Customer escalation is the thing that every business owner is trying to avoid although it happens frequently.
There is no need to panic though as many situations can be successfully handled with the application of a proper customer management protocol. What is it? How to use it? These are the first important areas to approach in our Guide to Customer Escalation management.
Customer Escalation — What is it?
The main aim of any type of escalation is to highlight a certain issue or process that occurs in the daily operations at a company. The matter would need to be monitored and eventually a solution found by the appropriate employees.
In the customer service industry, an escalated issue usually means the type of situation when a support representative is dealing with difficult customers who are not satisfied with the services provided and demand someone with more experience within the company to try and resolve the issue.
The most common reasons for customers seeking escalation are the following:
- Miscommunication with a customer support representative. There can be situations when a customer’s demand for the escalation is completely the agent’s fault — they can be rude or inattentive. The whole other situation is when your agent doesn’t have the required knowledge or training level and is simply not qualified enough to resolve the ticket — in this case, escalation can be a reasonable solution.
- Delays. It can be a frustrating situation for a customer when being promised to be given a solution within a certain time frame and then not receiving the required result. All consultants (here at SUP we use this wording instead of “agents”) should manage the client’s expectations while also not promising a resolution that may not be deliverable, the agent’s goal is to always resolve customers’ tickets on time.
- Service Level Agreements (SLA) violation. All SLAs contain a set of defined rules for customer service consultants to follow in resolving client tickets, including any tickets that for whatever reason require escalation. This can vary greatly depending on the type of product. The most common reason is that consultants are unable to answer the request in time.
To successfully handle customer complaints it is also important to distinguish between different types of customer escalation. Currently, there are two of them for you to keep in mind — functional and hierarchical. Functional escalation happens due to the agent’s inability to resolve the ticket by themselves or not being able to close it on time. Some situations also require the involvement of a more knowledgeable agent — Tier 2, 3 or ever 4. At the same time, hierarchical escalation means that the case needs attention from a manager.
SLAs and Escalation
The SLA defines the level of quality of the provided service and is signed by the client and the service provider. It states the expectations of the working relationship and the metrics that will be used to measure the quality of the service provided as well as the possible solutions needed to resolve tickets on time for the client.
While companies have standard SLAs with customer service providers the situation is unique if the company providing customer support services may be supporting various products for the same client. A customized service level agreements for each product with its own rules to follow for cases requiring escalation and reasons for it would be best suited. Clearly defining who should be responsible for resolving escalations and a strict set of steps by step instructions to follow in all such cases.
Defining an Escalation Situation In Your SLA
All definitions of tickets that require escalation should be defined in the SLA so the agent can clearly know what is expected. When escalating a ticket the agent must indicate the following so that a timely solution can be found:
- An expected reply time for each escalated ticket (for each type of service, for example, during holidays or Black Friday sales).
- The reasons for the escalation.
- The person responsible to resolve the escalated ticket.
- Defining and prioritizing of escalated tickets.
Description of the escalation-type examples in the SLA can significantly improve the resolution time of such incidents and make sure that the customer’s complaint gets resolved.
Creating a Plan of Actions for Incident Situations
According to ProjectManagement.com, there are three main types of issues that you should cover while creating your escalation matrix:
- Operational – Such issues often include scheduling, some informational materials creation, consultants’ performance, and service cancellation queries.
- Logistical – In this case, it would be fair to mention customers’ order cancellations, troubles with product delivery, cases of delivery loss, etc.
- Technical – Issues of such sort refer to situations when customers face some technical errors, have technical-related questions or demand the escalation of their ticket is reviewed by a technical specialist.
Creating an escalation matrix for each case is particularly beneficial when working in a team — this way members know which steps are required in solving the client’s problem.
An approximate customer service script for escalation situations might look like this:
- Identifying the case as the one that requires escalation.
- Initiating the escalation process, finding the right person from the customer service department who will be responsible for this particular case.
- A detailed elaboration of the plan with customer service scripts.
- Giving updates on each procedure of the escalation management process.
- Monitoring the situation until it has been successfully resolved.
When escalation happens it usually means that the customer on the other side of the line is not happy. Five-star customer service requires all support consultants to be trained to a standard high enough to handle all escalated calls or emails.
Timing is everything
It is a common misbelief that escalation should be avoided at all costs and it is something terrible for an agent’s reputation. An important part of any training is to teach consultants when to escalate tickets — not too early and certainly not too late. The previously discussed escalation matrices are a great help when it comes to finding the right timing. It helps to avoid hesitation when facing a possible escalation situation.
Think about the following questions:
- Has the agent done everything in their power to avoid the escalation and to successfully resolve the issue themselves?
- Does the ticket have a strict deadline? Is the immediate resolution necessary and will a delay have a huge impact?
- Is this the kind of issue that would be expected to be escalated by the agent?
- Does the manager need any consultation with the client?
- Is there any chance for a manager to contact the client without escalation?
Drop the defensive attitude
Being defensive is a natural response to when an angry customer is yelling at you. However, it is important that a customer support representative knows how to avoid such a reaction and always remains calm taking the ‘heat’ of the whole situation.
The key here is to make sure that the team is well-equipped to resolve any kind of ticket, and they are trained to know the answers to most questions your customers might have. It is also important to pay attention to your team’s motivation and proactive attitude.
In any case, if the conflict resolution cannot be achieved — make sure you’re not leaving your customers on hold for too long or without any explanation. It is always a good idea to openly speak about it and provide the customer with the benefits of speaking with another specialist to resolve the ticket.
No matter the reason for the escalation of any ticket, be it an angry caller or an agent requiring more training, or any other issue — it is the responsibility of management to closely monitor any cases of it. All cases must be investigated to learn about the reasons that led to the escalation management process. Team managers should closely monitor any previous cases to find ways to improve an agent’s training for dealing with such situations in the future to reduce numbers of escalated tickets.
If there are multiple cases there might be an underlying consistent issue that requires attention and escalation back to the client. In some situations, it is a good idea to create an escalation team that would take care of such cases to make sure they happen as rarely as possible.