OI Blog


Peter Iansek

CEO & Co-Founder

Peter Iansek


Oct 2023
OI Blog
Oct 2023

Root Cause Analysis in Call Centers & Contact Centers: What It Is & How To Do It [2023]

Root Cause Analysis in Call Centers & Contact Centers: What It Is & How To Do It [2023]
Peter Iansek


Peter Iansek

CEO & Co-Founder

Table of Contents:

  • What is Root Cause Analysis? == What is Root Cause Analysis?
  • How to Conduct Root Cause Analysis in Your Call Center == How to Conduct Root Cause Analysis in Your Call Center
  • Use the Best Tool for Root Cause Analysis == Use the Best Tool for Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis (RCA) can make a huge difference in the way call and contact centers approach customer service challenges. The goal of root cause analysis is to determine the main reasons customers repeatedly contact customer support without getting their issues resolved. 

Servicing a constant or growing number of customer contacts can be like trying to put out multiple fires at once. Your agents are like firefighters who douse the flames – but can’t prevent the next one from happening. 

Think of root cause analysis as the fire investigator that helps you identify the source of the fires and collects evidence to eliminate them for good. In the context of contact centers, this means customers won't have to face the same issues again and again, which improves customer satisfaction, gives agents more time for revenue-generating activities, and helps you reduce costs by reducing avoidable contacts.

This article will conduct a deep dive into how to conduct root cause analysis in the call and contact center and what call center technology can simplify the entire RCA process. 

What is Root Cause Analysis?

Root cause analysis is a systematic approach used to identify the underlying causes of problems or issues within a system, process, or product. It aims to go beyond addressing the surface-level symptoms and uncovers the core reasons that contribute to the occurrence of a problem. 

Originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda, root cause analysis found its application within the Toyota Motor Corporation's evolution of manufacturing methodologies. It played a pivotal role in problem-solving training and formed an integral part of the Toyota Production System's induction process. Taiichi Ohno, the architect of the Toyota Production System explained root cause analysis through the "five whys" technique. 

Ohno stated that through iterative questioning of "why" five times, both the problem's essence and its solution become evident. This technique has transcended its initial scope and is now widely utilized for RCA, even though it was originally designed to justify the necessity for new product features or manufacturing techniques. Applying RCA has also helped Toyota overcome product defects and increase customer value over the years. 

Understanding why customers initiate contact and what compels them to reach out enables organizations to potentially revolutionize the experiences of thousands–if not millions–of customers. The potential benefits are substantial, but it can take a lot of time and resources to analyze all the mountains of data siloed across an industry. Fortunately, there are call center software solutions that can finally make root cause analysis accessible. 

Root Cause Analysis vs Repeat Call Analysis

 The fundamental premise driving both root cause analysis and repeat call analysis is to proactively address and eliminate the triggers that prompt customer contacts. 

While repeat call analysis is limited to reducing the number of repeated interactions, root cause analysis aims to prevent future calls by addressing core problems. Simply put, when contact centers dig into the reasons behind repeat calls, it leads to root cause analysis.

Examples of a Customer Service Root Cause Analysis

Consider a case where a company's contact rate experienced a significant surge during the COVID-19 pandemic. This surge in customer inquiries led to a spike in support ticket volumes. Through a comprehensive analysis of customer interactions, the company was able to identify commonly asked questions, recurring user pain points, and problems that caused long handle times. 

These insights were skillfully utilized to craft a strategy for reducing support ticket numbers: the creation of a knowledge base that answered FAQs from customers and clients. This new knowledge base experienced considerable call center traffic, which significantly decreased the need for customers to directly engage with support agents. By applying root cause analysis, this call center was able to reduce repeat calls, save costs, and free up agents to focus more on value generating interactions.

However, what if the issue is harder to solve than just making an FAQ knowledge base? Take this example: a company utilizes a speech analytics tool and discovers that a significant portion of their customer support interactions (34%) are related to billing issues. While this insight is valuable, it lacks specificity. What about billing is causing issues?

  • Are customers confused about the bill amount? 
  • Is the online bill payment system malfunctioning? 
  • Do they need to update their billing address? 

This is where Operative Intelligence comes in. The platform is designed to automatically identify the root cause of each customer contact while providing context for each customer's issue. Instead of lumping all issues under a broad category like "billing," the platform breaks down the percentage and volume of billing inquiries related to specific customer concerns and root cause drivers of contact using the customers' own words.

This means when Operative Intelligence uncovers that a significant portion of those billing inquiries (let's say 80%) is due to customers struggling to change their billing address online…you suddenly have an actionable insight. The product team can update the online portal’s capabilities to make it easier to change billing addresses, the web design team can make sure these changes can be made through a simple user interface,  and the customer success teams can create a how-to document and onboarding section on updating billing addresses. 

Customers can now easily change their billing addresses online, reducing friction in the customer experience and the need for them to contact customer support at all. 

The Importance of Root Cause Analysis in Call Centers

Removes Customer Friction & Effort

When customers experience issues such as long wait times, inconsistent omnichannel experience, or complex website navigation, they may get frustrated and dissatisfied— leading to higher churn rates and lower revenue. 

Resolving customer concerns by identifying the root cause of pain points at every stage in the customer journey can ensure that customers have a frictionless customer experience

A study by McKinsey showed that businesses that focus on providing effortless experiences for their customers can improve customer loyalty by as much as 50% and also boost revenue by 15%. 

Reduces Call Volume & Customer Service Costs 

Companies that have strategically implemented root cause analysis have seen some incredible results. Adopting RCA systems into their framework has led to a 50% reduction in customer support call volume and a staggering 5X enhancement in Net Promoter Score (NPS). 

This paradigm shift shows the transformative power of finding the real reasons driving customer contacts and optimizing customer experiences on a larger scale.

Read more here: Customer Demand: The Ultimate Unlock of the Customer Experience

Improves Agent Experience

Ideally, agents should spend around 80% of their time on tasks that directly contribute value to customers and the business. Unfortunately, many organizations currently find themselves in the opposite situation, with agents constantly addressing product or service issues. 

When agents repeatedly encounter the same issues due to unresolved root causes, it can lead to burnout, decreased morale, and decreased job satisfaction. By harnessing insights from root cause analysis, organizations can proactively eliminate issues rather than having to constantly manage them, allowing agents to shift their focus from problem-solving to revenue generation. 

With the aid of root cause analysis, agents can participate in activities including upselling, effective onboarding, and proactive retention efforts. This shift not only leads to empowered agents but also translates into more satisfied customers. 

How to Conduct Root Cause Analysis in Your Call Center

Root cause analysis holds the potential to unearth actionable data that drives improved customer satisfaction and tangible operational efficiency. Let's take a step-by-step look at how to conduct root cause analysis in your call or contact center.

      1. Determine Customer Experience Goals & Questions

Establishing customer experience goals and formulating relevant questions provides a framework for your root cause analysis. Ask yourself what you are aiming to achieve through RCA analysis. 

  • What are the biggest pain points for your customers? 
  • Are you looking to reduce call volume, enhance first-call resolution, or improve customer satisfaction scores
  • Do your agents need upskilling in any area to improve your KPIs? 
  • Are there products or processes in your call center you need to refine or replace based on customer reactions? 

      2. Sort Customer Queries

Sorting customer queries involves an in-depth analysis of customer verbatim from multiple communication channels – phone calls, emails, chats, and more. The sorting is done to figure out what specific problems or questions they have and then group them based on their similarities. 

However, manually sifting through hundreds of unique queries is a daunting task that will take endless amounts of time and resources. Operative Intelligence experienced that itself. The founders’ extensive experience in the call and contact center field had revealed a critical issue: a lack of reliable methods to understand why customers contacted support and how well the contact center met those needs. 

Faced with fragmented reporting and various challenges, our Co-Founder James devised a methodology. It involved manually sorting thousands of customer verbatim notes from contact center phone calls. This process was able to uncover the root causes behind customer contacts in the exact language customers used to express their concerns. These insights fueled a multi-year contact center transformation program, resulting in a 40% reduction in workload and a remarkable 5X increase in customer NPS scores.

Of course, businesses can’t spend extensive manpower and resources on manually sorting every customer interaction. Fortunately, the founders were able to harness the power of artificial intelligence and other technologies to automate and enhance this manual process and create the Operative Intelligence platform.

Operative Intelligence analyzes existing contact center data and transforms it into actionable insights that businesses can use immediately. Contact center leaders can pinpoint high-impact opportunities for improving customer experiences and reducing costs, and receive an estimated ROI for the proposed changes.

Learn more about Operative Intelligence

      3. Use the “5 Whys”

If you still want to conduct root cause analysis manually, the  "5 whys" technique comes in handy. It helps you uncover the underlying causes of an issue by repeatedly asking "why" multiple times. 

For instance, here's how it can work in a contact center:

  1. Why is the customer calling?  - The billing amount is incorrect.
  2. Why is the billing amount incorrect?  - The system applied the wrong discount.
  3. Why did the system apply the wrong discount? - The discount code is incorrect.
  4. Why was the discount code incorrect? - The customer was sent the wrong code.
  5. Why was the customer sent the wrong code? - The code was created inaccurately during a marketing campaign. 

While the initial problem was the incorrect billing amount, the root cause was that the code didn’t work. So instead of the burden being put on your agents to explain the issue and correct the code, the marketing team can simply fix the code, and then the problem is resolved! 

However, executing this method manually for every problem at scale is burdensome. Customers express themselves in all sorts of ways that are tough to analyze in large numbers.  And hiring teams of expert analysts can be extremely costly and time consuming , and the insights they provide always lag behind what customers are experiencing in real time.

Fortunately, advancements in AI and machine learning can pull meaning from unstructured data.

Operative Intelligence automatically helps contact centers ask “why” by gathering, evaluating, and visualizing customer data. This provides organizations with deeper insights into their customers' needs, saving valuable time, financial resources, and effort— all while consistently achieving accurate results.

      4. Organize Root Causes by Volume, Cost, and Sentiment

Organizing identified root causes by volume provides insights into the most prevalent issues among customers. Quantifying these inquiries not only sheds light on the scale of impact but also helps in assessing the cost associated with each root cause. 

Prioritizing high-volume and high-cost inquiries allows businesses to make a significant impact on a larger customer base, leading to improved resource allocation, reduced costs, and enhanced profitability.

      5. Implement CX Changes

Conducting root cause analysis isn’t just about data collection: it’s about driving real organizational change that improves products, services, and the entire customer journey. 

Implementing these changes involves skillfully presenting the derived insights as a compelling story to relevant stakeholders across the organization. This data-backed narrative has the potential to initiate a transformative experience for both customers and agents. 

Use the Best Tool for Root Cause Analysis

The most powerful insight is understanding the root cause of why customers are contacting your business. Without that key information, it’s challenging to scale, see revenue growth, and drive true organizational improvements. 

If you need a tool that can help your business achieve data-powered root cause insights, look no further than Operative Intelligence. Operative Intelligence is a fully automated platform built for contact centers that conducts root cause analysis at scale. It uncovers objective, actionable insights that help contact center leaders and business owners save time, money, and effort.

No need for outdated insights.  Discover the real-time, high-impact opportunities you’re missing out on right now. 

Book a demo with Operative Intelligence.

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