4 Things Your Agents Can Do To Preempt an Escalation

Your escalations have gotten out of hand. Agents are frustrated and are sometimes happy to hand calls over to supervisors. Customers feel that the only way to get the answers they seek is to speak to a supervisor. Meanwhile, supervisors are frustrated, backlogged and overwhelmed because all they do is handle escalated calls.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I know it does. Well, I have help for you.

Customers escalate to supervisors for 4 reasons:

  • They think they’ll get help faster/better if they speak with a supervisor.
  • The customer does not feel the agent is knowledgeable or capable of helping them.
  • Customers feel the agent isn’t listening or doesn’t understand the problem.
  • Agents lack confidence to assertively control the call by being direct.

If the goal is to reduce escalations, and certainly it is, we have to position agents as confident, attentive listeners who are knowledgeable and capable of serving customers. In this article I have 4 ways your agents can do just that.

1. Reflect the Brand Promise

I was working with a client recently where agents are put in the position to have to occasionally deny claims. Customers don’t want to hear that their claim is denied and denials are one of the key reasons calls escalate in this call center. I encouraged the agents in a recent training session to start the denial discussion off by explaining what the protection plan does cover and to convey to the customer just how valuable their protection plan is.

Instructing the agents to start off by discussing what the plan does cover and reiterating the plan value ensures agents reflect the brand promise. In order to de-escalate calls, agents have to establish trust with the customer. Reflecting the brand promise helps agents establish trust.

2. Don’t Push

Last week at a Leadership Retreat I asked all participants to choose a partner. I had one person be Partner A and one was designated as Partner B. I instructed partner A to push their palm against the palm of partner B. I did not give partner B instruction to push their palm.

After a few seconds I asked, “How many of you who were Partner B pushed against Partner A’s palm?” Nearly 100% of the people who had the role of Partner B said they “pushed against Partner B.” Then I said, “I asked A to push, not B. Why did you push?” The unanimous answer was, “Because A Pushed.”

Here’s the thing. When we are pushed, the natural response is to push back. As customer service professionals, we have to make sure we don’t push in any way, because if we do, customers will push back. Customers often push back by escalating to a supervisor. That, or they yell, cuss, etc.

How might you be perceived as pushing?

  • Saying “There’s nothing else I can do for you.” This builds resistance and the customer feels they have to push to speak to someone else who can help them.
  • Speaking with a tone that comes across as defensive, irritated or unhelpful is a push for customers. They’ll push right around you to speak to someone they think will be more helpful and pleasant to deal with.
  • A statement like “Look, a supervisor will just tell you the same thing.” This sounds defensive and it is another form of pushing. Not only that, but you’ve planted the seed in the customer’s mind that a supervisor is standing by. The customer will often push back and simply request to speak to a supervisor because the agent has mentioned the word “supervisor.”

3. Be Regretful and Direct

People respect confident people. If a customer respects an agent, the agent is perceived as believable and credible and the call is less likely to escalate. When you have to refuse a customer’s request, do so confidently. Refusing a request directly and with an expression of regret helps you come across as both confident and credible.

Don’t waste time or words, get right to the point, and yet be gentle in your communication. Here’s how I encouraged my client to deny claims directly and with regret:

“I know this is upsetting for you. [pause] I wish there was something we could do. We have to honor the terms of your protection plan. There’s simply no way around this.”

4. Demonstrate That You Are Listening

When customers feel misunderstood or that the agent is simply not listening, they will nearly always attempt to escalate. Be careful not to cut the customer off mid-sentence to tell them what you can’t do or to ask questions. Interrupting customers shows you are not listening. Customers need to be heard and to feel understood. Allow customers to explain their situation to you. When it’s your turn to speak, demonstrate that you are listening.

Here’s an example of not demonstrating that you are listening.

Customer: “I sent in documentation and evidence to prove my case in the dispute, but then today I got a letter in the mail saying you are moving forward with the charge in favor of the merchant!”

Employee: “What’s the claim number associated with this charge on your debit card?”

In this example the employee fails to acknowledge the customer’s emotion, gives no evidence that she’s listening and she jumps right to questioning. The statement is rote and robotic. This pattern of response makes it very difficult for the agent to establish rapport, build trust and to control the call. If customers don’t feel a sense of rapport and trust with agents, they are more likely to escalate. Listening helps agents create rapport and trust.

Here’s a perfect example of demonstrating that you are listening.

Customer: “I sent in documentation and evidence to prove my case in the dispute, but then today I got a letter in the mail saying you are moving forward with the charge in favor of the merchant!”

Employee: “I realize that must be frustrating for you. Let me take a look to see what’s going on here. Do you happen to know the claim number associated with this charge?”

Here the agent uses a statement to acknowledge the customer’s frustration. It’s quick and simple. This acknowledgment allows the agent to begin establishing rapport and it positions the agent as confident and empowered. The customer is more likely to trust the agent and in turn, the agent will have much more control over the call, reducing the risk for escalation.

The Bottom Line

Position your agents to reflect your brand promise, ensure they don’t inadvertently push customers, coach them to speak directly and with regret and get them on their A-Game when it comes to listening. When you do, you will find that they are preempting escalations and your supervisors will love you for this.

How to Talk to Customers: Friendliness, Tone and Connection

*Professional Development Opportunity*

The biggest problem with the customer experience in most companies is how employees talk to customers. All too often, employees come across as indifferent, cold, uncaring, rushed or rude. This employee “attitude problem” can be the tipping point that sends customers to the competition. This attitude problem is what drives customers to tweet and blog about a poor customer experience. The great news is, with the right training, monitoring and coaching, employees can learn how to soften tones, truly convey empathy, make customers feel taken care of and even make memorable personal emotional connections with customers.

Learn more about this training video.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s