People who excel at their jobs solve problems. Nothing is more indicative of success in the workforce than solving problems. As Ron Willingham states in Integrity Service, In a real sense, each of us controls our success level by the problems we choose to solve.
Problem solvers are highly respected. They usually move up the career ladder because of the value they bring to their organizations. With information changing every nanosecond, learning and problem solving are critical. Nobody can know everything about his job. However, if you can find out where to access information and how to use it, youre a goldmine.
People who get recognized at work deliver results. To reach desired outcomes, you have to investigate the issue or problem, look at reasons for the problem, discover ways to fix the problem, and act on your insights. Often, this process takes place naturally, without a definite structure. We learn how to solve problems early in life for survival and because of inborn curiosity. Infants are all over the place solving problems, often to their parents dismay. In business, top-level executives have the desire to solve problems and the curiosity to uncover creative solutions.
Although problem solving is, in part, second nature, solutions are not always well thought out. A famous company once ran a Super Bowl ad about a special promotion (good thinking on the part of marketers), but neglected to tell the workforce about it. Thousands of calls on Monday after the game caught frontline staff by surprise. Instead of increasing sales, problems were created, not solved. There are countless stories like the Super Bowl fiasco. You probably have some of your own. Problems are caused by
- lack of information
- lack of communication
- faulty equipment
- failure to listen
- failure to follow through
- role confusion
- lack of teamwork
- underlying motivations
The term root cause is equivalent to the root of the problem. When professionals are looking at reasons for process failures or product malfunctions, they want to uncover the real source of the problem. When working with customers, root cause is also what you want to discover. If Mrs. Jones doesnt have any water, is it because she didnt pay her bill or is she part of the neighborhood where a water pipe burst?
A problem occurs when there is gap between what is expected and what actually happened. For instance, if someone who ordered a book expected it to arrive on January 5 but that did not occur, there is a problem. If NASA expected a spacecraft to reach land by January 5 and it did not do so, there is a bigger problem involving more people and more resources. The root cause would have to be explored for both problems.
Follow the model for problem solving
A model for solving problems helps avoid the shoot-from-the-hip approach. It affords you a systematic way of investigating and solving a problem. The following model has the elements necessary to accomplish your goals.
Describe the problem. Express the problem by clearly describing it. This could be to the customer, to your boss, to your employee, or to a co-worker. Describe the gap between what exists and what you want. Review the following example of a problem at a doctors office. What exists: We have a referral, but that doctor is not available. What you want: We need to find another doctor.
Research and Clarify the Issues. Determine the reasons for the problem. Research what needs to be done to correct the gap. Redefine the problem if necessary. Research: In addition, it looks like that doctor is not on your plan anymore.
Offer an outcome. After researching and clarifying the issues, an outcome should emerge as being viable. Or, the outcome may require further exploration. Outcome: I found a doctor on your plan who can take you tomorrow! I heard he was nice as well!
Imagine other possibilities. You have solved the problem this time; however, the next phase of problem solving involves thinking about what can be done if the problem arises in the future, or imagining new systems or techniques for resolution. For instance, it might be great to have a personal computer available that patients can use to find the names of doctors and the insurance plans they accept. Giving a patient the name of a back-up doctor also would help in case he or she needs help for a similar problem in the future.
Plan for success. Planning may be for improvements or to ensure that the current solution is accomplished. In this scenario, giving the patient directions to the physicians office would be a way of planning to ensure that the outcome is achieved. It also is providing additional information. Providing additional information and ways to prevent problems are two of the most important ways to gain customer loyalty.
Note: This article is excerpted from 10 Steps to Successful Customer Service by Maxine Kamin.