7 Keys to Managing Ticket Escalation

Let’s face it, nobody enjoys dealing with ticket escalations.

When a ticket is escalated, it means there’s a problem that your ground-level employees can’t solve. The customer will have to wait, rather impatiently, for a solution; and if it escalates beyond that, it indicates a systemic issue that will require your developers to pull all-nighters.

It’s an unpleasant situation all around!

But for a new business, a formalized ticket escalation process may even seem counter-intuitive. After all, if your team is small and your customer base is still growing, it may seem like unnecessary red-tape to add even more procedures in place.

Your tickets are bound to keep growing as your business thrives, and the sooner you get a handle on escalation, the better your customer service department will run in the long haul.

Here are seven strategies for making that happen.

7 Tactics for Efficient Ticket Escalation

These seven strategies will streamline your department and ensure that you’re operating at peak efficiency, no matter how much your ticket volume grows.

1. Start with a Documented Strategy

Expectations define the customer experience: those that your customers have of you and those that your agents strive to meet.

These expectations are the heart of your service level agreement(SLA). Your SLA creates standards that your customers can expect you to meet, and sets benchmarks for your agents.

It’s basically the rulebook that you share with everyone who comes into contact with your brand. It should have standards for every channel that you operate on, such as Twitter or Facebook, as well as a default policy.

escalationYour SLA should also include a timetable for your escalations. Yes, it is certainly challenging to provide precise time frames because of the nature of escalated tickets.

Escalated tickets inherently involve more unique scenarios and less readily-available solutions, but it’s still a good practice to have a ballpark guideline of when escalated tickets will be solved.

Besides, you can put your SLA into your helpdesk ticketing system, which will help automate many of the more repetitive tasks.

Incidentally, that’s also the next tip.

2. Automate Repetitive Tasks

Assigning tickets to agents individually may be doable for a startup with three team members. But when your team — and your tickets — grow, you need a helping hand to make sure there’s no delay between a ticket hitting the desk and an agent getting it on the docket.

But that’s not the only automation you should use. Letting resolved tickets stack up in the background may seem harmless, but it could impede your reporting by inflating the number of open tickets if they’re not closed, even though they’ve been addressed.

For escalating tickets, you should automate reporting with scenario automations, so every team (such as your developers) involved is kept up-to-date with the status of the issue.

Performing the same action manually when you only have a few escalated tickets may not seem like a big deal, but performing the same process when you’ve got dozens (or even more) high-priority tickets?

That’ll be a nightmare. Save yourself the stress early and automate your escalation workflow as much as possible.

3. Have Your Agents Begin with Replication

The problem with creating guidelines for escalation is that they’re all dependent on how people interpret them. Fortunately, there’s at least one reliable method for determining escalation needs with a ticket. 

In a test environment, instruct your agents to repeat the events that led to the ticket, to see if they can replicate it. If they can replicate the issue, the ticket needs to be sent to the development (or equivalent) team as it indicates a product-wide problem. If they can’t, the problem might be isolated to a single user and can instead be escalated to higher customer service teams or agents.

This also helps create the priority level for the ticket. An issue that impacts multiple groups is always a higher priority than one that impacts a single user.

4. Create Heuristics for Assigning Priority

Special circumstances may dictate that a ticket is assigned a different priority level. In addition to your SLA, create a standardized protocol and checklist for agents to determine the priority level of a ticket. This will allow you to keep an eye on the tickets that need to be fixed ASAP, and those that have a little more time (though, of course, as a best practice, all tickets should be treated with urgency).

Ideally, you want your agents to be involved in the heuristics creation. If you’re a department head, you probably have a bird’s-eye view of your operations. But unless you’re taking calls yourself, your perspective is limited.

You might know the performance indicators, but the actual day-to-day mundane details and circumstances that your agents face aren’t usually generated by reports. So, build heuristics with feedback from the people who will be using them, and stay open to potential changes if required. Unlike your SLA, your heuristics don’t need to be set in stone — only the service they deliver is immutable.

5. Keep the Customer Apprized

Escalated tickets will almost always mean escalated frustrations for the customer.

You may not need to bombard them with updates. But if you know there is a roadblock, like if the development team hasn’t had a chance to look at it, then it is extremely crucial to keep customers onboard and abreast of the process and progress.

After all, slow or poor communication is the second most likely reason that your customers, particularly your younger customers, will leave your business.

Additionally, keeping in touch with the customer during the escalation process, even if you don’t have anything new to add, may give them the opportunity to provide more information during the updates.

Human memory is infamously fallible, and triggering recall with details that may be relevant to the ticket isn’t always perfect at first pass.

So keeping in touch with the customer might not just alleviate their frustrations — it could actually expedite your problem-saving.

6. Make Your Escalation Process as Omnichannel as Possible

If you have omnichannel customer support, and you should, your escalation procedures should be as similar as possible across the different channels.

For instance, if a ticket originates from social media, it should follow the same escalation path as an email-borne ticket. This creates a more seamless customer experience no matter where the customer initiates contact with your brand. Great omnichannel experiences drive great brand gains.

To further streamline things, define the point during interactions when they need to change channels. Basically set rules for when a live chat needs to be escalated to email, or when social media needs to move to direct message.

Security and encryption can be a guiding hand for these rules. If the information required moves beyond what’s safe for the customer to share on that channel, they need to be escalated to a more secure, safer avenue to continue receiving service.

You see this often on social media. Take this example from American Airlines on Twitter:

The more consistent your escalation rules and channels are, the better. If a customer has already seen that you escalate certain cases to DM, they’re more likely to respond favorably, than if you blindside them.

7. Evaluate Escalation History Regularly

There are two sides to this.

If a customer’s tickets are regularly escalated, their account may need a review to see if they have the best solution for what they’re trying to accomplish with your product. You can view the ticket history of customers to identify trends.

If an agent is regularly escalating tickets, then they may not be following your heuristics and guidelines. In that case, they require training to assign priority and follow your escalation process. Of course, it is possible, slim as the chance may be, that they’re simply more prone to receiving escalated tickets than others.

Alternatively, if it’s neither circumstance, you may have significant issues at the foundation of your product. Use that information to iterate your product and improve its overall function.

A high volume of escalated tickets may indicate that your next release should also be escalated, or that the last one created unanticipated problems for a large number of users. So ultimately, review your escalations often to ferret out problems sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

Ticket escalation isn’t a fun process for anyone involved, but it can be optimized. Set your standards and strategies with an SLA. Then, use that SLA to streamline your more redundant tasks.

Help your agents determine priority level by having them replicate the problem. A problem that impacts multiple users will always require more escalation than an issue that only impacts one.

Give them even more help by setting heuristics for priority levels with their feedback. And don’t forget to include the customer in the conversation. The more you communicate with them, the more you show they’re valued.

Lastly, make your escalation process as omnichannel as your service and regularly inspect your escalation history. Repeated escalations could signal a major issue with an agent, or worse, your product.