A Great Customer Escalation Management Process

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Unhappy customers don't always tell you directly. But they tell everyone else they know. That's why you need a reliable escalation management process to identify and resolve issues before they cost you business.Unhappy customers don’t always tell you directly. But they tell everyone else they know. That’s why you need a reliable escalation management process to identify and resolve issues before they cost you business.

What is a customer escalation?

When your customer notifies you that the product or solution they bought from you is not working, they tell your customer service department (and perhaps their customer success team).

If the issue is relatively minor, the customer may be happy to have you log the bug with your team and let them know when a fix will be available.

However, when the customer issue is more severe, and the customer needs a fix, and update, right away, your customer support team needs to do a couple of things immediately.

  • Treat the customer with empathy, recognize the severity of the issue on the client, and assure them that the ticket is raised and your internal processes have begun.
  • In parallel, escalate the issue to the appropriate person, often with the title of escalation manager, who will drive the process forward at high priority.

Customer Escalation Management may also begin for any issue when the customer feels their challenges are not treated properly, the issue was not escalated quickly enough, when the service agent has left them feeling unheard, or when the company has failed to reach back with a response promptly.

What is the impact on the business of these issues?

The impact is potentially catastrophic. It honestly depends.

Research has shown that when companies don’t have a well-structured process for client escalations, it can lead to:

  • Lost customers and revenue
  • Negative word-of-mouth marketing
  • Lowered customer satisfaction and loyalty scores

The negative word of mouth, especially with websites like G2, Trust Enablement, and others, could cost your business for years to come.

Note:  If you run a local business, check out Podium — their product is designed for local businesses to keep track of these issues.  Try the Podium 14-day Free Trial.

What is the role of the customer escalation manager?

Once the customer service agent raises the issue, the escalation manager communicates and coordinates with the client.

They are responsible for ensuring that each customer escalation is handled with urgency, compassion, and a sense of understanding of what’s at stake for the customer.

They also ensure the client feels heard and valued by your company.

They run the escalation management process.

What does a standard escalation management process look like?

There are three steps in a standard organization response process. You will want to map the client escalation management process out and ensure all participants and stakeholders are crystal clear about the process and their role in it.

Does this customer service escalation process flow look similar to yours?

A basic customer support process

Note: We created this with Lucidchart and we are happy to share the project with you directly, just reach out to us and we will share the project with you if that is of value.  

Receiving the complaint

Whether the report is received by your customer support organization or elsewhere with the service provider, it generally flows to the support team as the starting point for our process.

Your process will be specific to you, but the flow from support often includes:

  • Communication to the customer to confirm the customer concerns has been received and confirm priority, urgency, and SLA.
  • If this is a high-priority issue that will be escalated, key stakeholders need to be notified. Key stakeholders may include the client’s Customer Success Manager, Account Executive, and members of the Executive team.
  • Hand-off to the appropriate team to either resolve or find an acceptable workaround for the issue for the client.

Note: The Escalation Manager, or a similar appropriate role in your business, should oversee customer escalations as they flow between team members, both internal and in the customer’s business.

Investigating the complaint

The clock is ticking for the client and the managers involved with this issue.

During this time, as your internal teams are working on this ticket, the escalation manager will need to:

  • Continue to communicate with empathy to the customer throughout the escalation process, keeping them up to date on your process, reinforcing your awareness of the issue’s impact on their business, and the SLA.
  • Communicate with the technical managers or those managing to fix the issue, to get status updates without distracting them from doing their work. They need to understand the urgency of the escalated issue and its SLA, but need the space to provide a satisfactory resolution.

Note: If this problem impacts other customers, you need a communication strategy to update all those potentially affected. You also want to ensure your service agents understand the scope of the issue, and concerns customers will be calling with and are prepared to respond with approved messaging.

Resolution

The resolution may be a proper fix or temporary workaround. The goal is to get your customer to a good place and provide them with a solution that reduces their pain.

Once the issues are corrected and everyone is comfortable with the quality of the solution, you need to shift your concerns to a post-mortem.

Meet with everyone involved, from the initial service agent, the CSM, AE, technical staff, and others to dig into:

  • What was the root cause of the issue?
  • What could we improve in how we handled these issues to ensure future client escalations are handled even better.

And, of course, your business teams may need to offer your customer concessions depending on the severity of the issue, training for your teams may be needed to improve the processes, you may need to create new documentation, and so forth.

15 best practices and tips for delivering excellent escalation management:

“Did you know that after one negative experience, 51% of customers will never do business with that company again? Customer support teams can either be a huge business driver to keep every hard-earned customer, or a source of frustration and churn.”

-Help Scout

#1 Provide multiple pathways for issues to be raised

Phone calls, emails, social media, carrier pigeons, and smoke signals.

While ultimately a business decision, the more pathways customers have to interact with support agents the better.  

#2 Dig into issues, don’t ignore them

Customer complaints need to be taken seriously.

Understand the issue fully, investigate, and respond quickly.

#3 Resolve promptly

Find a fix or workaround for their issues in a timely manner.

Frustrated customers will appreciate the effort.  This will create a positive impression on the client and buy you time.

#4 It’s a team effort

Customer service escalation management should be everyone’s top priority.

Pull in the appropriate department and ensure that everyone understands the urgency of solving the customer’s problem.

#5 Contact and keep the customer updated

Don’t assume the person is happy knowing you are working on it and happy to wait.

They are not, update them frequently and ensure everyone is on the same page.

#6 Ask the customer how you are doing and if they are satisfied

If they are not happy with how you solve the issue or your skills in communicating updates, find out from them and figure out how to do better.

If you did not give them a real fix, or missed the SLA, warm up your relationship skills as you will be having an unpleasant conversation.

#7 Be proactive

An essential part of the escalation process is to improve your business. How can you use the experience of these customers to ensure others don’t encounter similar problems with your service.

Teach every customer service agent the importance of proactivity.

#8 Continuously improve

Use the post-mortem to improve regularly, and set aside time each quarter to sit with the right people in your business to review, reflect, and make the whole thing better.

And go beyond just the escalation process.

What could the business do to prevent escalations like this in the future?  Product enhancements?  Training for the customer service team?  Other options?

#9 Expect the unexpected

Mike Tyson once quipped that everyone has a plan in place until they get punched in the mouth.

Ensure you have mitigation strategies in place for everything possible.

#10 Train your team

Ensure every team member has the required knowledge and skills to execute the escalation management process smoothly every time.

Note:  The Surrounded Learner Technique is a powerful approach for delivering training that sticks.  If you are not using it, consider evaluating it today.

#11 Use a case management system

Your escalation management process will fail if you don’t have great technology supporting your process.

#12 Keep records

Follow tip #11 for your escalation management tracking. If not, find another way to keep track of your escalations.

After the fact, you can use this to review your decision-making processes and evaluate where you can improve.

#13 Empathy, patience, and courtesy

Everyone is stressed; treat them all with respect.

#14 Use a satisfaction survey when all done

Ask them how you did. Listen to the feedback and do something with it.

Constructive feedback will help you improve — never miss an opportunity to gather it.

#15 Use a great tool

If you are not yet using a tool for managing your support process, especially the urgent issues, check out a tool like Help Scout.

Why choose Help Scout?

Help ScoutSimple

Get started in an hour, and become a power user in a day. They are committed to ease of use because it makes support teams more efficient, scalable, and trackable-freeing up time and energy to delight more customers.

Powerful

With Help Scout, customers have access to an entire support platform with multiple channels, advanced features, integrations, reporting, and more. All of this is part of the Standard package, at no additional cost.

Customer-Centric

For 10 years, Help Scout has been focused on the customer. 5 million readers come to Help Scout a year for their thought leadership on building customer relationships. All of that knowledge is baked into their platform.

Why Help Scout?

Every feature in Help Scout is designed to help support teams work together seamlessly and build long-term relationships with their customers. 

  • Support customers the way they prefer to engage through email, live chat, help centers, and proactive messages. 
  • Empower your support team with collaboration, organization, and automation tools. 

Track success and connect with the rest of your business with customer data, integrations, and reporting.

Executive Escalations

We haven’t discussed it in detail yet, but we know that sometimes, executive escalations occur no matter how great a job you do.

The dissatisfied customer will not be happy until they reach the upper management team.

What is an executive escalation?

An executive escalation results from a problem leading the customer to threaten to cancel, take legal action, or some other extraordinary measure.

In some organizations, when an executive escalation occurs, this also triggers adding that customer to the executive sponsorship program.

What is an executive sponsorship program?

An executive sponsorship program is a way to ensure that high-value customers have direct access to executives within the company.

In other words, if this is an important customer that your executives have had to help once, they may require long-term love and care from the senior leadership team.

An executive sponsorship program can create a better relationship between the business and the customer, often leading to higher overall lifetime value through increased spending and longer time as a customer.

Tips for creating an executive sponsorship program

This program is a very special perk that you cannot afford to offer to every customer.

To ensure you maximize the value, lockdown:

  • Why is the program being created?
  • Metrics used to determine the success of the program
  • Responsibilities of the executive sponsor
  • The training program for the executive
  • Entrance criteria for a customer to join the program
  • Exit criteria for the customer. How long will they be in the program?

These programs can play a positive role in your business if well thought-through.

Final thoughts on your escalation management process

By following these best practices and tips, you can deliver a great customer escalation management process that will positively impact your business.

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