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Shining a Spotlight on Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

Shining a Spotlight on Root Cause Analysis (RCA)


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Shining a Spotlight on Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

31 Jul 2023

Martin Canwell


  • From Aptean Respond Complaints Working Group, July 2023
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Our ever-popular Aptean Respond Complaints Working Group (CWG) in July brought together a whole host of professionals from across the complaints industry to discuss the issues keeping them awake at night, with a particular focus on Root Cause Analysis (RCA) this time.

What Does RCA Look Like in Practice?

We were joined by the RCA team from AXA Insurance, who explained just how RCA works within their organization, showcasing examples of challenges and successes they’ve experienced. AXA Insurance’s approach to RCA has three main steps:

  1. Recording – complaint handlers capture root causes using Primary, Secondary and Tertiary categories.

  2. Analysis – data is extracted monthly and further analysis is carried out to understand key themes and trends. A summary data pack is delivered to all business areas and there are various forums to discuss the findings, including a complaint reduction forum to which all business areas are invited and given set actions to address any root causes.

  3. Governance – monthly data and quality assurance checks ensure the right root causes are being recorded, supported by annual RCA training.

What followed was a discussion about several aspects of RCA touching on some of the issues raised by the AXA Insurance team as well as some other challenges many complaints teams face.

RCA Categories and Codes: How to Decide?

There’s a seemingly endless list of possibilities to choose from when allocating which categories root causes fall into. Give too many options—and you run the risk of complaint handlers having simply too much choice, which results in a tendency to pick incorrectly; not enough choice—and there’s a chance you won’t be recording root causes accurately enough. As well, if you enable call handlers to select multiple root causes, your business may struggle to pinpoint the primary root cause that lies at the heart of the complaint. One contributor mentioned that they also include a ‘new option required’ box, which handlers can tick if they feel existing categories and codes aren’t relevant.

Attendees felt that it’s vital to work hard to define root cause categories and codes so they’re specific not only to your business but to your individual processes, services and products. One contributor discussed how their complaint handlers are able to include further details about root causes in free form text boxes. Sentiment analytics are then applied to this to help determine if any themes have been missed.

Also, what the customer thinks is the root cause of their complaint (perhaps a long wait to speak to a representative) might not have been what ultimately drove them to make the complaint, meaning there is another primary cause for the initial dissatisfaction. Capturing this nuance while still being able to identify trends and major issues is where the sweet spot lies for complaint teams, something that Aptean Respond can help to achieve through its ability to record multiple complaint aspects, each with their own root cause.

Identifying Root Causes When Only Certain Complaint Aspects are Upheld

Discussion also turned to the issue of multiple aspects to a complaint, all of which may have a different root cause. Add to this the fact that only certain aspects of the complaint might be upheld and it’s not hard to see why this challenge led to some lengthy discussions.

Overall, there were two main schools of thought: 1) those who capture root cause for the primary aspect of the complaint at case level, and 2) those who capture root causes for each aspect. While the former is certainly less taxing for users, the latter clearly provides greater granularity of information and, ultimately, insight, although only if you can ensure the quality of data you’re capturing. If this isn’t the case, then perhaps best practice is prioritizing quality data capture for the primary aspect only?

One contributor discussed how they record each aspect of a complaint with the main aspect then assigned a primary root cause. All other aspects are also assigned a root cause, albeit not recorded as the primary root cause. All of this information is then reported back to the business, alongside data about which aspects of the complaint have been upheld.

It was felt that it was important for complaint handlers to be very aware that sometimes what appears to be the main aspect of the complaint isn’t necessarily the primary root cause. Often, complaint handlers try, incorrectly, to match this main aspect to the relevant root cause. It was agreed that regular training and quality assurance checks can prevent this from happening, therefore helping to ensure that root cause information remains accurate.

When it comes to giving complaint outcomes and capturing these, the majority of attendees (88%) said they were capturing upheld reasons based on aspects of the complaint, with only 22% capturing upheld reasons based on the primary aspect.


80% of CWG attendees stating that they feel well supported by other business areas to get to deeper levels of RCA.

Who’s Responsible? How to Close the RCA Loop

Aside from recording root causes, one of the main issues that complaint teams have is ownership and accountability for addressing identified root causes. A common perception might be that complaints teams are responsible for RCA and affecting the necessary change, but it actually should be the case that individual departments are responsible and accountable for root cause reduction activity. The good news is that this is clearly happening, with 80% of CWG attendees stating that they feel well supported by other business areas to get to deeper levels of RCA.

In terms of who’s responsible for identifying root causes, for 53% of respondents, this responsibility lies with the complaints team. 29% have a dedicated RCA function outside of the complaints team and for the remaining 18% of respondents, responsibility sits with a different business function. But, when it comes to who addresses and hopefully resolves the identified root causes, 100% of respondents said this lay with the relevant business function.

One contributor discussed their monthly RCA forum where different departments are informed of the issues relevant to them. It’s then the department’s responsibility to solve the problem and report back to the RCA forum when this is done. Another contributor discussed the monthly RCA reporting packs that are delivered to all key stakeholders.

The point was made that it’s actually all about defining the structure for getting RCA done and getting changes made and that the management information needs to support that. So, processes need to be in place to ensure the right information is put in front of the right people who can take the action needed to address any identified root causes.

The issue of how to ensure remedial actions actually happen was raised. One contributor mentioned action logs that they assign to each root cause to be addressed. If actions are open or incomplete for a prescribed amount of time, these are escalated to senior management. Another contributor discussed how departments were asked to update their risk registers if root cause actions weren’t undertaken in time. This approach seemed to ‘encourage’ teams to take action before this was necessary.

Consumer Duty and RCA

A hot topic for many businesses at the moment, the final part of the discussion, looked at the role of RCA in Consumer Duty compliance and whether Consumer Duty is changing the emphasis on and support for complaints RCA. The majority felt that yes, this was the case with one contributor stating that they were seeing more requests come through from the rest of the business for RCA data. Another contributor noted that 60% of Consumer Duty actions relate to complaints and therefore Consumer Duty represents a real opportunity to raise the profile of the complaint function, highlighting how complaints' management information (MI) has a valuable role to play in Consumer Duty compliance.

So ended a very thought-provoking session, which could have carried on long past its allotted time. We’re already looking forward to the next Complaints Working Group later this year and hope to see more of you there.

For more information on how our world-class complaints management system, Aptean Respond, can provide the functionality to help optimize your root cause analysis, or to get involved in our next Complaints Working Group, contact us today.

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