Symptoms and roots

At breakfast this morning I watched how hotel clients puzzled over the three large hot liquid dispensers that were not labeled. We all knew there was one with hot water, one with hot coffee and one with hot milk. But they were not labeled. One risked completing the tea with coffee or the coffee with hot water or the hot water with milk. It was a bit like those shows where you have to pick a door that hides a prize, two you don’t want and one you do want.

One gentleman stood there for a long time, looking for a staff member to help him with his choice but none was in sight. He was clearly not one of the trial-by-error types.

Eventually he spotted one of the wait staff. Recognizing the helplessness of the customer, and without exchanging a word, she resolutely put his cup under the right spout and he walked away relieved. She had solved the problem but it will recur again and again. I was surprised that it didn’t occur to her to put labels near each of the containers – I knew they had them as they were there yesterday. But clearly someone had forgotten to put the labels and this was obviously not her job.

It was such a perfect illustration of a phenomenon I observe over and over in the places I work.  There is something missing in their customer service training and that is root cause thinking, something we include in all our programs so that root causes rather than symptoms are dealt with and some of these easy-to-solve problems don’t keep recurring.

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