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Ken Levine

Six Sigma

Root Cause Analysis Takes Too Long

Plan responses to service problems in advance and reduce the cost of the solution.

Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2005 - 23:00

Engaging your workforce is a major obstacle in a lean Six Sigma implementation. Only a limited number of employees will initially participate in Six Sigma improvement projects. It can also take one to two years before all employees participate in a lean kaizen event. It’s best to encourage individual improvement efforts and to provide just-in-time training to minimize the frustration of an employee who has been trained but is still waiting to participate on a team. There is another approach to this problem: service-recovery planning. Service recovery means to proactively respond to a defect in a organization’s service process. It can be done tomorrow by all employees at your company. It can be fun and it takes little or no training. The outcome is empowered employees and happier customers. How could this be a bad thing to do?

Service-recovery planning is a form of contingency planning. A few years ago, when many were concerned about Y2K, we placed a great deal of emphasis on this type of thinking. Then we forgot about it for a while. More recently, Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina and other major catastrophes have placed contingency planning in the front and center once again. The same line of thinking should be used by organizations.

Let’s take an example Gary K. Johnson, former owner of WMI Corp., originally told me: You leave work to have lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant. The waiter spills egg drop soup in your lap and says, “I’m so sorry. Because your business is so important to us, we’ll comp your meal today and bring you a fresh bowl of soup.” Perhaps you’re impressed with his sincerity and you appreciate the offer of a free meal. The problem is that you have a lap full of egg drop soup and you have to get back to work.

Let’s consider another scenario. After the waiter spills the soup in your lap, he says, “I’m so sorry. Because your business is so important to us, we’ll comp your meal today and bring you a fresh bowl of soup. Please accept this voucher for a free meal the next time that you come in.” Again, you might be impressed, but your lap is still a mess.

Let’s now consider one last possibility. Everything mentioned in the last scenario is said, but the waiter adds: “We have a room in the back with a television, magazines and a robe. We have made arrangements with a dry cleaner down the street to be ready in case anything like this happens. If you’re willing to wait, we’ll have your clothes dry-cleaned at our expense and have them back to you in no more than 20 minutes.”

Perhaps you decide not to take them up on this offer for one of many good reasons. Or perhaps you decide to do so, as you know the reputation of this restaurant and take the offer seriously and without concern about safety. Either way, you’re probably very surprised and very impressed. Rather than returning to work to tell your co-workers about the bad experience that you had at this restaurant, you find the first group of co-workers and tell them that they won’t believe what happened to you. You might even tell them that they have to go to this restaurant and make sure that someone spills soup on their clothes.

Normally, when something goes wrong, the customer wants to see the manager, but the manager is usually not there (or doesn’t want to be bothered). Without knowledge of what to do, this type of event is extremely stressful to the wait staff, as it can be anticipated to occur again in the near future. Customers often leave the restaurant upset and with definite plans not to return. It’s hard to measure bad will, but clearly this experience can lead to reduced frequency or even lost customers, the lifeblood of a retail business.

By getting the entire wait staff together and brainstorming what can go wrong with the meal-delivery process (and later other processes, such as meal preparation), a set of planned responses can be developed. These plans can be created quickly. Once the plans are approved by management, everyone will know what to do when a problem occurs. If the plan includes the 20 percent of the problems that cause 80 percent of the distress, the staff can usually determine an appropriate response when something else goes wrong.

By planning responses to service problems in advance, the cost of the remedy can also be reduced. For example, some companies provide a substantial budget of up to $2,000 for an employee to resolve a customer problem. While this is impressive, it’s better if specific remedies are determined for specific, predictable problems. In our example, the cost of the remedy might be as small as offering the owner of the dry cleaner a free meal once a month—a very small cost to prepare for a messy contingency.

Furthermore, as you activate service-recovery processes, keep track of the frequency and cost of these events. This information will measure the "cost of poor quality,” (COPQ) one of the most important measures of lean Six Sigma implementations. COPQ tells you how much you can afford to solve the problem. This will lead to successful charters for new Six Sigma projects and lean kaizen blitzes. Also, by capturing COPQ for all of your organizational processes over time as you make improvements, you’ll be able to track the return on quality as COPQ declines. Tracking the success of lean Six Sigma in dollars helps you speak the language of management and ensures that you’ll receive continued support for your lean Six Sigma initiative. Just don’t forget how quickly this can be accomplished if you start with service-recovery planning.

Research has shown that bad customer experiences will be communicated to an average of 10 people. However, when a service recovery is put into action, it can result in five or more positive feedback, which is basically positive advertising from defects in your process. So, while you’re trying to decide what processes to improve using root cause analysis, put in place a service-recovery process to get immediate results. You can start tomorrow.

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About The Author

Ken Levine’s picture

Ken Levine

Ken Levine is a Lean Six Sigma management consultant. He retired as director and lead instructor in the Lean Six Sigma certification program at Georgia State University in Atlanta in 2019. He holds a doctorate in business administration. Levine retired from The Coca-Cola Company in 2000 where he held the position of director of continuous improvement in the Coca-Cola USA division for three years. Levine is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Certified Purchasing Manager. He has previously published “Root Cause Analysis Takes Too Long,” “How to Determine the Worst Case for a Process,” “Recycling Your Meeting Waste”, “What Really is a Stretch Objective”, and “Ensuring LSS Success with a Robust Define Phase” in Quality Digest.

For more articles by Levine, click here.