The Complete Guide for Managing Customer Support Escalations

Morgan Aozasa
6 min read
The Complete Guide for Managing Customer Support Escalations

As your business grows, your framework for escalating customer support should match its sophistication and scale.

Customers, whether business or consumer, want a fast turnaround, a good relationship, and a complete resolution to their issue. How you accomplish this in your support will vary by your size, industry, and complexity.

We’ve collected successful support escalation strategies for business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C) companies to help you take your customer service to the next level.

High-Level Escalation Structure

The most common way of structuring customer support escalations hails from the tech support world. It’s a tiered structure that divides your support agents into a hierarchy:

Level or TierLevel DescriptionPossible IncidentsPossible Tools
Level 0 (L0)Self-service Frequently asked basic questions,Learning about the product/serviceKnowledge base, customer portal
Level 1 (L1)First-line support agents
(basic and intermediate knowledge)
Resolution goal: 80% of all inquiries
Basic troubleshooting and questions, account unlocking, explanation of features and workflows
Should have the knowledge to resolve the majority of customer questions
Can create a ticket for tracking customer requests and data and escalate the request to L2
Phone, knowledge base (for internal reference), ticketing platforms, live chat, co-browse, screen share software
Level 2 (L2)Second-line support agents
(intermediate to advanced knowledge, may train L1)
15-20% of all inquiries may arrive here.
Intermediate troubleshooting
Refer to the data and response from L1 agents
Intermediate questions, advanced product features, known solutions to complex problems
Can escalate request to L3
Ticketing platforms, video, live chat, co-browse, screen share software, customer profile management
Level 3 (L3)Third-line support agents
(experts, may have built your product, may train L2)
5% of all inquiries may arrive here.
Expert troubleshooting, ability to address complex product bugs
Complex or custom management
Expert-level questions on any necessary topic (compliance, technology, service, etc.)
May conduct research and development into solutions that don’t yet exist.
Ticketing platforms, video, live chat, co-browse, screen share software, customer profile management
Level 4 (L4) - optionalSupport agents from a vendor your product interfaces withTroubleshooting on their product/service
Complex or custom management
Expert-level questions on their product/service.
Ticketing platforms, live chat, co-browse, screen share software, customer profile management

Large businesses may find the tiered system above useful for most customers. In addition, some, such as those with a mixed model of B2B and B2C, may create a separate wing of trained specialists for larger customers, to field issues requiring intensive expertise.

Small businesses (such as B2C business Whizz Education) may find that they only need L0 and L1 tiers of support to cover most of their questions. Escalations can go directly to a technical department, such as developers.

Alternative to tiering: Some companies, like Red Hat and Cisco (both B2B technology), use an approach called “swarming” that pulls in multiple agents collaboratively, rather than escalating up a chain. This approach may be most valuable when your team is supporting very complex or custom products. One other argument against a straight tiered system is to prevent your customer service agents from getting bored.

Typical Needs for B2B Customer Service

There are some fundamental features of B2B customer service that can set it apart from B2C:

  • Because customers are businesses rather than consumers, the product or service is usually at a higher price point. The relationship can be very long-term and high-value.
  • Crises can have higher consequences. For example, if a SaaS product is down for an enterprise company, even minutes of delay could impact revenue. Support needs to act fast and be in frequent communication.
  • You likely have multiple touchpoints with your customer. Since more than one person at the company may contact you about the same issue, it ’s important to have unified records of who you worked with and what support you provided.
  • B2B questions trend toward more complex in general. Customers may be experienced in the field and not even pick up the phone until the question is difficult. First contact resolution can be rare. You can avoid frustration for your team by building this knowledge into your key performance indicators (KPIs).

Managing Common B2B Support Escalations

Simple troubleshooting: Many B2B organizations offer a Level 0 knowledge base or self-service portal for common troubleshooting questions. If that doesn’t answer a customer’s question, the customer reaches out to the Level 1 support. Level 1 will record and try to resolve the problem.

They may do password resets, account unlocks, application navigation, and so on. They may also make use of a co-browse tool, in cases where it’s tricky for the customer to explain what they’re facing. They will escalate to specialists in Level 2 (who have the option of escalating to Level 3) if they cannot resolve the issue.

Complex troubleshooting/fixes: If the product is more complex or even custom, like a SaaS product, some companies escalate their largest customers immediately to a dedicated and expert customer service team. Support teams can make use of a co-browse or screen share tool to see exactly what a customer is seeing and why it might not be operating as expected.

Some customer service all-star companies, like American Express, even engage their business customers proactively with priority service if they detect a glitch. This requires that your support team (and your system) track and flag relevant customer data.

Payment/billing: Level 1 support agents may be able to manage simple payment issues, like a charge not going through. However, due to the nature of B2B companies’ larger or more complex payments, issues like billing may need to be escalated to a higher level. B2B customers covet speed and accuracy, but also flexibility in their billing.

Outage/crisis: Since many B2B products and services are technology-based, the risk of a product being unavailable or failing at scale is high. It’s important to prepare your support team for such events in advance by creating a crisis management plan. Zendesk support designates several team roles specifically for crisis support and escalation.

Some key principles of managing these highly-stressed customers are drawn from psychology: apologize genuinely, and frequently communicate action in the form of status updates.

Compliance issues: Industries like financial services and telecommunications work to meet regulatory compliance while serving customer needs with as little friction as possible. Since compliance issues can be internally or externally managed, some overlap with a customer may arise.

If your company is managing such issues, it’s important that your customer service team has access to a compliance expert and is trained in areas of overlap with their roles. A risk manager at Wells Fargo notes that it’s important to involve the right people and be timely when escalating a compliance issue.

Cases of potential fraud: Identity theft and security breaches are another serious issue that may be escalated to your support team. In addition to having fraud controls in place, your team can make use of tools like co-browse to improve the customer experience. They’ll be able to see what your customers are seeing and verify identity details, while still keeping certain details private.

Typical Needs of B2C Customer Service

NB2C customer service should not be thought of as easier than B2B. When contrasted with B2B customer service, these are some tendencies of the B2C customer:

  • Customer knowledge may be all over the map, from very little familiarity with your product to specialized expertise. B2B may have a more average high level.
  • The volume of customers may be higher overall, so knowing how and when to escalate and prioritize becomes critical.
  • Customer relationships may be shorter-term, giving less history to work with. Support agents may need to work harder to provide a warm, personal customer experience.

Managing Common B2C Support Escalations

Troubleshooting: A Level 0 knowledge base may go even further with a B2C business than a B2B business in cutting down on support requests. Many B2C requests are simple and many customers can have the same question.

If L0 doesn’t help your customers, they can escalate to your Level 1 agent. B2C customers also value mobile access. L1 agents can use live chat to respond to multiple customers, even on mobile devices. Small business Whizz Education only uses Level 1 agents but escalates the most complex questions to their developers.

If you’re trying to stand out, say, in the large retailer space, you may want to take a page from the book of Zappos, widely lauded for its customer service approach. Zappos sets itself apart by encouraging customers to reach out via phone, then offering compassionate, high-quality service. If a live chat isn’t solving your customer’s problem, you can suggest a co-browsing session to work with their screen directly and help them faster.  

Payment/billing: B2C billing issues can be simpler than B2B, and Level 1 support agents can be empowered to offer refunds and solve payment processing issues. This can provide the speed necessary for standout customer experience. When facing a more complex payment issue, it can be useful to ask your customer to share their screen to troubleshoot. B2C businesses with more complex billing may need to escalate to a Level 2 support agent or supervisor.

Solving customer challenges in real-time: B2C customers using your service may sometimes face issues that need near-immediate resolution. On-demand marketplaces like delivery services, for example, may need a fast-acting service team to ensure a positive customer experience. For its food delivery, Uber employs a CRM solution to review customer data and restaurant data, direct couriers, and stay in touch with customers.

Other large organizations that offer live services, like hotels, can benefit from technology that connects staff and escalates issues to the right expert.  Live chat, coupled with voice and other software like cobrowse, can help you with seamless customer service in urgent matters.

The Bottom Line

Make sure customers have access to the right expertise quickly and with a human touch.

Help organize your support reps with a clear structure of escalation that makes sense for your size and industry. And empower them with tools like profile management for a full picture of the customer, live chat for efficient communication at high volume, and co-browse and screen share software for high-touch customer engagement and swift incident resolution.

The needs of B2C versus B2B customers may vary. But the emotional impact from well-planned customer service escalation is the same: it fosters confidence, loyalty, and strong customer relationships.

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