How to Handle Call Escalations


We take a look at the best ways of handling scenarios where a customer wants to escalate a call.

A caller who wishes to be put right through to a supervisor or manager is essentially an unhappy customer. So something has failed to meet their expectations, whether it is a broken promise or the quality of the product/service was underwhelming.

Whatever the case may be, Gene Reynolds – Vice President of Business Services at Blackchair – believes there are two key reasons why these unhappy customers may want call escalation:

Scenario one – The customer immediately asks to be put through to a manager as soon as the call is connected…

Scenario two – The conversation descends to a state where the caller asks to speak to a manager.

Let’s take a look at these individually, to consider what your options are to deal with each scenario, for when the customer wants to speak to a manager.

Scenario One

Scenario one revolves around unhappy customers who are impatient and think that they’ll receive quicker and better service if they are passed straight through to the manager.

Also, the call may be a repeat call, as a result of failure demand – the inability to resolve the call on a previous contact.

Either way, this puts the advisor in the awkward position of either disrupting the manager or going against the customer’s will.

So, teach advisors to try out the following three-stage process when handling these tricky situations.

Step 1 – Get the Customer to Open Up

How do you do this? Gene Reynolds recommends: “Firstly acknowledge that the caller is upset. Say something like ‘oh, I’m sorry, sir, that you’re unhappy… I am guessing that you’re unhappy about something we’ve done…’”

Make sure that this is said respectfully. At this point you want the customer to nod along with you, instead of shaking their head at you. Getting the customer to agree and acknowledge is key.

Get them to say “YES”. Saying yes is psychologically very potent.

Gene Reynolds

As Gene says: “Get them to say “YES”. Saying yes is psychologically very potent. While it may seem a bit cheesy, from the customer’s end they will be thinking that your advisor is starting to understand their problem.”

Step 2 – Make the Decision

Once step one has been completed, the customer will likely go on to describe their issue, which leaves the advisor with an important decision to make.

Gene Reynolds

Gene Reynolds

Gene says: “The advisor needs to take a decision on whether they can actually resolve the problem for themselves or if it does indeed need to be escalated.”

“If the advisor can resolve it locally, they should inform the caller and ask if they can be allowed to resolve it for them. Hopefully, the rapport you have created previously will get your caller to say yes.”

Remember to ask the customer if you, as the advisor, can handle the query. It is good for rapport if the customer has this choice, as unhappy customers would rather be asked than told.

However, if you’ve followed both of these steps and the customer still says that they wish to speak to the manager, it may be time to transfer the call…

Step 3 – Offer for the Manager to Call Back

No matter what you do, sometimes customers will simply feel that their query needs to be escalated and that is OK, as you have to cater for a range of personalities in the contact centre.

However, Gene Reynolds recommends that you never just pass the call through to a manager or supervisor, saying: “Usually, the caller is too worked up and does not portray the right sense of gravitas when it comes to a manager speaking to a customer, compared to a call centre operative.”

I suggest informing the customer that a manager will call them back in the next few minutes. But the key thing here is that you keep your promise!

Gene Reynolds

“I suggest informing the customer that a manager will call them back in the next few minutes. But the key thing here is that you keep your promise! You must keep this promise in order to begin to rebuild the caller’s trust in your business and make it clear to them caller that you have called them back.”

“Once again, this helps to disarm the caller and creates a more cooperative environment to resolve the matter.”

By doing this, the contact centre conveys that the matter is being handled with a great degree of seriousness and helps to rebuild trust with the customer.

What Else Can the Contact Centre Do?

A common contact centre issue is that managers are constantly firefighting, i.e. handling activities like call escalations, so their job becomes less and less about continuously improving performance.

So, what many contact centres decide to do is create an escalated call team made up of experienced and high-level advisors, who make the call-backs instead.

Dougie Cameron

Dougie Cameron

Dougie Cameron, Director of addzest consulting, says: “For me, if an escalated team is required, then I think they should be your “top gun” advisors and the position should be aspirational and focused on fixing customers’ problems. Unfortunately, it is often it is used to get bad advisors off the phone.”

“The bigger question for me is – why do you need an escalated team? Bad processes? Bad training? Lack of empowerment? Fixing the problem so the customer gets fixed at the first point of contact works for me every time.”

As Dougie suggests, if your organisation is working on refining the customer journey, the likelihood of frustrated and impatient customers entering the contact centre in the first place decreases.

Other ways to help prevent advisors from having to deal with customers immediately asking for call escalations include:

  • Reviewing dead ends in the IVR
  • Routing the call to the last advisor the customer spoke to
  • Offering call-backs in the IVR

For more ideas like those that have been discussed, read our article: How to Design a Contact Centre for Impatient Customers

Scenario Two

Scenario two occurs when a customer and advisor engage in conversation, and then the customer decides that they would prefer to speak to someone more senior.

Unlike scenario one, there are many reasons why the customer may request an escalation in the middle of the call. Three key motives are:

1. The customer feels as though the advisor doesn’t understand their problem and/or they aren’t being listened to.

2. The customer feels as though the advisor’s knowledge is not up to scratch and they are therefore incapable of helping.

3. The customer feels as though no progress is being made with their query and they want to speak to someone who is more direct and can control the direction of the call.

The truth is that most of these issues can be resolved with better coaching, but Anthony Simpson, a senior contact centre manager, believes that an advisor’s language choices are another key reason for call escalations.

Anthony Simpson

Anthony Simpson

Anthony says: “On many occasions, I find that an escalation is created by the advisor’s responses, such as ‘I cannot fix that’ or ‘I am not authorised to do that’. This terminology alone insinuates that someone else can, which may or may not be the case, but what it does tell a customer is that they are not speaking to the right person.”

“You have to understand the issues your advisors are faced with and, although audit and monitoring is key, empower them to solve and make decisions to reduce escalations and increase employee engagement and satisfaction.”

Using phrases like “I cannot fix that” may make you sound disinterested in your customer’s demands and it will only be natural for the customer to want to speak to someone who “can do it”.

It’s best to always show a willingness to help, so instead of saying “I cannot” or “I’m not authorised”, advisors should replace the phrases with statements of what they can do to go the extra mile.

This tip will help remove the need for a call escalation in the first instance. For good measure, here are three more:

1. Coach Advisors to Detect Emotions

If you, as the advisor, can detect the customer’s emotions through the tone of their voice as well as what they say, you will be better placed to tailor your service to their mood.

So, as the customer turns frustrated, you will then know to use empathy to keep the call on track and therefore avoid the dreaded words: “I want to speak to your supervisor”.

So remember to listen out for tone as well as words, and consider whether the tone matches the words the customer is using. Emotional intelligence is a valuable contact centre soft skill.

2. Establish a Knowledge Culture

As one of the key reasons for requesting an escalation is because the customer perceives that the advisor handling their call has a knowledge gap, creating a knowledge culture may help to reduce the chances of this happening.

However, this is easier said than done. Some key tips to help get you started include:

  • Make knowledge contribution part of employee KPIs
  • Report on knowledge usage and value by making it a key business metric
  • Identify key influencers and ask them to think of ways to spread the value of your knowledge base

Another key tip is to ensure that advisors are confident in knowledge processes and the system. One way to do this is to play quizzes, with the winner being the first advisor to find the answer by navigating the knowledge system.

3. Signpost Where Possible

During long calls, customers want direction. If the customer doesn’t feel as though progress is being made, it will likely lead to an escalation request.

So, to assert control over the call, advisors should signpost the next steps to the customer to keep the ball moving. If the customer knows the next stages of the call, they will be less likely to grow impatient.

Also, if there is a period of silence when the advisor is looking up some information or because of a slow system, make sure the advisor tells the customer what they are doing, so they feel included in finding the solution.

To find out more about this technique, read our article: Signposting – A Technique for Reducing Your AHT by 15 Seconds

What if the Customer Still Asks for an Escalation?

Even though you may have tried all of these tips and your advisors may be perfectly capable of handling the call, some customers still may request an escalation midway through the contact.

In this situation, revert to step three in scenario one and offer a call-back in a few minutes from the manager/supervisor/escalation team.

If the customer wants an immediate answer, they will carry on with the advisor. If they are still unhappy and want a call -back, the extra few minutes will offer the customer some time to control their emotions and the contact will resume on a nicer footing.

In Summary

Call escalations can be tricky for advisors. They don’t want to say no to the customer, yet they also don’t want to disrupt their manager.

So, work on perfecting the customer journey and the IVR so customers are less likely to enter the contact centre wanting to immediately escalate the call to a manager. But prepare advisors for this scenario nonetheless and ensure they’re familiar with the three-step process:

  • Step 1: Get the customer to open up
  • Step 2: Make the decision
  • Step 3: Offer a call-back from the manager

It is also important to prepare for a scenario when the customer makes an escalation request midway through the call.

To do this, try coaching advisors to detect emotion, developing a knowledge-based culture and training advisors to signpost where possible.

For more on handling tricky call types, read our articles:

Published On: 19th Dec 2018 - Last modified: 7th Jan 2019
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