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.
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 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.
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 employee 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 I would 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 customer service 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.
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 agent 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 handle customer conversations 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:
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 provides all details about the issue
- Agent unable to solve issue
- Second resolution attempt
- If not resolved, follow-up with customer after internal discussion
- Supervisor could not resolve issue
- Requires a unique skill, or related to another department
- Third resolution attempt
- If not resolved, share incident report with senior members
- Brand sentiment affected, potential negative review on analyst sites/ social media
- Initiate in-depth investigation
- Offer financial compensation
- Issue still unresolved
- Customer wants to escalate to executive team
- No potential resolution paths found
- 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 that 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.
Learn more: Why you need a unified contact center to keep up with customer expectations in 2022 and beyond
3. Always perform a root cause analysis of the issue.
Resolving escalations doesn’t just involve fixing an issue, but 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.
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.
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?
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