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Matthew Barsalou

Quality Insider

Customer Problem Resolution

A shared journey of discovery

Published: Monday, July 6, 2015 - 13:26

I know that the customer should be involved when performing a root cause analysis (RCA) as the result of a complaint. However, in a meeting, the manager of problem resolution and statistical methods told our team that we should view customer-related problem resolution as a “shared journey of discovery” together with the customer. That statement was a wake-up call.

A shared journey of discovery means more than just asking the customer for information or sending him routine updates on the RCA investigation. It means that the customer’s representative is viewed as a true member of the problem-resolution team.

As a supplier, it may be tempting to reject a complaint outright; the actual problem may not be yours (for example, when a failure is caused by the customer’s system). However, if you refuse to address the customer’s problem, the customer will have a problem with you—and that is your problem. Customers who are unsatisfied with the way their problem was handled may also complain to others about your response. In manufacturing, this could mean the customer’s engineers complaining to the buyers who make the decisions to purchase your product. If the customer has a problem and you don’t help to address it, that customer may start looking for a supplier who will.

Viewing an RCA as a shared journey of discovery means collaborating to determine what happened and why so that preventive actions can be implemented to avert a recurrence. This does not mean searching for proof that the problem is not your fault or that the problem may have been caused by something that is the customer’s responsibility. A shared journey of discovery is a collaborative exercise intended to use data and facts to get to the bottom of the issue.

It’s possible the customer is at fault for the problem. This may be obvious to you, but simply investigating to find evidence of the customer’s fault will neither help your relationship nor get the issue closed out sooner. An open and honest investigation will help the customer to both see and accept the cause of the problem. Finding the root cause based on empirical evidence from a collaborative investigation carries far more weight than an accusation.

The customer should be invited to join in when performing an RCA to his complaint. He will have valuable information that may prove critical to solving the problem, which is the main objective of the RCA. It’s important to establish when, where, and how the product failed. The problem may only occur when your part is installed in the customer’s system, or your product may be failing due to something in the customer’s system; in such circumstances, your failure is actually a symptom of the customer’s problem and not the actual cause. You will need the customer’s assistance to gather and interpret this information.

The only way to properly reject a customer’s claim is with data supporting your assertion that your part is not at fault. The customer will be more open to accepting this conclusion if he is involved in the data collection process. Searching together for the root cause and a solution provides an opportunity to show the customer that you care about his problems, and it also helps to improve your relationship. Your customer will have more trust in you and view you as a supplier that can be counted on to solve problems.


About The Author

Matthew Barsalou’s picture

Matthew Barsalou

Matthew Barsalou is a statistical problem resolution master black belt at BorgWarner Turbo Systems Engineering GmbH. He is an ASQ-certified Six Sigma Black Belt, quality engineer, and quality technician; a TÜV-certified quality manager, quality management representative, and quality auditor; and a Smarter Solutions-certified lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has a bachelor’s degree in industrial sciences, and master’s degrees in engineering, business administration, and liberal studies with emphasis in international business. Barsalou is author of Root Cause Analysis, Statistics for Six Sigma Black Belts, The ASQ Pocket Guide to Statistics for Six Sigma Black Belts, and The Quality Improvement Field Guide.