22/11/2023 |

Escalation management – how it helps customers and companies move forward

The term escalation has negative connotations. Nevertheless, escalations are important processes that enable us to comply with service level agreements (SLAs) and resolve customer problems more quickly. The escalation process plays an important role in customer service management. This article explains how it can best be managed so that you can wow customers.

Definition: What is escalation management?

Escalation management is a procedure used by companies to deal with customer issues. It is used when agents are unable to help customers and the SLA window is getting tight. Escalating means passing the customer support process on to a higher hierarchical level.

If a decision cannot be made and problems cannot be dealt with adequately at the current level, something must still be done as quickly as possible to help customers. In short: there must be a willingness to escalate. In order to enable decision-making capability, the problem moves up the hierarchy.

The aim must now be to identify customer challenges, help evaluate them and arrive at adequate solutions as quickly as possible. This is a means of ensuring customer satisfaction and preventing – or at least minimizing – conflicts.

Escalation management in ITIL

Escalation management is also a specific practice in ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). It focuses on efficiently dealing with customer disruptions, problems and requests in the IT support area. It is based on clear and structured methods (best practices) for IT service management. The aim is to shorten the agent response time for incidents and improve service quality and customer satisfaction.

An example: Escalations impact customer service

The agent to whom the customer turns with their request is largely responsible for the customer experience. However, the problem exceeds the agent’s area of expertise. The agent is unable to help the customer, who is now disappointed with the company as a whole. The customer actually only wanted to have a supposedly minor change made to their software system, but the process unexpectedly stalled. Worse still, the situation has turned angry and the customer is threatening to leave bad reviews.

The agent must now act as quickly as possible and escalate the process. In concrete terms, this means that the problem becomes a matter for the boss: The supervisor now makes every effort to resolve the conflict and show the customer a new perspective. On the one hand, this makes the customer feel valued and, on the other, they benefit from the greater experience of their new contact person. In the end, satisfactory help is offered by the IT team.


What are the most important aspects of escalation management?

The central challenge of escalation management is to identify issues at an early stage, classify them correctly and ultimately resolve them.

Here is an overview of the most important aspects of escalation management:

  1. Recognition: First of all, it is important to identify issues as early as possible – before they become serious problems or even a crises. Focused monitoring is just as important here as adequate prioritization.
  2. Definition of escalation levels: What should be done if a customer problem cannot be resolved? This can range from simple discussions to legal action. This question is often difficult to answer and is fundamentally important for the business.
  3. Creation of an escalation plan: This step is about defining responsibilities: Who takes what specific action – at each level of escalation? Who is the next point of contact? This informs an agent how to proceed with an escalation.
  4. Information flow: Communication is of immense importance, especially for sensitive issues such as escalations. Care must be taken to ensure that everyone involved, including the customer, is adequately informed about the problem in question and the status quo.
  5. Corporate culture: Employees must feel safe to address issues and use escalation processes. The fear of negative consequences not only hinders business progress, but can also lead to tangible conflicts.
  6. Solution orientation: Blame does not move companies forward, but solutions do. Those who take a factual, rational, objective and investigative approach are usually successful. Teams should work together to avert problems and their consequences, which requires a clear focus.

These aspects make it clear that escalation management is a crucial discipline in the business context. How agents, customers and superiors deal with conflicts and handle them in a goal-oriented manner reveals their value. This is where resilience and problem-solving skills come to the forefront.

Incidentally, functional escalation management can help a business make massive progress. After all, the extent to which they can deal with conflicts, such as complaints, is an important differentiator in competition. In other words: Those who provide customers with adequate solutions even in difficult situations have many advantages.

What does an escalation manager do?

As we have seen, escalation management is highly relevant for companies. Those who escalate processes in a targeted manner actively contribute to solutions and have more satisfied customers.

In some cases, it may make sense to appoint a dedicated escalation manager. Such a manager coordinates the escalation process and ensures that the respective team – within its hierarchical structure – handles conflicts appropriately.

The tasks of an escalation manager coincide with the aspects of escalation management outlined above: the identification, planning, definition of stages, cultural aspects and documentation of escalations play key roles. The tasks may vary depending on the respective organization and industry.

What is hierarchical escalation?

We have already seen that hierarchy is of fundamental importance in escalation management. In this sense, we often talk about hierarchical escalation. In concrete terms, this means that companies escalate according to a predefined hierarchical system: Different team levels are used depending on the severity and urgency of the respective customer conflict or problem.

For example, if an issue cannot be solved within the respective team, it is escalated to the next level up. By clearly defining responsibilities, the people with the right authority and skills help resolve the conflict.

As a result, organizations work more efficiently and assign the right people to deal with customer issues. Problems move up the hierarchy until they can finally be adequately resolved. Before this happens, however, the relevant department does everything it can to resolve the issue at its own level within a reasonable period of time.

Escalation management interdependencies

At this point, we will take a look at how escalation management relates to selected other areas.

Escalation management and service level agreements (SLAs)

Escalation management is directly related to service level management (SLM). In the event of issues and problems, it is important to comply with a previously defined service level agreement (SLA). If a customer has agreed to a certain service, escalations can ensure compliance. For example, functional escalation management can ensure that software services are available despite server problems.

Escalation management and process management

These two areas interact very closely. Anyone who plans, implements and optimizes processes must also take escalations into account. In turn, escalation management can be described as a special form of process management. In both cases, highly structured and well-planned processes play a central role for the business.

Escalation management and problem management

To deal with escalations typically means dealing with problems. Escalations are also often necessary to resolve problems. Consequently, the two areas have a high degree of overlap. Escalation management is therefore often nothing more than a specific form of problem management.

Tips: How to operate escalation management effectively

Good escalation management relies heavily on structure and planning. Companies should therefore define processes and SLAs precisely. Employees benefit from good knowledge management and adequate training.

Just as with problem management, focused root cause analysis is also important here. Communication is also a key factor: customers should know the status quo at all times. After all, the focus is on customer satisfaction. Escalating correctly therefore means ensuring excellent help in challenging situations.

Targeted use of soft skills

Aside from structural, hierarchical and rational aspects, escalation management relies heavily on soft skills. Resolving customer conflicts quickly and efficiently often means nothing more than actively listening, showing empathy and putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. In sensitive situations in particular, it is important to find the right words and convey positive emotions. These aspects prove to be fundamentally important for good customer service, such as that expected from a contact center.

The best way to convince is with your ears - by listening to others.
Dean Rusk, former Secretary of State

Good service management resolves escalations

Service management is concerned with providing agreed services – it focuses on the customer. It has to answer the following questions: What are the best measures to support customers and strengthen their loyalty? And how can the contact center team improve these?

This approach helps immensely with escalation management. Many customer conflicts can be resolved if the employees involved do everything they can to offer customers the best possible service. For example, if a customer immediately contacts a manager – or a designated expert – in the event of a serious problem, the solution is much closer. Since positive service experiences leave the best impression in serious situations, the business should actively invest in their customer care and reputation.

Use ticket software for escalation management

When it comes to escalations, a profound overview and a structured approach are essential. Ticketing and request management software provide effective support for ensuring clear and targeted processes. Essentially, the ticketing system supports the team in assigning the relevant information in a target-oriented manner, being able to track communication holistically and thus quickly reach the right steps and tools. In short: a ticket system optimizes escalation processes and thus enables vital customer relationships.

Here are some important advantages at a glance:

  • Efficient management of customer requests: Ticket systems not only make it possible to record requests in a structured manner, but also to manage and prioritize them efficiently. Tickets can even be automatically assigned to the next support level or other agents if certain conditions are met.
  • Better customer support: Essential information is not lost and the team can respond to customer concerns more quickly.
  • Time saving: Process automation using a ticket system saves time and resources; cumbersome manual processes become obsolete.
  • Transparency: If you can monitor the status of customer requests in real time, you logically have better control over processes. This makes it possible to intervene at an early stage and collect targeted support data.
  • Documentation: Without a suitable system, nobody remembers customer contacts that took place a while ago. If all essential information is available with just a few clicks, this makes current escalations much easier: agents have no gaps in their knowledge and can use important reference data.

Conclusion: escalation management creates solutions for customers

Ideally, escalation management paves the way from customer conflicts to solutions – complaints are neutralized and customer relationships are strengthened. It therefore fulfills a key function in the support context.

It is extremely important to optimize escalation management and operate it efficiently. A structured, responsive and hierarchical approach is essential. If your customer problems, conflicts and complaints cannot be resolved easily today, organizations should develop standards and follow best practices.

A ticket system is an effective tool for helping the team manage escalations and resolve them as efficiently as possible. This is an important economic factor when you consider how crucial the handling of conflicts is for customer retention and the business’ reputation.

Get in touch with our team to find out more. We offer you ready-to-use and tailor-made software solutions for improving your customer relationships with escalation management.


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