This is part four of a six-part series recapping my presentation, “Happy Clients: An Intro to Digital Account Management,” from Podcamp Nashville 2011.
4. Find Root Causes
This concept originated with Toyota and emphasizes finding the root causes of problems, rather than treating symptoms. Ahead of my presentation at Podcamp, I trolled the Internet for good examples where this concept had been put into practice, and stumbled upon this one involving Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (courtesy of Pete Abilla).
Essentially, Bezos was visiting an Amazon fulfillment center when an employee injured his thumb in a conveyor belt. When Bezos heard about the incident, he got very upset and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. Rather than succumbing to a knee-jerk reaction or creating a committee to investigate the problem, he put the methodology behind finding root causes into action, by using the “Five Why’s.”
The concept behind the “Five Why’s” is that if you get the right players in the room and commit yourselves to finding the root cause of a problem, you should be able to find it by asking why no more than five times. Here were the results:
Why did the associate damage his thumb?
Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.
Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor?
Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor.
Why did he chase his bag?
Because he placed his bag on the conveyor, but it then turned-on by surprise
Why was his bag on the conveyor?
Because he used the conveyor as a table
In other words, Amazon didn’t need a committee, or better safety standards surrounding their conveyor belts or anything else, they just needed to make sure that their associates had access to tables.
As it relates to working with clients
Now, I’m not actually suggesting that we need to be running our clients through this exercise every time we encounter a problem. On the contrary, I doubt that we ever need to bring this up to them.
What I am saying is that we need to be more proactive when problem-solving, and making sure that we are getting at the root causes of problems rather than treating symptoms.
For example, I find this is a major issue when working with clients on web designs.
Frequently, the client will ask questions like: Can we make that color pop more? Can we move that search box over here? Can we just tweak that?
By asking more questions of our clients, we can figure out what the real problem is. Perhaps it’s that the client wants to emphasize a certain feature more than others. Or that they believe a certain layout will convert better.
By finding the root cause of why they want to change things, we arrive at a place where we are discussing things that are more objective rather than subjective, and more measurable than abstract.
We can move the search box around all day long, but if we don’t understand what the underlying cause is, we’re never going to find a solution that solves the client’s problem.