Call escalations can be frustrating for everyone involved—agents, customers, and supervisors. However, they’re part and parcel of working in a contact center. The important thing is that you don’t let them spiral. In fact, you should treat them as opportunities.
If your call center handles escalations correctly, they can provide long-term benefits, which will conveniently reduce the number of escalations in the future. Win-win. Let’s explore what you can do to turn call escalations to your advantage.
“I want to speak to your manager” is a phrase no agent wants to hear, but what exactly does the term ‘call escalation’ mean? Essentially, a call escalation is a process where the call is transferred to a manager, supervisor, or even a different department, as the original agent taking the call is unable to resolve the customer’s issue or complaint.
There are a number of different reasons behind call escalations and even different types depending on the situation. But first, let’s have a look at why it’s so important to handle escalations correctly.
It’s unlikely that you will be able to avoid call escalations entirely, so it’s best you know how to handle them. If customers are requesting escalations, your CX is likely to suffer. With nearly 90 percent of customers prepared to leave a brand after just two negative experiences, any hit to CX can be costly.
The dip in the CX quality can damage key contact center metrics like CSAT, NPS, and first call resolution and negatively impact loyalty and retention rates. Furthermore, if supervisors and managers are pulled away from higher-level duties like coaching, training, and analysis to handle escalations, it will affect the overall productivity and operational efficiency of your contact center.
Call escalations typically occur when a customer is dissatisfied with how the call is going. There are a number of common reasons that lead to this point.
It could be a lack of knowledge on the agent’s behalf—they simply don’t know how to resolve the issue or don’t have access to the necessary resources or information.
Training within the contact center may be lacking, affecting the agent’s confidence or professionalism during the call. Customers are perceptive, and they will recognize an inexperienced agent. In these scenarios, it’s not uncommon for the customer to request a more senior figure, as they believe the agent lacks the authority to fix their problem.
If the call begins to deteriorate due to a lack of professionalism, the customer could become irritated and request a transfer. One major issue that frustrates customers is the need to repeat themselves. In fact, a Zendesk report found that 92 percent of customers are willing to spend more with organizations if they don’t have to repeat themselves.
Call escalations can be divided into four types—hierarchical, functional, priority, and automatic—each following a particular handling template. Let’s take a closer look.
This is the flow that most people imagine when they think of call escalation. Hierarchical escalation means that the call is transferred according to seniority. An agent answers the call and then escalates it to higher-ranking team members like supervisors, account managers, and even a department head.
A functional call escalation occurs when the call is transferred according to a skill set. This type usually relates to problem-solving.
For example, if the customer raises a payment issue that the agent cannot resolve, they may escalate the call to the accounts and billing department. This type of escalation may not work if the customer becomes irritated and wants to speak to someone more senior.
Priority call escalations are urgency-based and may escalate up the chain of command quicker than other types. A top-priority case could be expedited to an account manager or a department head.
For example, a major software issue impacting multiple customers needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Contact centers increasingly use AI and automation technology to handle call escalations. Algorithm-driven software will auto-route calls based on preset criteria defined by contact center leaders. Using these tools, you can fully customize your routing rules or build on existing templates.
In most cases, call escalations require swift action, so your organization needs to have systems, procedures, and protocols in place to not only handle them but also turn them to your advantage and ensure a positive outcome.
Remember to stay calm and focus on the upside—the person contacting you already has a relationship with your brand and trusts you to fix their problem. Work from this basis, cooperate with customers, and you will realize that complaints are actually opportunities for improvement.
A defined escalation process will ensure correct actions are taken based on the different types of escalation outlined above. Create an escalation matrix that clearly specifies when an escalation should happen and who is responsible for handling the escalations at different levels and points in the process.
By familiarizing your agents with this matrix via onboarding and training, you can ensure that they can confidently handle escalations and get your customers to a satisfactory resolution.
Defining your escalation process is an important step, but you still need to train your agents to handle them. Try implementing games as part of your training strategy. In particular, role-playing games as they will allow agents to prepare themselves for different escalation scenarios.
Remind your agents not to take it personally if a customer wants to escalate the call. They should remain calm, remember the training, and act according to protocol.
Communication is essential for every kind of contact center interaction. In the case of an escalation, make sure your agents clearly detail the reasons for the escalation, the next steps, and the background of the call before making the transfer. This way, the customer feels heard and knows they are getting the best possible solution for their issue, building trust and mitigating the frustration of the escalation process.
For those serving as the next step in an escalation, never assume that a customer is “difficult” simply because their call has been escalated. Be positive, show empathy, and remain solution-focused.
Every call escalation is a learning opportunity. By analyzing these instances, you can identify recurring problems and use this data to address process errors and weak points in your service. This information will help inform your approach to agent training, as you can target the underlying performance issues leading to escalations.
Perhaps, product knowledge is lacking across the team, or a specific agent is falling short in their soft skills. Whatever the case, the analysis will point you toward a solution.
QA tools like conversational analytics provide full interaction coverage so you can automate the process and ensure that you get the full picture behind call escalations.
The escalation process doesn’t end once the customer hangs up. Once the issue has been resolved, remember to follow up with the customer and make sure they are satisfied with the outcome.
You can also use this follow-up to ask if anything could have been handled better, giving you valuable insight into the efficiency of your process. The follow-up shows that you care, helping to build trust and customer loyalty and, in some cases, even providing opportunities to upsell or cross-sell.
Using technology, you can streamline the escalation process in several ways. Predictive behavioral routing immediately connects the customer to the right person to resolve their issue. AI tools like chatbots can eliminate caller frustrations and reduce the need for escalations by providing 24/7 service capable of handling common problems. And something like a dynamic knowledge base can equip agents with the information they need to provide quicker resolutions and maintain strong FCR rates.
As noted, conversational analytics tools offer insights into the inefficiencies and errors that lead to escalations in the first place.
Call escalations can be one of the most frustrating aspects of working in a contact center, but it’s difficult to avoid them entirely. The best way to handle these instances is to treat them as opportunities for growth and improvement.
By defining a clear process, training agents, and effectively utilizing the data, you can turn escalations to your advantage and realize long-term positive benefits for your contact center. This will not only improve your customer experience but will also lead to fewer escalations in future.
With a purpose-built QA platform like Scorebuddy, you can gather every piece of data from your call escalations in one place, use scorecards to pinpoint root causes, and deliver escalation-specific training with an integrated learning management system.
To see how Scorebuddy can help you make the most of call escalations in your contact center, request your free 14-day trial now.