Escalation Management: How to Manage It Effectively

Learn all about escalation management, its types, challenges, and a step-by-step approach to setting up your escalation management process.

Pradeep VasudevAksheeta Tyagi
May 8, 2024
9 min read

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Did you know that 1 out of 3 consumers worldwide think first contact resolution is the most important aspect of customer service? No matter the length of the conversation, users are keen on getting their queries resolved right at their first interaction with brands.

But what happens if you do not resolve issues quickly, or do not meet customer expectations during this resolution process? You guessed it right — a customer escalation. Escalations can disrupt your usual flow of work, damage the trust your customers have in you and in worst cases, even result in them churning away from your brand.

On this page, we will talk in-depth about how you can manage, resolve and prevent escalations and how it can positively impact your brand’s reputation and sentiment.

What is escalation management?

Escalation management is the process of identifying customer issues that could not be resolved at the first point of contact, and then going on to prioritize and resolve them in the best possible manner.

When a customer reaches out to a brand with an issue, they do it with the hope of resolving it quickly and efficiently. However, if the query/issue is not resolved to the customer's satisfaction, they can escalate it to a higher authority within the organization hoping for a quicker or more satisfactory response.

Escalation management is a crucial step in ensuring that customer satisfaction and happiness are always put first, which in turn helps businesses establish themselves as more trustworthy and improves customer retention eventually.

Types of escalations and their importance

Escalations are classified into diverse types based on their severity, complexity and even the way they are triggered in a customer service environment. Below mentioned are some of the most common types of escalations and how they play a key role in delivering better care.

Functional escalation

Also called technical escalations, functional escalations usually happen when the scope of a ticket is beyond the assigned agent’s scope. These escalations occur when the agent might need some assistance, either from within their immediate team or from other teams that are more knowledgeable about the concerned issue.

Based on the customer’s needs, it also might become a “departmental escalation,” where the issue is forwarded to an entirely different department within the organization for resolution.

Functional escalations are necessary to ensure the customer is connected to the right agent/representative to get their issue addressed, instead of the conversation being abandoned or kept on hold for an unacceptably long time, which might result in service level agreement (SLA) breaches and damage to the reputation of the brand.

Hierarchical escalation

Hierarchical escalations, also sometimes called managerial escalations, occur when the customer specifically asks to speak to a higher authority in the team or within the organization. A hierarchical escalation usually happens when a customer’s needs are not being met by the agent due to official policies or legal complications, or even because the issue requires the knowledge of a technical expert.

A representative on the managerial level or above might be able to give a better, more detailed answer to the customer on why their requirements weren’t satisfied, or they can even coordinate with higher-ranking officials in the organization to make exceptions.

💡Pro Tip: Consider deploying a direct line of oversight with a Supervisor Console to stay connected and informed on your team’s efforts. You can set up an AI logic to trigger instant alerts the moment customer satisfaction begins to wane, giving you the chance to interject in real time before minor issues escalate. Whether it's coaching an agent through a tough interaction indirectly or taking charge of a call altogether, you can have the power to address concerns yourself right away. 

supervisor escalation

Automated escalation

Today’s businesses have policies in place that talk in detail about the parameters for responses and resolutions in customer service (service level agreements) that have extensive info on metrics such as

  • how quick the first response needs to be (first response time)

  • how long an agent can work on an issue (average handle time)

  • how long before the case can be considered as closed/resolved

Their customer service teams also have automated SLA monitoring systems tightly integrated with their helpdesk software to ensure these SLAs are always followed. If not, the system automatically escalates the ticket and informs the concerned stakeholders about the escalation.

SLA monitoring solutions are a must-have for businesses that have signed these agreements with their clients and must always maintain a specific level of SLA compliance, which can be achieved by automated escalations.

Challenges in escalation management

While escalation management is important for ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, it can be challenging for businesses to implement effectively. Here are some of the key challenges businesses encounter in escalation management:

1. Lack of a consistent escalation process

One of the significant challenges in escalation management is the lack of a consistent process. Businesses must have a clear escalation process that outlines the different types of escalations and the necessary steps for resolution. However, many businesses do not have a well-defined process, leading to confusion and delays in resolution.

2. High escalation volumes

Businesses that receive many escalations may struggle to manage them effectively. A high volume of escalations can lead to delayed resolutions, poor service quality, and increased call center burnout.

3. Lack of resources or empowerment

Businesses that do not have resources for de-escalation readily available struggle with escalation management. Also, the agent not having the authority to make decisions or provide solutions that meet the customer’s needs can come in the way of a smooth resolution/de-escalation.

Learn More: How to Take Control of Your Organization’s Complaints and Escalation Management

The next section discusses in detail about how you can set up an escalation management process for your customer service team to ensure a streamlined customer/agent experience and lead to quicker resolutions.

How to set up an escalation management process

Setting up an escalation management process is critical for customer service teams to quickly jump into action and resolve the customer’s issue(s) before it becomes a crisis. Here are some important steps to remember while you are setting up your escalation management process flow.

Step 1: Determine initial parameters

Identify the types of escalations your team might encounter, the criteria for each escalation type and the escalation levels for these tickets based on their severity. Any internal or client SLAs that are actively being used can be used as a starting point to draft your escalation process.

Step 2: Define your escalation procedure

Think along the lines of -

  • Where would I be communicating about the escalation? 

  • Who would be the stakeholders? 

  • What would be the timeframe for each escalation level? 

By answering all the above questions, you can understand the flow of an escalation in your team and implement a strong, practical resolution process that can help de-escalate critical situations much quicker.

Step 3: Communicate the escalation process

Once the escalation flow is finalized, the next step is to communicate the process to your stakeholders including all your contact center agents, supervisors and other supporting team members. Clear communication about the process ensures everyone involved with the escalation is aware of the process and knows what to do next, reducing unnecessary delays in response and resolution.

🚀Go Pro: Set customer service workflows to auto-pilot processes and save time!

Step 4: Constantly analyze and improve

After the process is in place, it is also important to analyze its effectiveness and constantly improve on it by collecting feedback from your stakeholders. Keeping your escalation process up to date will ensure your escalations are always handled smoothly and help prevent any future crisis situations.

Now that we have set up the process, what are the soft skills that agents need when they are managing an escalation? The next section talks all about the key skills customer service professionals must possess when they are working in escalation management.

Key skills needed for escalation management

Effective escalation management requires a range of call center skills. Here are some of them:

  • Communication: Agents must be able to communicate effectively with customers, team members, and other stakeholders to handle the issue efficiently. 

  • Problem-solving: Escalation managers should be well-equipped to identify the root cause of the issue and they must have the ability to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to complex problems. 

  • Leadership skills: Senior professionals involved in escalation management must have strong leadership skills to lead the escalation team effectively. They must be able to motivate and inspire team members and provide clear direction to ensure a successful resolution. 

  • Emotional intelligence: Agents must possess a good amount of emotional intelligence to engage with customers smoothly since they need to empathize with the customer's perspective and manage their emotions to ensure a positive outcome. 

  • Time management: Customer service teams must ensure that escalations are resolved within the agreed timeframe by learning to manage their time effectively. 

Learn More: 10 Customer Service Coaching Tips to Supercharge Your Support Teams 

How to improve your escalation management capabilities

To improve your escalation management capabilities, these are some of the most important steps you can take:

1. Define clear SLAs and escalation matrices.

Having a well-planned SLA enables you to understand your obligations and responsibilities in the escalation process, which in turn helps you with taking that issue to resolution quicker. Customer support teams also use an important document called the escalation matrix to expedite the resolution process of an escalation.

The escalation matrix is a system or document that defines when and how escalations are initiated and what needs to be the next steps for resolution, across multiple levels of hierarchy and across multiple departments in the organization.

Here is what a sample call centre agent escalation matrix looks like:

Escalation severity

Tier I

Tier II

Tier III

Senior Leadership

Executive Leadership

Role in organization

Call center agent


Customer service manager

Director of customer service

Chief customer officer

First response time

< 15 minutes

15 minutes – 1 hour

2 – 4 hours

4 – 12 hours

1 – 2 business days

Customer query:

Issue with product quality /customer service

Initial response:

- Customer provides all details about the issue

Escalation criteria:

- Agent unable to solve issue
- Customer asks to speak to supervisor /manager

Initial response:

- Second resolution attempt

- If not resolved, follow-up with customer after internal discussion

Escalation criteria:

- Supervisor could not resolve issue
- Customer asks to speak to manager

- Requires a unique skill, or related to another department

Initial response:

- Third resolution attempt

- If not resolved, share incident report with senior members

Escalation criteria:

- Brand sentiment affected, potential negative review on analyst sites/ social media
- Customer is on the verge of churning to a competitor due to bad experience

Initial response:

- Initiate in-depth investigation

- Offer financial compensation

Escalation criteria:

- Issue still unresolved
- Legal/ administrative complaint received

- Customer wants to escalate to executive team

- No potential resolution paths found

Initial response:

- Review incident report

- Identify action plan to avert similar crises in future and implement them

- Send an official apology to customer

When your agents have all of this information handy, they don’t have to keep their conversation on hold and search for relevant points of contact when the customer is already frustrated. They can quickly route their query to the concerned stakeholder in the process.

2. Provide the right training and resources to your agents.

Training agents on how to handle critical escalation calls can help them anticipate what might happen next and plan their actions accordingly. Stakeholders who work on escalations must be mandatorily trained in soft skills such as empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution. Also, with the right resources such as a unified contact center solution or collaboration-friendly spaces within tickets, coordinating with other teams and agents becomes much simpler.

💡 The more you know

Annette Franz, a globally recognized thought leader with over 30 years of experience in the CX space lays down some key elements in training and coaching agents into super agents!  

  • Feedback integration: Use customer feedback from VOC programs to shape a customer-centric culture in training. 

  • Coaching with feedback: Employ both positive and negative customer interactions to refine agent skills and boost morale. 

  • Data-driven training: Analyze interaction data to equip agents with the foresight to address customer concerns before they escalate. 

  • Persona training: Educate agents on customer personas to tailor interactions to specific customer needs. 

  • Journey map familiarity: Teach agents using customer journey maps to improve understanding and empathy across all service touchpoints. 

Check out her entire piece rich with valuable insights here: Unveiling the Essence of Agent Training and Coaching in Modern Workforce 

3. Always perform a root cause analysis of the issue.

Resolving escalations doesn’t just involve fixing an issue, you also need to ensure the same issue does not occur again with the same customer or a different one. An extensive root cause analysis (RCA) helps you identify the actual cause of an issue, helping you detect these problems in the future before they escalate. 

Did you know?

Today, generative AI can drill down into... 

🎯 The specific root causes of the issues your customers are facing  

😕 Where your team is falling short in troubleshooting them and 

📝 What action items can your team implement to fix the gaps 

Check out how Sprinklr AI+ did it to produce matchless delivery speeds for an e-commerce brand using FedEx as its logistical partner 👇 

Sprinklr AI+ issue detection and remedial actions

4. Keep the customer constantly updated on resolution activity.

When a customer has escalated an issue, it means that they’re already frustrated about the way their issue has been handled so far. Keeping them in the loop with the internal conversations gives them the reassurance that their issue is being actively addressed, ensuring the customer does not lose trust in your service and the brand.

Wrapping up

In conclusion, escalation management is an important process for businesses to effectively manage customer issues that could not be resolved at the first point of contact, since it helps prioritize and resolve these issues as quickly and efficiently as possible. Escalation management is crucial to avert major brand crises and de-escalate situations before customers get frustrated and choose to move away from your brand.

A powerful, unified customer support solution like Sprinklr Service uses AI to detect potential SLA breaches and resulting escalations so you can do escalation management in a timely way. Interested in taking Sprinklr on a free spin for 30 days?

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