When a problem arises, it can be all too easy to jump straight into devising a solution. It’s a natural reaction. We see a problem and want to solve it.

Without properly understanding the problem, finding the solution becomes infinitely trickier and taking steps in the wrong direction can be a huge waste of time and resources.

As a CX specialist I’ve seen it far too often. A customer comes to me upset because they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a failed attempt to rebuild a product, implement a strategic roadmap or even just update the UX for a specific part within a product.

Thankfully, I’ve often had the opportunity to speak to clients before a heavy investment and they usually fall into one of two camps: the problem provider and the solution provider.

A problem provider comes to me with a loosely defined, hard to articulate problem that is filled with assumptions and only sometimes correct. Or they may have identified the right problem and without asking ‘why’ the problem has occurred have immediately turned to the wrong solution.

A solution provider comes to me with an idea that they believe will solve the problem, often before understanding the root cause or armed without any real evidence for why the solution is the right one. This inevitably takes them down a path of building something that may serve a purpose, but they quickly end up back in the same spot with the same issues.

The interaction usually goes something like this:

They present me with a solution and I ask, “okay, this looks interesting, but why?”

Sometimes (although rarely) they give me a hefty and detailed background on the journey they have been on to get to this point.

“But again, you haven’t really told me why this is the right solution.”

Issues largely arise when solutions are based on a flawed or undeveloped problem statement. There’s a great book by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg – ‘What’s Your Problem?’ – that uses the ‘slow elevator problem’ to demonstrate how to reframe problems.

To paraphrase, an elevator in a building is ‘too slow’ and residents are becoming frustrated. Mechanical upgrades to make the lift faster would be a seemingly obvious solution to the problem.

Instead, the problem is reframed to ‘the wait time is annoying’ which provides a new perspective when devising a solution, in this case, installing mirrors to distract residents from being bored while waiting.

It’s a particularly interesting example because installing mirrors is not a solution to the stated problem – they don’t make the elevator move faster. The point of reframing is not necessarily to find the ‘real’ problem but to see if there is a better one to solve.

So how do we discover the ‘why’ and frame a problem correctly? The short answer: speak to your customers. Thinking it can all be figured out within the confines of a teams’ perspective and knowledge is a mistake best avoided. 

By speaking to customers, you can determine the pain points they experience and gain context for the problem you are trying to solve, and it’s within the nuisances of their answers that you may find the opportunity to reframe a problem.

Map out the customer journey and analyse their current state and what their expectations are when using your product. Think of it as a gap analysis – where we are now? Where do we wish we were and how are we going to close the gap? – but from a customer experience perspective.

Once you have a solution that bridges the gap, you finally have the ‘why’. You can move into a creative or prototyping phase armed with a concise statement of ‘we are looking for X in order to achieve Y as measured by Z”.

Prototype in hand, you can once again test it with your customers and adapt to ensure you’re building a solution that may or may not have been the first solution but will solve the problem.

If you have a challenge and are looking to take the first steps to finding a solution, I’d love to have a chat.