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Call escalations: How your team can successfully deal with them

Call escalations

Imagine this. You’re having a particularly busy day at work — you’ve been juggling multiple calls, doing your best to assist everyone.

Your next call is a customer who’s been unsuccessful with getting a resolution from your team. When you connect, you inadvertently give an incorrect answer to their question. The customer, already frustrated, raises their voice and says, “You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. I want to talk to your supervisor.”

Oof. No one likes it when an angry customer asks to speak to a supervisor — especially at the beginning of a call. This situation is one example of a call escalation, and even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s common in customer service.

This article will dive into different types of call escalations, how to reduce them proactively, and how to de-escalate them. We’ll also provide a script template you can use when calls get tense.

What is call escalation? 

Call escalation is the process of transferring a customer’s call from a customer service team member to someone higher up the organizational chain, like a supervisor or manager. 

These supervisor escalation transfers usually happen if the first team member can’t answer the question, doesn’t have the authority or skill set to solve the problem, or when a customer asks to speak to someone in charge. 

The goal in any call escalation situation is to follow a smooth problem-solving process where the customer’s issue is resolved and they feel understood and validated.

How can you reduce call escalations proactively?

The best way to deal with your call escalations is to prevent them from happening in the first place. After all, 62% of customers expect companies to anticipate their needs. When you’re proactive with your customers, you reduce opportunities for issues to escalate with your team. 

You can reduce call escalations when team members express genuine empathy and concern, proactively answer questions, and route queries to the appropriate person on the team. You can also reduce call escalations when you properly train your team members.

Let’s cover these best practices for call escalation in detail: 

1. Identify escalation trends in your organization

A call can get escalated for several reasons. Maybe customers are facing the same technical issue with your product, or a customer’s issue hasn’t been resolved after multiple support calls, or a customer has a billing issue that needs a supervisor’s approval to be rectified. 

The first step to proactively reduce call escalations in your business is to find out why escalations are happening. Your team can do this by listening to past call recordings and reviewing call transcriptions to identify patterns.

As you listen to calls or read transcripts, make a note of the reasons for each escalation. Then create tags for each of these reasons. You could even code these tags based on the effort required to resolve them.

Once you’ve reviewed multiple recordings or transcripts and categorized them, aggregate the data to see which tags appear most frequently — these are the issues you need to resolve to reduce your call escalations. 

2. Invest more in your team’s training

Skilling up your customer service team and teaching them best practices is arguably the best tool to help reduce your call escalations. Zendesk found that 68% of customers say it feels like most businesses need to improve their customer service agent training. Alternatively, when your team members are equipped with the knowledge and training to handle difficult calls, they can address many concerns without having to escalate a call.

Here are two solid customer service training best practices to help your team members learn how to manage escalations:

Role playing

Role playing exercises involve your team running through common escalation scenarios where one team member acts as the concerned customer and the other acts as the team member addressing their issue. 

These exercises help team members simulate the roles of both customer and call center agent in a controlled, non-judgmental setting. This hands-on approach provides immediate, constructive feedback so team members can identify their strengths and areas for improvement.

Call shadowing

Call shadowing is a low-cost, high-impact way for new hires to learn how different customer service scenarios play out in the real world and learn how colleagues with years of institutional knowledge navigate them. 

To train agents with call shadowing, pair new team members with experienced mentors. These trainees can silently observe mentors on support calls, after which they can review the call and ask questions about the mentor’s approach. 

3. Use support chatbots

With recent advances in generative AI, your customer service team doesn’t have to manually respond to every support query. Support chatbots can help your team reduce their workload and provide relevant answers to your customers faster, reducing opportunities for escalations.

When customers need to speak to a customer representative, a support chatbot can help gather the essential customer details before the call gets transferred to your team.

“We use our support chatbot to ask more specific questions to our customers so that we have all the information about their issue that is usable on our end,” says Drew Schuffenhauer, Customer Support Lead at OpenPhone. “The chatbot collects specific details that sometimes get left out, and we end up having to ask for it anyway.”

For example, a chatbot could ask customers for details related to the issue they’re experiencing. It can then route customers to the right customer support team member based on their experience with resolving that issue.

4. Improve your knowledge base 

Just as chatbots can reduce some of your customer support team’s burden, so can a knowledge base. A knowledge base, or help center, can help your customers troubleshoot their issues in a self-serve way.

It can also help your support team find answers for common customer questions. This is especially helpful for new hires who aren’t yet familiar with your company policies. It’s also a valuable customer support resource if you have products with complex features. 

While it’s smart to offer an external knowledge base filled with information anyone — customer or team member — can access, it’s also helpful to develop an internal knowledge base. This internal resource can be a wiki that has your team’s tribal knowledge, including specifics unique to your team’s operations.

Remember to continuously update your knowledge base with answers to common questions customers ask your support team. Over time, this will help flesh out your knowledge base and reduce the number of customer support calls you get and your escalations.

Coach your team with OpenPhone’s call recording and group calling features

Call recording in OpenPhone

OpenPhone is the perfect companion to your role-playing and call-shadowing exercises. You can record calls on-demand in our Starter plan or automatically record all your calls in our Business plan. Business members also get access to our AI-generated call transcripts, which help you jump to the most relevant moments to focus on for your coaching sessions. 

Need to shadow a call during onboarding? Our group calling feature lets you add trainees as silent participants so they can learn from your team in real time. No need to review dozens of recordings to get new hires ramped up quickly. 

4 ways you can de-escalate difficult customers

No matter how hard you work to reduce call escalations, there will be times when customers are dissatisfied, frustrated, or have difficult requests. In fact, industry benchmarks show that 10% of calls get escalated on average.

Here are some de-escalation techniques for customer service:

1. Show empathy to your customers

Remember the last time you had a problem with a customer service team, and it ended up being a positive customer experience instead of a frustrating one? It was most likely because the customer service representative took the time to listen to your concern, express empathy, and show you they care about you and want to help.

Empathy is often the starting point for de-escalating calls. “Empathy is extremely important for all customers, especially anyone who might be expressing frustration,” says Drew.

When you show empathy, you’re making customers feel valued and respected. This helps them calm down, share their issue and give you a chance to resolve it. Without empathy, difficult calls…well…escalate. Worse, when customers don’t feel you care about them, they’re not motivated to stay with your company.

2. Clarify the issue at hand

If you’re in the habit of expressing empathy — great. The next step is to ask clarifying questions so you truly understand the problem. Asking questions shows you have good active listening skills and are striving to find out exactly what their issue is.

Drew points out that teams can often jump into trying to resolve issues before figuring out what the problem is. This can cause misunderstanding and frustration for customers and team members alike.

In the event a call does get escalated, asking clarifying questions can reset the conversation and help a supervisor pinpoint the nature of the customer’s issue so they can work on resolving it.

3. Set the correct expectations with customers

The key to fostering any positive relationship — personal or professional — lies in managing expectations. For example, if you promise to show up for dinner with a friend at 7 and you get there at 9, your friend may be disappointed. Similarly, if you promise to resolve your customer’s issue by a certain date and are unable to do so, you’re likely going to upset them and lose their business.

When managing a delicate customer situation, be transparent with customers on how their escalations are proceeding. Communicate that you understand the situation by repeating it back to them. Then, tell the customer what steps you will take, what will happen next, and when they will hear from you (or another team member).

Drew echoes this sentiment. He says, “Let your customer know what you’re doing with their issue. Give an idea of what kind of timeline they might expect.”

If you can’t commit to specific dates by which an issue will be resolved, don’t. Instead, outline next steps and only make promises you know you can keep.

4. Use holds strategically to de-escalate irate customers

The hold feature is a powerful tool in customer communications, provided you use it correctly. It’s great to put customers on hold briefly while you research the answer to the customer’s queries. It can also help to place a customer on hold if you are talking in circles and need a moment to regroup or if the customer needs a moment to cool down.

While placing customers on hold for a good reason and a brief time can be helpful, customers can be wary of hold times. Recent stats show customers will only wait 2 minutes on hold, and 43% of consumers say long wait times are frustrating. The last thing you want to do when calls escalate is add fuel to the fire by abusing hold times — especially if customers just need someone to talk to.

Call escalation script template for managers

Now that we’ve covered what call escalations are and how you can navigate them, here’s a script you can use to help train your team to deal with escalations and to base your escalation procedures on.

Manager: Thank you for holding, this is [Your Name], the supervisor on duty. I understand you’ve had a frustrating experience, and I apologize for the inconvenience you’ve faced. May I have your name, please?

Customer: My name is [Customer’s Name], and I’m really upset about [Issue].

Manager: Thank you, [Customer’s Name]. I’m really sorry to hear that you’re going through this. I’ve read the notes from the previous agent, but could you please explain the situation to me in your own words so I can fully understand your perspective?

Customer: [Explains issue]

Manager: Thank you for sharing that, [Customer’s Name]. I can see why you’d be frustrated, and I apologize for any inconvenience we’ve caused. I want to assure you that we take situations like this very seriously. May I take a moment to review your case details and explore the best possible solutions for you?

Customer: Fine, go ahead.

Manager: Thank you for your patience, [Customer’s Name]. After reviewing the details, here are the options I can offer you to resolve this issue.

[Present options clearly and concisely, outlining any benefits or drawbacks so the customer can make an informed choice.]

Customer: [Chooses an option]

Manager: Thank you for choosing that option, [Customer’s Name]. I’ll get started on implementing that solution for you. Just to confirm, you’ll [Recap the resolution steps]. Is that correct?

Customer: Yes, that’s correct.

Manager: Great. I’m going to process this for you right now. While I’m doing that, is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

Customer: No, that’s all.

Manager: Thank you, [Customer’s Name]. I’ve successfully processed your request. You will [outline any next steps or what the customer should expect]. I’m really sorry for the inconvenience you’ve faced, and I appreciate your patience as we worked to resolve this issue. Will there be anything else?

Customer: No, thank you.

Manager: You’re welcome, [Customer’s Name]. Have a great day. Goodbye!

OpenPhone makes handling call escalations easy

Call escalations are a common part of customer service. It’s never fun to have an upset customer, but it doesn’t have to be devastating. With proper training, customer service teams can develop an outstanding reputation for handling difficult calls with care and skill.

OpenPhone makes it even easier for your team to handle call escalations smoothly. Proactively reduce call escalations with our call recording and call transcription features and coach team members on how to identify escalations and de-escalate calls.

In the event a call does escalate, don’t fret. OpenPhone also offers group calling, warm transfers, and holds to provide a smooth hand-off to a supervisor and a learning opportunity for the rest of the team.Get started with OpenPhone with our free seven-day trial today.

What are the three types of call escalation? 

The three different types of escalations are functional, hierarchical, and automatic. Here is how each is defined:

1. Functional escalation: A functional escalation refers to forwarding a customer’s issue or concern to a specialist or department with the specific expertise or soft skills required to address it.
2. Hierarchical escalation: Hierarchical escalation is about escalating an issue up the organizational ladder, typically due to the severity of the issue or when it requires managerial or higher-level intervention for resolution.
3. Automatic escalation: Automatic escalation involves predefined criteria or triggers that, when met, result in the automatic escalation of an issue without manual intervention. This is often set up using call center software or automation tools.

Why do calls escalate?

There are several reasons for calls to escalate, including:
1. Technical Complexity: The issue is too technical or complex for a customer support agent to handle or too challenging for a first call resolution (FCR).
2. Customer Dissatisfaction: The customer is not satisfied with the resolution provided and requests to speak to a supervisor or manager.
3. Policy Exceptions: The customer is asking for something that goes against standard policy, and only a supervisor or manager has the authority to make an exception.
4. Recurring Issues: The customer has called the contact center multiple times for the same issue, like pricing problems, inefficiencies, or any other number of customer problems, indicating that previous attempts at resolution have failed.
5. Sensitive Issues: A customer complaint or issue is sensitive and requires managerial attention.
6. High-Value Customers: Some businesses have protocols to escalate calls from customers who are considered high-value due to their spending, loyalty, or other factors.

It’s helpful to develop a call escalation matrix based on these different types of escalations and use it to streamline and optimize your resolution processes, increasing customer satisfaction and retention.

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