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Devise the Perfect Escalation Management Strategy for Call Center Service

Posted by Sunny Morgan
Devise the Perfect Escalation Management Strategy for Call Center Service

Customers should be well tended to whenever they reach out to a business number and share their concerns. The ability to handle customer concerns effectively determines the underlying business performance. The customer’s experience is directly proportional to the business outcome so businesses try their best to provide the best resolutions to customers’ issues and that involves escalation management too.

See, it is not always a smooth sail with customers. Sometimes things can go astray. Generally, it takes only a couple of moments for an agent to resolve a generic customer issue. However, there are times when agents have to loop in an SME or a TL for helping them with complex concerns. Advanced and intricate problems require high-level intervention otherwise more number of these instances can wreak havoc in the future.

●Escalation can incite catastrophic effects on business because you never know what an irate customer can do. Customers form the basis of every business. They can be our greatest advocates and adversary at the same time. So, when it comes to customer service one should know how to manage escalations.

●For averting escalated issues, first and foremost, the agent must have complete knowledge of the business process. Only then he/she can use their intellect and problem-solving skills to steer the situation methodically. Escalation management is a whole different concept that has to be taken seriously.

●Through this blog, we are going to shed some light on escalation management - the importance, benefits, tips, techniques, expert insight, and a lot of things. Considering the intricacies of a business process, the team must tailor the countermeasures for tackling escalations.

Escalation management will help us to navigate customer conversations that can be pretty inconspicuous in the beginning but in no time, they can quickly turn into a heated debate. It all starts with products and service quality. It is natural for any customer to face disappointment with the product or service they have purchased. One thing you should know - products are based on customers, and customers are not based on products.

Therefore, if a customer has an issue with the product, it is the brand's responsibility to make everything possible to make their products more suitable for customers and products should be able to meet customers’ requirements. In short, customers are always right. Once you know this philosophy firmly, you will know what to do next. After understanding the customer’s concern consciously, the next part should deescalate the ongoing concern.

Defining Escalation Management

The role of escalation management sets forth when a customer service agent is not able to provide appropriate resolutions for the customer’s issue or concern. Or a customer might be feeling that the agent is not qualified enough to handle their issue. Therefore, the situation requires a higher authority such as SME, TL, or manager for finding a proper solution. The whole scenario is called escalation management.

We can divide escalation management into three main categories - Functional Escalations, Automatic Escalations, and Hierarchical Escalation. Every business operates on different methodologies and techniques. Depending on the business process, you and your team might adopt one of these three methodologies for resolving the issue. These approaches need to be carried out meticulously for effective escalation management.

●The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more challenging for customer service teams as it has increased customer expectations. According to a Harvard Business Review article, companies saw a significant increase in the number of calls rated as "difficult" within a short period during the onset of the pandemic.

●This has also led to an increase in customer escalations. Escalated queries are those that require a higher level of support, such as when an agent is unable to resolve a customer's problem to their satisfaction or when faced with a complicated query beyond their expertise.

●Customer Escalation Management is an approach to effectively and efficiently resolve complex and escalated customer concerns and incidents that negatively impact customer experience and growth. To ensure a sustainable customer experience having a failproof escalation management strategy is sacrosanct.

The main goal is to ensure customer satisfaction and prevent negative incidents from damaging the customer experience, ultimately retaining customers and fostering their loyalty and trust. Through the years, brands have been trying relentlessly to improve their customer satisfaction rate but despite all the efforts and integration of robust technology, a large majority of customers still can’t get most of it.

Through extensive research and surveys, we notice that there is a big portion of customers in every business sector that considers there needs to be a lot of improvement in customer service. Therefore, escalations are always going to exist in a customer-centric business ecosystem. Therefore, it is paramount for every company to devise a good strategy that fosters effective escalation management during tough scenarios.

Escalation Management in Customer Service and its Types

As we discussed in the previous sections, escalation management is divided into three categories, and each of these categories represents an in-depth aspect of escalation management. If we have a good hold on these three categories, we can sustainably run any business in the future by eradicating all the major threats and risks associated with our clients, customers, and products. Let us know these categories.

  1. Functional Escalation
  2. Automatic Escalation
  3. Hierarchical Escalation

Functional Escalation

Functional escalation refers to the process of escalating a problem or issue to a higher level of authority within an organization when the individual or team responsible for resolving the issue is unable to do so. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as a lack of expertise or resources, or a problem that is outside of their area of responsibility.

●The goal of functional escalation is to ensure that problems are resolved as quickly and effectively as possible by bringing in the necessary expertise and resources.

●During the escalation process, the individual or team that is responsible for the issue will typically document the problem and any actions that have been taken to date.

●They will then bring this information to their supervisor or manager, who will review the situation and determine if the problem should be escalated to a higher level.

●If the decision is made to escalate the issue, the supervisor or manager will typically assign the problem to a higher-level team or individual who has the necessary expertise or resources to resolve the issue.

●This may involve bringing in additional personnel or outside consultants or redirecting the problem to a different department or division within the organization.

●It's important to note that functional escalation should not be used as a substitute for effective problem-solving and decision-making.

The focus should be on finding a solution to the problem at the lowest possible level, rather than simply passing it on to someone else. Additionally, effective communication and documentation are important throughout the escalation process to ensure that all parties involved are aware of the problem and any actions taken to resolve it.

Automatic Escalation

Automatic escalation in customer service refers to the process of automatically routing customer inquiries or complaints to the appropriate level of support or authority when they are unable to be resolved by the initial point of contact. This process is typically implemented through the use of software and technology, such as chatbots, ticketing systems, or interactive voice response (IVR) systems.

●The goal of automatic escalation is to ensure that customer inquiries are resolved as quickly and effectively as possible, while also ensuring that customers are connected with the right person or team to address their specific needs.

●By automating the escalation process, customer service teams can more efficiently manage and respond to a large volume of inquiries, while also improving the overall customer experience.

In most cases, automatic escalation is based on predefined rules and conditions, such as the type of inquiry, the customer's account status, or the complexity of the issue.

For example, a customer who is having trouble with a technical issue may be automatically escalated to a technical support team, while a customer who is inquiring about billing may be routed to a billing department.

Customer experience is the basis of automatic escalation management. The system should provide clear and accurate information to customers at all times, and should be able to quickly and seamlessly route customers to the appropriate support team. Additionally, the system should also be able to learn from customer interactions and improve over time, which may require regular monitoring, analysis, and optimization of the system.

Hierarchical Escalation

Hierarchical escalation is a process where issues are escalated up a chain of command based on the progress of the situation. This typically happens when a customer service representative is unable to solve a customer's problem and the customer is demanding a resolution. The representative then transfers the case to a supervisor or specialist who is better equipped to handle difficult conversations.

Examples of when and how this may occur include: a customer's request exceeds the capabilities of the representative due to company policy or limitations, the management or high-level team members must intervene, or a customer being dissatisfied with the assistance provided by an agent and the case is passed on to a more experienced agent or someone in a position of authority.

Best Practices for Leading Optimum Escalation Management

Now we are well aware of the circumstances where we need escalation management. Also, we have understood the escalation management categories. It is about time we understood the best approaches to practice so that we rev up our customer service performance, ultimately leading to a better experience, retention rate, and increased ROIs. Let us go through a couple of approaches we have ruled out to be the best for effective management.

Ensure your Team Follows SLAs Religiously

SLAs are service level agreements (SLAs) constructed specifically to define the company’s services. These services are non-compromisable and the company is bound to follow the clause and service provisions toward customers. SLAs don’t just limit to customer service but also extend to other areas of business. The stipulating instructions in SLAs are sacrosanct to the agents and the whole team.

For example, the Turn-Around-Time (TAT) for a ticket raised via email should be 4 hours, and responding beyond that time limit is equal to disregarding a direct protocol. The reason we are emphasizing SLAs is that they can stipulate how and when should we deliberate on an escalation, also it specifies the gravity of the situation. Your team would be easily able to recognize when and where should a concern be raised in case of escalations using SLAs.

Always remember, most of the escalations only become worse when the agents fail to identify the escalated situation timely. SLAs can effectively prioritize issues and instruct the agents to proactively act on an escalated situation before it begins to get worse. Using SLAs, your team would be better able to focus on issues immediately - like major breakdowns and service failures.

The Escalation Pathways must Sync with the SLAs

When managing escalations, it is important to have well-defined procedures for your service team to follow. This includes automatic triggers for escalation when Service Level Agreement (SLA) breaches occur. For example, if a customer's inquiry has not been answered within the specified time frame outlined in the SLA, a manager or more experienced representative should be notified.

Additionally, if a customer's issue falls outside of the scope of the SLA, the appropriate team should be brought in to handle the issue, such as the development team for a customer-reported software bug. Avoid labeling all the urgencies as escalated issues because most of them could be insignificant that don’t even fall under SLA protocols. Therefore, it is important to be vigilant about non-urgent cases. 

Hence, the rule of thumb - be mindful of the situations and learn to identify the severity of situations. You can begin by creating a flowchart or matrix that navigates the major escalated cases. Based on the gravity of things, you can start prioritizing escalated cases. This way you would be able to effectively manage your resources, time, and energy and allocate them precisely to cases that hold the highest priority.

Equip your Team with Appropriate Customer Support Tools

Acknowledging the problems is important but you should also have sufficient tools for resolving the issues effectively and efficiently. Customer service tools are important because they help businesses provide efficient and effective support to their customers. These tools can include things like helpdesk software, live chat software, and customer relationship management (CRM) software.

They can help businesses automate repetitive tasks, streamline communication with customers, and gather valuable data and insights. With the right customer service tools, businesses can improve their customer service processes, reduce response times, and increase customer satisfaction. Furthermore, developing strategies for improving customer experiences becomes easier with customer service tools.

For example, using simple noise-canceling headsets can contribute to providing better customer support as it helps in improving overall call quality. There are different ways through which you can empower your agents so they can help customers better. Providing them with holistic support directly helps in reducing escalated situations drastically. Hence, it will directly improve customer service.

Upskill Your Support Team with Soft Skills

Soft skills are important for customer support agents because they play a crucial role in building and maintaining positive customer relationships. These skills include things like communication, empathy, active listening, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.

●Having good communication skills allows customer support agents to effectively convey information to customers, respond to inquiries, and provide clear and concise explanations. Empathy will enable agents to understand and relate to the customer's perspective, making it easier to resolve their issues.

●Active listening skills ensure that agents fully understand the customer's concerns and can provide tailored solutions. Problem-solving skills help agents to identify and resolve customer issues quickly and effectively.

●Conflict resolution skills allow agents to de-escalate and resolve any disputes that may arise during a customer interaction. In summary, Soft skills help agents maintain a positive attitude and professional demeanor, even under challenging situations.

Consolidated benefits include - better customer satisfaction, reduced customer churn rate, and an increase in customer loyalty. Hence, making your team ever-ready for any escalated situation in the future. Therefore, it is advised to train your customer support agents with soft skills so they become self-sufficient in escalation management and seldom you will ever need to take the issue to a higher level of authority.

Bottom Line:

It is not realistic for a company to have a perfect success rate for resolving customer issues on the first call. While it is important to strive for minimal escalations, it is also important to use these situations as opportunities for improvement in the customer experience. Therefore, never seize to document every escalated issue you faced till now. All of these cases will help you in averting future cases.

To achieve this, it is recommended to have a system in place for analyzing and learning from escalations. Recording and tracking each instance of escalation can provide valuable information for identifying and addressing common issues and patterns that lead to dissatisfaction. By using this information to continually improve, the customer experience can be constantly enhanced.

Furthermore, no one is truly prepared for major escalation - in most cases, we act upon our basic instincts. So, it is imperative to equip your team with the necessary tools and skills for handling diversified customer problems. We learn from our previous mistakes and it applies to escalation management too. For effective escalation management, you must have a broader vigilance towards all cases. 

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