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Escalation Management: The Key to Handling Customer Service Requests More Effectively

Mar 30, 2022
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Customer Service
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8 min read
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In your customer service job, you must receive a myriad of customer requests or queries on a daily basis. And we’re certain you leave no stones unturned to address them to the best of your capabilities.

But hey, let’s be honest. Things don’t always go as planned and customers don’t always go back happy with the service you provide them. No matter how hard you try.

There may be instances where you mess up, or where your customers misunderstand you. Maybe you sent them the wrong order or it just took too long to get to them. Maybe your product or service quality didn’t meet their expectations. Regardless of what the cause may be, any situation involving an upset customer is highly uncomfortable and stressful. 

So how do you handle difficult situations like this? One where a customer is angry and wants the perfect resolution right away?

Well, if you have an escalation management process in place, your customer support team will know the exact escalation procedure to handle tricky support scenarios and ensure your customers get the right assistance they need, promptly.

In this detailed post we’ll first look at what customer escalation management means. We’ll then delve into the different types of escalations and some best practices to manage these escalations.

Table of Contents

What is escalation management?

Today, customer expectations have grown by leaps and bounds.

As per Qualtrics’ 2022 Global Consumer Trends report, 62% of consumers claim that businesses need to care more about them. Further, 8 out of 10 people believe that customer experience needs to improve.

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Customers today are demanding better service than ever before

The coronavirus pandemic, if anything, has only increased customer expectations and made things more challenging for support teams.

According to a Harvard Business Review article, companies saw the number of calls rated as “difficult” double within a span of just two weeks during the onset of the pandemic. 

Consequently, the number of customer escalations have also increased considerably.

But what exactly do we mean by customer escalations?

In customer service, escalated queries are those that require a higher level of support. Sometimes, an agent may be unable to resolve a customer’s problem to their satisfaction. Or perhaps, they might be faced with a complicated query that’s beyond their level of expertise. During such cases, the customer’s query or complaint needs to be escalated.

Customer Escalation Management, therefore, is an integrated approach to efficiently resolve complex and “escalated” customer concerns and incidents that negatively impact customer experience and growth. It emphasizes the fact that each issue or incident is handled appropriately in real-time, and before it gets too out of control to do so. 

The main aim of customer escalation management is to ensure that customers are satisfied at all times and that negative incidents don’t dampen their experience. You can think of it as a proactive customer service approach that helps retain customers while fostering their loyalty and trust.

What are the different types of customer escalations?

There are typically three types of customer escalations:

Functional escalations

Functional escalation occurs when a customer’s request cannot be resolved by a support representative within their regular scope of responsibilities. This mostly happens because the request is outside the purview of their expertise. 

For example, if a customer calls in with a question regarding a payment failure, but the representative they’re speaking with does not have access to the proper information pertaining to the same, then the agent would escalate the query to someone in the finance team. This would constitute a functional escalation.

Hierarchical escalations

Hierarchical escalation occurs when a customer’s request requires someone at a higher level – like a supervisor or manager – to intervene in order for their issue to be properly addressed.

These escalations are typically necessary when a customer service representative is unable to satisfy a customer’s demands due to company policy or other limitations. In these cases, a manager or supervisor may be able to make exceptions or provide additional resources for resolving complex customer issues.

Automatic escalations

These days, several companies set up service level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee the level of service customers can expect from an organization.

According to Hiver’s 2021 Customer Service Benchmark Report, 46% of companies have an SLA of less than 6 hours for resolution of customer queries.

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A majority of companies have SLAs of less than 6 hours for resolution of customer queries – Hiver Survey

This means that customer service agents at those companies are expected to resolve all customer queries in under 6 hours. Failure to do so will result in an automatic escalation.

When an SLA violation occurs, the higher-ups in the team are automatically notified. Such escalations urge them to take charge and work on resolving the customer’s query at the earliest because otherwise, it can result in customer dissatisfaction or reputational damage.

The best practices in customer escalation management

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what customer escalations are all about, let’s go over some of the best practices you should keep in mind while implementing an escalation process:

1. Define SLAs for your team

The first step in your escalation management process is to define your internal SLAs. These are the rules you’re going to use to determine when an escalation is necessary, and what actions should be taken after an escalation has been triggered. The internal SLAs you define will vary based on your type of business. Here are some examples of customer service issues that can trigger escalations:

  • A customer makes five attempts to contact customer support without being assisted.
  • Your product or service is not delivered within 24 hours of purchase.
  • Customer satisfaction survey score falls below a certain threshold.

2. For each SLA breach, set up corresponding escalation paths

Each time an SLA breach occurs, your customer service software should automatically trigger an escalation path depending on how you set it up. 

Following are examples of possible escalations paths:

  • A senior manager reaches out to the customer within two hours of an escalation trigger.
  • A senior manager assigns a junior manager to handle the customer request on priority.
  • A team member reassigns the support ticket to another team member with greater authority.

It’s important to note that not all escalations are equal in terms of priority or urgency. You need to develop a system that prioritizes your incoming customer escalations. This could be based on how severe the situation is, how urgent it is for you to respond, and how much time you have before the situation turns dire.

A good way to approach this is to create an escalation matrix. It is essentially a flowchart that outlines the different steps involved with escalating and resolving customer requests.

For example, it can help define when an agent needs to pass on a ticket to another department or how long it takes before someone responds. By taking these factors into account, you can rest assured that employees know exactly what processes they have to follow and how fast they have to work. Everything runs smoothly and no customer request goes unanswered.

3. Do a thorough root cause analysis of the escalated issue

Escalations can be caused by any number of reasons.

In their rush to rectify an escalated issue at hand, agents often fail to do a thorough analysis of what went wrong in the first place.

Without an in-depth look at what caused the issue, how will you ensure that it doesn’t happen again?

It’s important to take some time and analyze exactly what went wrong and how it can be avoided in future. The agent who was originally assigned the request should be an integral part of this process. 

You must dig deep into the issue and find out why it happened and what led up to it. Was there an error on your end? Or was something wrong with the product itself? Was there an issue with your website? Or was something else entirely stopping customers from using your service? The answers will help you better understand why a customer reached out in the first place and how the issue ended up being escalated.

This way, all relevant stakeholders can discuss why the mistake was made and take steps to avoid repeating it. 

The findings of this root cause analysis and the troubleshooting process should be documented and shared with everyone on the team. This step-by-step breakdown is a great way to prevent and resolve common customer issues going forward and make sure they don’t get escalated.

4. Train your agents to be empathetic

It’s not enough for your support agents to know the ins and outs of your product alone. Their ability to handle escalations will go a long way if they are equipped with soft skills like empathy and positivity.

In an ideal world, we could all just sit back, relax and let robots do all the work for us. But customers don’t want to hear that their concerns are being escalated to machines. Humans want to talk to other humans. 

When your customers feel that their concerns are being truly heard and understood, it can help them be more at ease about a difficult situation. It makes them feel like you genuinely care about their problem and helps foster loyalty.

According to a poll conducted by Ipsos, 9 out of 10 Americans believe that brands need to show more empathy. Further, 86% of them say that empathy is critical to creating greater loyalty.   

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Empathetic customer service can help you attract more loyal customers for your brand

That’s why it’s important to train your agents on how to deal with customers empathetically. Encourage them to use phrases such as “I understand how frustrating that must be”, or “I definitely feel where you’re coming from on that one”. Even such simple phrases can go a long way in easing off tense situations with customers. They can help you establish a strong bond with customers. On the contrary, using cold and aloof tones that may push your customers further away.

5. Keep your customers in the loop

When a customer submits a service request, you should always keep them updated about the status of their query. Tell them what your plan is to resolve the issue. Make sure to inform them as soon as it’s taken care of.

This is especially important when dealing with escalated customer queries. If an issue is escalated to you, chances are that the customer has been waiting for quite some time to get an answer to their problem. Now that they have your attention, it’s even more crucial that you keep them in the loop on what’s going on with their query.

Even after you’ve resolved their query, don’t assume that everything is fine just because your customer hasn’t reached out again. Follow up with your customers to check if everything is okay and if there are any other concerns they might have. This will instill a sense of trust in them. It will reassure them that they can reach out to you in case they face another problem later on.

6. Empower your agents with the right tools to manage escalations

One of the biggest challenges with managing escalations is keeping track of them, and it’s hard to do so manually. That’s why you need a customer support solution. It can help you streamline workflows and manage escalations in an organized manner. It helps you provide a seamless experience for your customers.

Hiver – the world’s first customer service software designed for Google Workspace – is one such platform that helps you manage escalations effectively.

Hiver allows you to respond to customer emails and live chats from within Gmail. It helps you easily categorize high-priority customer requests, set up SLAs for different support processes, automate the process of assigning escalated customer requests to designated agents, and deal with every customer query in an empathetic and timely manner. With Hiver’s analytics, you can even keep track of how many customer requests have been handled as expected and how many have been escalated.

What’s more, at the end of every customer conversation, Hiver even lets you insert a customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey. This lets you gauge how satisfied customers are with the way you handled their request.

Create positive customer experiences even when things go wrong

It’s clear that escalation management is a vital area of customer service that businesses must prioritize. 

And although customer service escalations are unavoidable, handling them effectively can help you cultivate customer loyalty, retention and drive positive feelings towards your organization.

With a little bit of effort and planning, you’ll be able to manage customer escalations in a timely and efficient manner and that can improve your relationship with customers, making their overall experience with your company much more memorable.


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Karishma is a Content Marketing Specialist at Hiver. With a background in advertising and PR, she's fascinated by stories of how brands are built. In her free time, you'll find her holed up in a quiet corner, making art.
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