Hire a Chief Problem Solver to Create Value all round


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There is no concentrated effort to reduce complaints in companies. Complaints and customer problems are never put on a priority basis or a war footing. The customer effort is based on giving delight to customers by most companies. However, the bulk of the problems occur because there are small, niggling, mind-bugging problems and hassles customers face, see my book with Walter Viera, Customer Value Starvation.

The concentrated effort will also lead to zero complaints, and so this becomes a worthwhile effort. Most companies have the processes and thinking to reach zero defects, but they have not worked on this. This is a call for them to take one more step to customer relief and nirvana. After all, defects lead to complaints. Zero defects normally mean the products are free of defects. But this does not apply to service, web site information, call waiting, customer journey issues and other easily solvable problems. This is an easy and good way to increase customer value.

For example, my Epson printer every now and then states check ink level. When that happens, it overrides print and scan commands. I have to manually close this alert on the printer. The Epson serviceman shrugs his shoulder and says you have to live with it (meaning do not complain, one sure way not to get to zero complaints!)

Do executives and CEOs truly understand the problems customers are facing? Do they really care or look the other way as Epson does? Do they have a problem solver whose first job is to look for and identify problems and then solve them within the company and outside, to internal and external people and entities.
What are they doing about these? What should they be doing?

Do CEOs initiate sessions on looking for customer problems, possible solutions and how to correct and prevent in the future? I have never heard of such meetings, if they are held at all!
Problems are of two types, inside companies and outside.

Inside companies, problems that employees face in dealing with each other and outside world, e.g. not having answers, having wrong info, not being able to answer or take decisions or reach decision makers, not being able to return calls after promising, not being enabled to solve problem. Sometimes they may be empowered but not enabled (which means supposedly they have the power to solve customer problems but no means and tools to solve them)!

What does an employee do when he hears that the ombudsman does not answer the customer’s complaints, or the grievance cell does not work, for example?

I had this problem with Citibank when I was told to escalate the problem to the ombudsman…who never answered!

Outside companies: you think employees do not notice the problems customers face? Most do, because they talk to customers. Most of the time, they have no way of correcting them or escalating them.

The solution lies in hiring a problem solver. And for the employee to make him aware of the customer’s problem or defects in the company’s systems causing the problem.

Think of a Chief Problem Solver and Zero Complaints and you will be adding more value than all your competition put together!

A couple of examples that could be solved if there was a chief problem solver:

Tata Play: I wanted to renew my annual contract. However, there is no option to renew. The only option is to recharge and by an amount I would select. But what is the annual payment? Is there a discount for lump sum payment? So, I decided to get off the net and tried via WhatsApp. In middle of using WhatsApp, the information page was replaced by an ad of the cricket.

Finally had to call to get the amount Why is it so difficult? Took an hour to pay. Does Tata Play care?

Tata Play probably does not even know these problems exist and if they know, they aren’t bothered.

A Chief Problem solver would have been alerted, and even tried a mock exercise to pay and found the problems and possible solutions.

Some people say use data to find problems. This may or may not bring any problems out. To use data, one must know what data to look for e.g. data on wait time, data on repeat calls, data on long calls and why the calls lasted so long? Was it because the customer had to repeat himself, or the service person had no solution but to tell the customer have you tried this or that?

Data on calls promised to be returned and not returned, data on whether bosses are seeing problems, data on whether CXOs receive a customer complaint, or work on a call desk.

The Chief Problem Officer has to devise how to find problems, by talking to customers, by talking to people within the company and front-line people. He would initial Customer Centric Circles (see my article in the Journal of Creating Value, 3-1, 2017). And then he has to get solutions. He should not become a service centre or call centre but have them collect problems for him to solve in a generic fashion.


  1. Your discussion of the issue is crystal clear. However, I am not enthused about the solution you propose. We have an organization-wide diversity problem which we can fix by hiring a Chief Diversity Officer? We have a low attention to safety concerns so we can fix it by hiring a Chief Safety Officer? Even if that special hired person reports to the Almighty (that it one level above the CEO on the org chart), I think attention to and resolution of customer problems is a cultural issue. We fix systemic problems through leaders who make resolution a priority and hold everyone accountable for their elimination. Delegating it to a Chief whatever rarely gets at the root cause or achieves a sustainable correction.

    You asked a great question: Do CEOs initiate sessions on looking for customer problems, possible solutions and how to correct and prevent in the future? They do in organization renowned for great customer experiences. I have attended CEO-led meetings at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Harley-Davidson, USAA, Southwest Airlines, Marriott, and the like. Customer-related issues are first on their agenda and the meeting is never ended until an action plan is crafted and someone held accountable to keep leadership informed on progress on that plan. Google USAA’s ECHO program or Ritz-Carlton’s Quality Process for evidence. I think the issue you raise is an important one. I believe smart organizations approach it through leader actions for culture change, not through the org chart.

  2. Excellent read! I love the idea of a Chief Problem Solver, as Mr. Mahajan points out, companies aren’t always aware of an issue to be able to solve it. By finding issues before they arise and solving them (and publicizing them), companies would be well on their way to customer satisfaction. Another good point made is around the use of data. Data is “everything” and one key piece of career advice I have received is to “go to where the dashboard is red”. Coupling the finding of issues through data is a key function for the role Chief Problem Solver.

  3. It’s easy for me to agree with, and support, all of the points made in the post. Qualitative and quantitative insights on these issues are essential to help get them resolved. My one suggestion would be to recognize that, when dealing with complaints or problems, it’s often those that are unexpressed, or unsurfaced, that can represent the most challenge for organizations: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/getting-whole-enchilada-power-expressed-unexpressed-michael/ These issues are often just below the surface, and what is otherwise unknown can cause more damage than the issues that are known.

  4. @Michael: As always you have great points, and I ageree. Many, under the surface unespressed problems exist. An example is in a country like India, some customer problems are expected because service was uniformly poor. Companies could have distinguished themselves by doing thins that were unexpected and making service great. Of course this has happened over the years, but the Chief Problem solver could have learnt from peers abroad.

  5. @Chip:
    The problem solver I was thinking of was for customer problems and not for all problems and so the Almighty might not need to be evoked. The CEO has to really be the initiator of the Problem office and the officer is an executive who does the spade work and implementation.
    Your ideas are great and good thoughts. Thanks

  6. I’m a fan for this type of thinking among CEOs, Gautham. Surely, every corporation has a Chief Quality Officer or VP-Reliability or similar title. What stands out to me is how many “continual improvement” teams seem to be working without VoC/CX/CS partnership. It seems the CX community may be preoccupied with digitalization and human-centered design as the answer to customer complaints.

    When I was Head of Corporate Quality at Applied Materials, the VoC/CX team reported to me. Rather than have all CX/CS efforts report to me, we collaborated with Marketing, Sales, IT, Service, Legal, Engineering, Manufacturing, Safety, Facilities, and every other work group in our enterprise ecosystem.

    Initially, our culture was reactive (find-and-fix, cowboy heroics), so we developed a multi-year roadmap to drive prevention mindsets in EVERY work group company-wide. Initially this was aimed at preventing issue recurrence, by engaging cross-functionally to eradicate root causes of prevalent customer issues. Eventually, we aimed at preventing issue occurrence.

    As you suggest, Gautham, we did this by emphasizing the voice of customer (complaints) as the basis for every group’s strategic planning, progress reporting to the CEO / COO / CFO, quality/CX-related bonus component, and company-wide team recognition. We emphasized: “Good news is no news, no news is bad news, bad news is good news”. It means we already knew our awesomeness, hearing nothing new put us in a disadvantaged position, and hearing what’s wrong before it’s too late allowed us to correct-course for growth.

    The main motivation for this was a concept I call CX Annuities, described here: CX Annuities Solve CX ROI & Tenure Dilemmas.

  7. Perhaps every employee could be designated Chief Problem Solver and given the support and autonomy to propose solutions, if not actually implement them. Imagine how powerful your company would be with tens/hundreds/thousands of Chief Problem Solvers!

  8. Chip makes an interesting and important point about addressing/solving problems being cultural. I’d submit that doing this on an effective, continuing basis is both cultural and institutional at an enterprise level.

    Understanding how critical surfacing, and acting on, problems and complaints definitely requires senior leadership guidance and support is essential. But, beyond being baked into cultural DNA (with reinforcement from senior leaders), problem-solving and complaint identification/resolution also greatly benefits by having it – as a defined function and responsibility – placed at a senior level in the org chart.

  9. This is a wonderful article on how to infuse true value into a business. Thank you @Gautam for bringing this up for discussion! While most businesses are busy with their daily operations, many are unaware of the silent “toxins” taking root just below the surface that are eroding both customer and employee experience and loyalty every day. Companies willing to invest in a “Chief Problem Solver”, someone whose sole purpose exists to lift every rock, look for things to improve, and ask the tough questions every day, benefit over time in unimaginable ways. One of the challenges for companies to incorporate this type of role is the general lack of instant gratification, which makes this role seems more like a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”. Another challenge is a lack of understanding by the other employees about what this person is actually doing and why it matters. This must be communicated as a positive thing throughout the company. Without support of leadership, this role can be perceived as an unimportant time waster or even a threat, which can contribute to a lack of internal cooperation from the team. While some larger companies may make continuous improvement a focus, it is the smaller to mid-sized companies who believe they are already stretched too thin on resources and dollars that struggle with this as a positive value-add to their team. It can be difficult to measure the value of this role in the traditional sense of what we think of as indicators. However, if you do intend to hire a Chief Problem Solver, you must be prepared to act on the challenges they uncover even if you have to prioritize them over time. If not, their efforts will have been for naught.
    I liken this to gardening. Companies must have patience while the new ideas, processes and the use of new language in conversations take root and starts to become a “new normal” that incorporates elevated expectations. I believe I may be speaking from a different vantage point than others commenting here. I have held this role for most of my professional career, but it has been called many things. Sometimes dubbed “the fixer”, I have uncovered issues that no one knew existed day in and day out. I wasn’t handed a list. These things were not yet on the radar, but they could have morphed into huge problems that would have been much more difficult to solve. Ego-driven leadership can be a huge roadblock to this type of role. The non-traditional concept of this role can feel “strange” to black and white thinkers. This definitely lives in a gray zone.
    Companies who care deeply about the relationship between their customers and their product or services may want to consider this role as a secret weapon. We all know if we aren’t worrying about what our customers are thinking and feeling, there is always a competitor lurking nearby who is more than happy to do so.


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