How to Handle Call Center Escalations

March 24, 2015 Patrick Reynolds

Escalation, the process by which a customer’s complaint or issue is presented to a more senior company representative – usually a supervisor or a manager – is part and parcel of the call center operation.

However, some call centers have a very high escalation rate while others are able to achieve ‘First Call Resolution’ (FCR) more frequently. While factors such as industry type and call center volume will affect the actual rate and number of escalations, it is always more efficient to reduce escalations as much as possible. But how can this be achieved?

Empowering call center agents

In order to maximize FCRs, a call center needs to empower the Customer Service Representative as much as possible. This means your agents need to be free to deviate from scripts to utilize soft skills such as ‘verbal artistry’ and people management. It also means they need to have appropriate de-escalation tools and permissions at their disposal (e.g. discount vouchers or the permission to waive fees).

This hits at the heart of every aspect of a call center, since it relies on effective recruitment (unscripted call centers require a higher calibre of agent) and a shift from measuring performance in terms of Average Handling Time (AHT) and Average Speed of Answer (ASA) to degree of customer satisfaction (CSAT).

De-escalation in action

When a customer is dissatisfied, the CSR has a small window of time in which to de-escalate the situation. In some cases, a customer may be so irate and insistent that there is practically no window at all, in which case escalation may be the only option.

In less urgent cases, the agent needs to work hard to convince the customer that they are both willing and able to assist. The first step is always to acknowledge that the customer is upset and that it is due to something they have experienced in dealing with your company.

Simply by saying, “I’m sorry you are upset; is it something about our products or service you are unhappy about?” can be all it takes to prevent an immediate escalation. If the customer answers “yes,” the process of mutual understanding has already begun.

It is now important for the agent to find out exactly what the problem is and what they want to happen next. Your agent should then be able to decide whether it is something they can try to resolve themselves. If not, it will form the basis of the information escalated to the next level, ensuring the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves.

If the agent isn’t able to solve the problem, for example if they are unable to authorize the level of discount asked for or warranted, they should, if at all possible, agree a callback with a supervisor within an agreed timeframe (which should form part of a call center’s escalation policy). Calling a customer back takes the emotional heat out of the situation, helps the supervisor to familiarize themselves with the call and demonstrates concern on the part of your company.

Final escalation

The supervisor should have a deeper knowledge of the company’s policies and the customer’s statutory rights. They should also have the power to offer higher levels of compensation or Gestures Good Will (GOGW). However, sometimes the matter is so complicated and the potential cost implications so large that the supervisor will have to escalate to their line manager and/or call the  center manager.

The call center manager needs to carefully weigh up the value of a customer against the cost implications of granting their request. This will depend on factors such as the length of the client-customer relationship, the lifetime value of the customer, the risk of creating a precedent and the implications on referrals (an unhappy customer is likely to become a detractor).

This will usually be the final port of call for customers and the last chance to avoid losing a customer and potential legal trouble further down the line.