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Guest Blog: Why you should avoid ‘escalating’ support requests

This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post, my colleague Joe Westhead explains the concepts of All Hands Support and All Hands Ownership as ideas for support agents to use when dealing with customers. I especially like the idea of every agent taking ownership of their customer’s calls from start to finish. – […]

This week on our Friends on Friday guest blog post, my colleague Joe Westhead explains the concepts of All Hands Support and All Hands Ownership as ideas for support agents to use when dealing with customers. I especially like the idea of every agent taking ownership of their customer’s calls from start to finish. Shep Hyken

Raise your hand if a support agent has ever told you, “Let me escalate this…”

I think this is a risky tactic for the success of a customer relationship over time, and I’d like to present a possible solution. (And to be clear: this isn’t a new policy that Olark is adopting, just my own idea. Would love your feedback on it.)

Olark has used All Hands Support since we started. You may have even read about it here on Shep’s blog. (“An Opportunity to Walk in the Customer Support Center’s Shoes“) Everyone from the newest hire to the CEO helps out by chatting with customers, and answering sales and support questions.

All Hands Support is a great way to get everyone immediately and continually engaged with the product, but what happens when someone doing support is asked a technical question that’s confusing? In an attempt to quickly diagnose trickier issues, or pass them to someone who can give them more attention, or, and I’m being candid here, to avoid embarrassment/frustration because they don’t have answers, the discussion goes “up the chain.”

I propose taking All Hands Support to the next level with ‘All Hands Ownership,’ which means each person takes responsibility for owning a support request, responding to the customer at each step and following it through to its conclusion.

This starts with pushing back against four words that are entirely reasonable in a difficult customer exchange: “Let me escalate this…”

Is this really a problem?

Customer Support teams have long preached managing expectations: under-promise, over-deliver. In “Let me escalate…” (which I and other great colleagues have used), the customer is rightly made to feel special, but it can result in any of these unintended negative externalities:

  • “Escalate” may overstate the importance. Why does something need to be escalated just to be looked at by someone else? Can I not just ask them? In the vast majority of cases, the word is too strong. (In the dictionary, examples of the word escalate relate to conflicts, tensions, violence, salaries and fuel prices.)
  • You immediately commit someone else to an issue. Worse, because the word escalate was used, you’ve set the clock ticking.
  • Expectations are reset for future requests. If a customer gets an escalation this time, they may be more likely to want to bypass the support team next time.
  • Lost knowledge. Every time a support request is passed to someone else, there’s a good chance there will be a lost transfer of knowledge with the lack of a feedback loop.
  • Gives the impression of stratified support. The perception can be that front-line customer service acts as gatekeepers to Engineers, Managers or Business Development personnel. We often experience the “Could you ask your boss…”, “Do you have a number for…” and “Tell this to your engineer…” instructions that imply a tiered system of helping.

For the last point, we’ve seen this in practice. We have transcripts where customers have asked for an engineer, not knowing they’re already chatting with the person who wrote the software. In their mind, they’re dealing with the monkey and not the organ grinder.

What are the benefits of All Hands Ownership?

Instead of moving a support request or ticket to someone else, take ownership of it from beginning to end. Even if you know you don’t understand, you can help the customer. Consider the empathy in this alternative to “Let me escalate this…”:

“Oh, you’re right, that is strange. How about I find out what’s going on here when I’m free this afternoon and get back to you as soon as I can?

You might still involve the engineer (which is fine, expected) but instead of passing the issue on, you can synthesize what you’re told and relay that to the customer.

Suddenly there emerges a new set of possible consequences:

  • The customer doesn’t need to re-explain themselves
  • You can improve your own understanding over time
  • You can match the customer’s terms and tone in reply because often the next person is only working off case notes and reproduction steps that dehumanize the process.
  • It’s personal, you buy everyone time and reset customer expectations.
  • By admitting you don’t know, you’re putting yourself on a level with the customer. It helps create empathy. We’re in this together, not us v. them.
  • It moves the conversation away from simply fixing issues, but rather addressing problems.

This last point is subtle. All Hands Ownership isn’t about making everyone more technical. Instead, we should look to engage with the customer. “What is it you’re trying to do?” might get you to the heart of a customer problem in a more effective way than “What is happening?” Until you know what the customer’s intentions and expectations are, you’ll forever be fixing without necessarily improving.

By changing the way we own support requests, we could start to recognize patterns even when we don’t understand the issue. Over time, the person answering customer questions has a better understanding not just of technical questions, but also the benefit of engaging with a customer over several interactions.

All Hands Ownership, much like All Hands Support, would take time. It will not always be appropriate and will be frustrating. It is however intensely satisfying to learn and always appreciated by customers.

Joe Westhead is Chief Brit at Olark, a beautiful and effective way to talk to your customers for sales and support.

For more articles from Shep Hyken and his guest contributors go to Read Shep’s latest Forbes Article:

The Secret to Happy Employees

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