customer experience and can cause negative consequences for customer relationships with the brand. Also, root cause analysis is used in such vital fields as accident analysis, effects analysis, preventive measures, occupational safety, and so on. 

This article is focused on analyzing the use and effectiveness of RCA (root cause analysis) methodologies in the customer service industry, which isn’t still a popular trend to use during agent training or onboarding, and that’s why many call centers still can’t meet customer expectations of customer service standards. 

What is root cause analysis?

RCA (root cause analysis) meaning is the special technique for identifying the root issue that has led to a problem. There are numerous effective root cause analysis examples in customer service - for instance, a customer calls with the issue of why his verification key for a software tool does not work. As the main effective root cause analysis (RCA) methodologies say, there are three main origins of a root issue: 

  1. Material issues: for instance, the software is lagging because of servers malfunctions that are caused because of servers production defects;
  2. Human error factor: the software doesn’t recognize the verification key because the responsible sales manager provided the wrong key;
  3. Organizational issues: there was no protocol for checking out the verification keys' proper functioning before providing them to clients. 

Also, root cause analysis techniques allow you to understand three main aspects of the issue that are necessary to provide qualitative customer service and excellent customer experience while resolving the trouble.

Here are those three aspects:

  1. What has happened?
  2. Why has it happened? 
  3. What can you do to avoid facing this issue again in the future?

Root cause analysis is a vital part of customer service providing because it helps you understand many important things about your customers, your product, its disadvantages, and imperfections, as well as look at the roots of all processes in your business that are almost always corresponding. Thus, using root cause analysis in customer service is highly beneficial for any purpose, but first of all, it is one of the most effective ways to overcome competition in the field of positive customer service experience providing. 

Benefits of root cause analysis

A deeper look at your business processes

As it is a topic concerning customer service issues, let us use some examples of root cause analysis. For instance, you have some customer inquiries concerning the poor quality of your product that lost its vital characteristics during the first weeks of use. Let’s consider you are selling car brake caliper pads for tuning purposes. Some customers complained that pads started to fuse after installation. What can you do? You can refund money and send new pads for free, but that is not a way to deal with the root issue - there is a 99,9% possibility that your plastic distributor is providing you with poor-quality materials. What should you do to eliminate this root issue? Change the supplier, and that will allow you to avoid refunds and negative customer opinions, as well as it will be a great decision concerning your future sales and customer satisfaction. 

Seamless customer experience

What do clients dream about when calling your customer service teams? They dream of fast issue resolution that will save their time, effort, and money. Can an issue resolution be fast enough if an agent is unable to identify the real root cause of the problem that customers are complaining about? Surely no. Let us imagine other customer service root cause analysis examples: for a sample, a client calls you to complain about the quality of cleaning your employees provided in his house. A client has noticed that his carpets weren’t washed as was agreed in the contract, so now he’s waiting for your corrective actions. What can be the real root cause of this problem? Negligence of your workers or maybe something else? Managers who don’t want to deal with root cause analysis can’t just call those who were responsible for the cleaning and give them a thrashing, but what if we imagine that there were no needed household chemicals for carpet cleaning and employees couldn’t do anything about that? So, the potential root cause of the issue is the negligence of a person who is responsible for supplying chemicals, and we can bet that in this case, you’d discover numerous facts of such negligence that haven’t just been noticed by you because of some reasons. So, you can ask for an excuse, offer the customer to provide carpet cleaning at a suitable time and deal with a negligent supplier. 

Better customer service quality and speed

As we are talking about customer experience, that is no way to ignore the root cause analysis influence on customer service quality. First of all, clients evaluate the quality of service based on the first impression of interaction with the call center agent, and if an agent is unable to understand the potential root cause of an issue and just puts clients on hold or even transfers the call to a more experienced colleague, that’s not what clients expect from you. One of the best root cause examples can be the Internet connection failure - a client calls your contact center to ask for help: the Wi-Fi router suddenly failed and Internet service is unavailable. We all know how difficult it is for modern people to live without Internet service, especially when it disappeared suddenly - such a situation is almost always highly emotionally important for clients and they often subconsciously put all the blame on the "unscrupulous" Internet service provider. Now let’s move further: how many reasons are for Internet connection failure? Numerous, and that’s why root cause analysis is the must-have for this case. The right questions asked by the agent can help to engage the customer in issue resolution, avoid conflict situations, and speed up the problem elimination. Maybe, the issue s with router configuration and a reboot will help? Or windy weather damaged the wires? Maybe, there is a malfunction in the system configuration that can be resolved remotely by the IT technician. Is there a need to ask a technician to come to the customer’s house for more detailed troubleshooting? Each different answer to this question will define the future issue resolution protocol that will be used - and that’s why agents have to be trained for root cause analysis. 

Higher First Call Resolution rate

One of the most important call center metrics, as well as one of four fundamental components of customer experience (in pair with customer satisfaction and customer effort score), First Contact Resolution is the rate that defines the quality of your customer service and influences such vital aspects of call center performance as customer retention and customer loyalty. This rate measures how many customer queries have been handled during the first contact - no matter what communication channels have been used.  The First call resolution rate has industry standard - it has to be not lower than 75% and even 80% for some industries. As you could guess, first call resolution isn’t possible if agents can’t identify the root issue and provide the required help. Therefore, root cause analysis is the vital aspect on the way for reaching high first call resolution rates, and there is no way to avoid using root cause analysis in this case.

Faster issue resolution

What do you need besides the first call resolution? It is absolutely clear that even though resolving underlying issues within one call is a great indicator of your customer service quality, but what if this one call can consume too much time? Customers are understanding their time as one of the most important values they have, so they will never tolerate staying in call queues for fifteen minutes, then talking to an agent for another fifteen minutes, and being put on hold for a while. This is not the way you should provide issue resolution - it has to be sharp and efficient to let customers feel your customer care and see that you also respect clients’ time spent on this issue. Root cause analysis, if provided in the right way, can greatly reduce average resolution time because it also decreases the time spent on researching the details of the problem and finding out the potential solution and root cause that has to be resolved. 

How to do root cause analysis?

The root cause analysis process includes five must-have steps, so in the end, you will find out the root issue. Root cause analysis methods may differ based on the different approaches to root cause analysis techniques used by different managers, but still, it is a stable method, and the “five-step approach” is the best way to perform the root cause analysis process in the right way.

Step #1. Determining the root issue

Ask yourself two vital questions: What do you see is going wrong? What are the important signs of the root issue and what are the adverse events? 

These two questions define the main factor before you will start researching the issue deeper. First of all, you will see the vital characteristics that are going wrong, the problem, and how it is seen from the customer's perspective. 

Step#2. Gathering data concerning the root issue\

  • There are three questions that you have to answer:
  • Does the problem really exist and what are the shreds of evidence of it?
  • When has the problem been noticed for the first time?
  • What vital processes do the root issue harm? 

    One of the great root cause analysis techniques is called CATWOE (Customers, Actors, Transformation, World View, Owner, Environment). This one of the root cause analysis templates is needed to answer the following questions that will help you move closer to the root issue within the timeline of events. 

Customers - what are their needs, and customer personas, and how has the issue influenced them and their business processes?

Actors - who is involved in the root issue? Who is involved in the issue resolution process? What determines the success or failure of the actors?

Transformation - what processes, operations, and units are influenced by the root issue?

World View - what is the entire picture of the issue and what processes outside the system affected by the issue can be affected too?

Owner - who is responsible for the process that is harmed by the root issue? What is the role of this person in resolving the problem?

Environment - what are the limitations that can influence the resolution of the root issue process?

Step#3. Find out potential causative factors

  • What ordering of occasions causes the root issue?
  • What circumstances provoke the issue to happen? 
  • What other adverse events follow the main problem?

The biggest tip about this stage of root cause analysis is to never stop on a few causative factors you have found out. Root cause analysis is all about looking deeper into the problem - and neither one nor two causative factors are enough to provide a really efficient root cause analysis. 

There are many root cause analysis techniques to help you at this stage of RCA analysis, including the following root cause analysis tools:

  1. Divide the issue into smaller parts and identify the root cause of each of these “smaller” problems;
  2. Fault Tree Analysis - Fault Tree Analysis is one of the most popular root cause analysis methods that looks like a tree where you move from the general discovered issue on the top of the “tree” (engine is overheating) to the roots (potential root issues), like coolant system malfunction, radiator issues, and so on. 
  3. Impact analysis - compares normal process or system to a malfunctioned system to understand where lie the negative impacts. 
  4. 5 Why root cause analysis templates- the old-but-gold technique created by the founder of Toyota Corporation (at least the legend says so) that is based on asking “Why?” five times. For instance:
  • 1st Why - why the PC isn’t launching? There is no reaction to the “Launch” button.
  • 2nd Why - why there’s no reaction? There is no voltage in the system.
  • 3d Why - why there’s no electricity? The power supply unit is broken.
  • 4th Why - why is it broken? It is damaged inside. 
  • 5th Why - why is it damaged? Due to a voltage drop in the network.

The fifth “Why?” is the root cause of the issue.

Nonetheless, use the five Whys carefully - such root cause analysis techniques are often criticized because of many reasons. First of all, two different persons can find different results using this method. Secondly, it doesn’t allow you to find out the problems you don’t know to exist. Finally, it is focused on finding out one root cause while there can be much more. 

Step #4. Identify the root causes

Now take your causal factors and use the root cause analysis methods from Step#3 to move the root cause analysis process further. Each causative factor has its own root cause, and you have to discover those root causes. 

Answer the following questions:

  • Why do each causative aspect and adverse events happen? 
  • What is the only real reason for the main problem to exist?

Step#5. Resolution

Now, when the root cause analysis process is at its end, you can start finding ways for issue resolution - as it is the only purpose you have passed through the entire root cause analysis process. Answer the following qualifying questions:

  • What is the best solution for the root cause?
  • What actions can be taken to prevent the issue from happening again?
  • Who is the responsible executive for implementing and supplying the solution?
  • Are there any significant risks concerning the solution? What risk management events can you perform to avoid trouble?

You have to finish your root cause analysis process with a clear understanding of what is the solution for the issue, is this solution risky (that is called risk management) for other aspects of the business, and what are you going to do to assure that this issue will not happen again, and what are the potential consequences of implementing the solution and dealing with the issue. Fast and effective resolution without negative consequences is your main objective. 


As you now know, root cause analysis is one of the most vital techniques of troubleshooting you have to use in your call center. It is also used in such vital events as accident analysis or effects analysis. This is the best method to deal with customer issues faster and more efficiently. Ignoring this technique may cause negative consequences both for customers and staff. Your main goal is to provide root cause analysis in the most effective way possible, with the identification of causal factors and following systems analysis, and continuous improvement efforts, without negative consequences for your business operations. Use different root cause examples provided in this article to understand how the root cause analysis process works in practice. 

Eugene Siuch

Content Manager and Copywriter

Focused on customer service measurement and improvement, SaaS marketing and industry insights, and researching different methods of staff motivation and performance management in the field of customer service providing.

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