Customer Service Escalation: When Human Service is Most Valuable

photo of underground subway escalators with deep red lighting as metaphor for challenges of customer service escalation

Customer Service Escalation: When Human Service is Most Valuable

Omnichannel options, automation and self-service have made it possible for brands like yours to serve more customers in less time. That’s good news for your budgets and your customers.  However, it’s important to effectively escalate the customer issues that need more attention. Whether from self-serve to your agents or from your agent to a manager or other department, a plan for customer service escalation is an important part of your successful support strategy.

Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

It’s hard to do business when you don’t know what’s expected or promised. Having predefined agreements helps your business, your employees and your customers meet and manage expectations. Of course, the size and focus of your business impact the types of SLAs you use. 

The customer SLA delineates the type of service a business agrees to provide a customer. Internal SLAs delineate how different teams or departments agree to function together. There are also multi-tiered SLAs that cover teams and customers where there are more than two groups involved in a service. 

Here we’re mainly talking about customer SLAs. However, it’s important to note that the way your teams and departments work together can impact the business-customer SLA. It’s worth having internal standards. That way everyone shares a common clear understanding of what is expected of and will be provided to them. 

These standards also give agents and employees set goals that can be measured. Data from these internal goals can inform customer SLAs by providing tested proof that goals like response time or wait time can be met, or not. Then customer SLAs can be crafted that are achievable. Your agents can feel effective, which is important for their engagement, and your customers can trust your business to meet promises. 

Escalating to an Agent

High end brands understand the value of personalized service to the loyalty of their customer base . They often provide access to immediate human connection. Not all brands can afford champagne service though. If you’re not a brand with bottomless customer service pockets, you can still have an escalation strategy that doesn’t leave customers fending for themselves.

The majority of customer service contacts are over issues that have occurred before. With this in mind you do your due diligence, collecting and parsing customer service data. Focusing on keeping CES low and CSAT high, you have an updated website, FAQ, omnichannel service, chatbot, even instructional videos. 

Still, there are going to be some customer problems that fall through those cracks. It’s your agents and supervisors that can catch them. 

Give your customers easy to access escalation options:

  • Offer a phone number or access to a human agent during a chatbot session that isn’t working.
  • Have a customer service contact number or live chat as an available option on your website.
  • For customers on social media channels, offer a link to an agent chat or call when the ticket can’t be closed on that channel.
  • Have the virtual agent automatically escalate to a human agent after a set number of ineffective questions, return trips to the main menu or keywords/buttons the customer uses. No customer wants to hear “I didn’t understand that” on repeat.

Plan When to Escalate to an Expert, Manager or Other Department

It’s important to create a workflow that includes when and how a customer ticket is escalated. 

Empowering agents to escalate helps both customer and agent retention. There is little point in an agent apologizing repeatedly when they are at the end of their knowledge and resources. 

Include escalation scenarios in agent training so that agents know when and where to send your customers to solve their issue. 

Where a customer issue is escalated will depend on company size, structure and workflows. If you have agile service teams with frontline, tier 2 agents and experts, escalating within the team may be sufficient. A workflow for a team of two frontline agents, two tier 2 agents, a team lead and an expert could look like this: 

Sample Customer Service Escalation Workflow graphic

Train agents to recognize customer language that warrants escalating to a manager, or even to the legal department. Phrase based models can be used to flag an interaction when specific language is used. Then managers can use these interactions for training and follow up.

Reducing Escalations

Besides the self-service options already discussed there are ideas for limiting the number of escalations an agent will have to make.

A inter departmental knowledge base an AI or agent can access without transfer increases their resources potentially reducing escalation.

Apps with AI prompts during the interaction can help keep agents on track with policies and remind them of questions or information they might otherwise miss.

AI tools can also predict the likelihood of escalation by monitoring interactions in real time. This advance notice helps agents and their managers pivot to address the customer issue faster rather than waste time. A more skilled agent or expert can take over the interaction, or it can be transferred to a manager or other department better equipped to handle the issue. 

All of these options also help manage backlog, because the faster customer tickets are closed the quicker the next one is attended to.

Escalation in customer service is inevitable. There are problems too important to self serve like missing or lost property already paid for or missing medication. Your business has complex customer service issues too. Having a plan for customer service escalation management in advance helps you prevent backlog, empower your support professionals and improve your customer experience.