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The role of ticket escalation in boosting customer service efficiency

In the world of customer service, first contact resolution (FCR) is a pivotal metric. Industry-wide, it hovers at an average of 70%, with a mere 5% of organizations achieving an exceptional FCR rate of 80% or higher.1

Frontline teams, at least most of the time, can handle customer concerns with finesse. But every once in a while, a tricky issue comes along that needs a little extra attention. These cases tend to bounce between various support representatives, both within the same team and across different internal departments.

The problem? When a ticket gets passed between teams, the resolution process often takes longer than expected. And the longer it takes to solve an issue, the more frustrating the customer experience becomes. It's a tough spot for any customer service team to be in.

That's why understanding and optimizing the ticket escalation process is crucial. The goal isn't just about addressing complex issues. It's about doing it efficiently and ensuring your customer's journey is as smooth as possible.

What is ticket escalation

Most companies intend (and work really hard) to resolve customer queries on the first contact. But even the most seasoned and experienced teams can’t avoid encountering issues that need a little extra attention and expertise.

When a customer has a problem that needs some extra care, it typically gets moved up the chain within a company's customer service team. We call this internal shuffle "ticket escalation" or an "escalation ticket." The main objective of a ticket escalation is to address a challenging query as quickly as possible by sending it to the right person or team.

Most companies have their own playbook for support tickets that need escalation, including clear guidelines on when and how to go about executing an escalation. For example, some companies set a resolution time for specific issues. If it doesn't get sorted within that time, it goes to the next level.

There are other scenarios, too, like when a customer's issue involves a bug or a technical glitch that needs the development team's expertise. Or maybe there’s a billing concern that requires the finance team's input.

Regardless of the specific scenario, the objective remains the same: offering quick resolutions. Because the faster your team is able to sort out your customer’s issue, the more satisfied – and thus loyal – they’re likely to become. 

A well-designed ticket escalation process benefits both customers and support teams by enabling the efficient handling of more inquiries. Additionally, the proper escalation process also influences key performance indicators (KPIs) and service level agreements (SLAs).

Types of ticket escalation

Ticket escalation comes in various forms, each serving a specific purpose in ensuring issues are handled with speed and precision. It's essential to understand that there can be different types of escalations — both manual and automated — that exist for different reasons.

Let's explore the two main types that play a pivotal role in streamlining customer service:

  1. Hierarchical escalation: This one's pretty standard. It's when a ticket moves up the chain of command – from a regular agent to a manager or someone else in a position of greater expertise or authority.  A hierarchical escalation typically takes place when the first-level (also known as L1) service representative can't crack the case on their own. For example, maybe there’s a complicated refund request that gets bumped up to a supervisor or manager.

Functional escalation: This happens when a ticket requires special skills or knowledge. If an issue is out of the regular agent's area of expertise or demands the experience or authority of another department, a functional escalation is likely needed. For instance, a ticket related to a technical glitch might get escalated to the IT support team.

In addition to these two types of escalation, several other varieties may be used in specific industries or organizations. These include: 

  • Priority escalation: There are certain special cases in which an issue simply can't wait. Priority escalation kicks in for urgent matters that require immediate attention. It ensures that critical problems get addressed swiftly, thus preventing any significant disruptions.

  • External escalation: This occurs when a customer issue cannot be resolved internally and needs to be escalated to an external party, such as a supplier or partner. This could be due to the complexity of the issue, the need for specialized expertise, or the customer's request.

  • SLA-driven escalation: SLAs set the standard for customer service. When a ticket breaches the agreed-upon time frame, it automatically gets escalated, ensuring compliance with the established terms.

  • Customer-requested escalation: Occasionally, customers themselves may ask for their issue to be escalated. This can happen if they feel their inquiry requires a higher level of attention or are dissatisfied with the initial customer support. .

For customer service departments, the key is knowing how and when to deploy each type of escalation to facilitate a resolution as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Stay ahead of the competition. Learn how customer service metrics are changing in the age of AI.

What is a ticket escalation template?

A ticket escalation template lays out the steps for escalating a customer's requests in a clear and organized way. This helps make sure everything gets handled quickly, improving the overall service experience for customers. 

A good escalation template covers three main areas:

  1. Trigger conditions: These conditions tell you when a ticket needs to be escalated. They range from the severity of the issue to the amount of time the ticket has been open.

  2. Escalation levels: This part of the template lays out who the ticket should be passed to. Potential recipients of an escalated ticket include a team lead, manager, or someone else higher up the departmental ladder.

  3. Escalation process: This outlines the steps agents should take to escalate a ticket, including  who to contact, what information to provide, and how to track the escalation.

A ticket escalation template typically includes information related to ticket details, client info, the rationale behind the escalation, and the parties responsible for ticket resolution. 

In many cases, these templates are tailored to how the support system is structured. This structure usually follows a tiered setup:

  • Tier 0: This is the self-service zone. Here customers can find answers independently, via  knowledge bases, chatbots, or other online resources.

  • Tier 1: On this tier, agents are equipped  with various tools to achieve resolution, such as collaboration software and ticketing platforms. They're capable of handling most basic inquiries and requests by following general guidelines. If a complex issue arises, they'll label it and escalate it accordingly.

  • Tier 2 (and above): These are the top-tier folks. They've got access to a wider array of tools and resources, substantial expertise, and the authority to dig deeper than their counterparts in tier 1. If a solution isn't in sight, they'll document it for the next in line.

  • Specialized individuals/teams: This final tier includes experts who are called upon when things get highly technical. Although rare, you can find developers and engineers here handling support tickets that require skills and experience that exceed regular troubleshooting.

To put this tiered structure into perspective, consider a practical scenario where a customer encounters an issue while booking a service through an online travel agency. In this case, it’s highly likely that they will first connect with a chatbot (tier 0).

If the chatbot can't find relevant support content in its knowledge base, it transfers the contact to a human support representative (tier 1). If the tier 1 agent can't identify the problem, they escalate it to a more experienced agent – tier 2 – who conducts further investigation and ultimately resolves the issue.

A ticket escalation template helps keep operations running with consistency and uniformity in customer support departments. Further, it ensures that critical issues are addressed by the most qualified individuals with the appropriate skill sets, resulting in the quickest resolution possible. 

Learn how to boost customer service through knowledge base automation.

When should you escalate a ticket?

In today's fast-paced world, customers want prompt responses to their queries. With 83% of support teams reporting that they’ve seen customer expectations increase over the past year, meeting these demands is critical.2

However, when it comes to ticket escalations, meeting such high  expectations can be uniquely challenging. Without a straightforward process, complex tickets with no easy path to resolution can slip through the cracks, impacting vital metrics like customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, average handling time (AHT), and net promoter score (NPS).

Hence, knowing when to hit the escalation button is crucial for top-notch customer support teams. Here are some key indicators for when a support representative should escalate a ticket: 

Complex issues requiring technical finesse

When a customer raises a concern that demands specialized technical knowledge beyond what the primary support representative possesses, it's a clear sign that the first-level support team should escalate the ticket. This ensures that an expert who can navigate the complexities effectively handles the matter immediately. Not only does this boost efficiency, but it also leaves the customer with a sense of confidence that their query is in the right hands.

Issues that aren’t complying with SLAs

Adhering to timelines is crucial in customer support. If a ticket remains unresolved for longer than specified in the service level agreement, it strongly indicates that an escalation is required. 

In this way, escalations can help customer support teams better align the average waiting time with the promised standards. 

High-priority issues that can’t be handled by frontline reps

Specific issues that hold a high level of urgency and go beyond what frontline agents can handle – including critical bugs and outages – should almost always trigger an escalation. In such cases, getting the ticket to a professional with the appropriate level of expertise greatly improves the chances that it will be resolved in a timely manner. This approach also guarantees that critical matters receive the proper attention without overwhelming the support team.

Managing your team’s workload is critical to better customer service.

In addition to these scenarios, here are a few other relatively common situations  that signal a support ticket should be escalated:

  • When an issue involves legal or compliance matters. Under such circumstances, it's crucial to escalate the ticket to experts who are well-versed in handling such sensitive matters.

  • If a customer explicitly requests to speak with a higher-level agent or supervisor. This is typically a strong indication that the ticket should be escalated to meet their expectations.

  • When concerns are raised by high-value clients. These cases often justify specialized consideration, including swifter and more personalized attention.

  • When the issue being raised is related to a product or service defect. This often necessitates the involvement of specialized teams in departments like  product development or quality assurance.

  • Issues involving potential security breaches or data loss. In cases like these, frontline agents must immediately escalate tickets to facilitate swift action and guarantee compliance with security protocols.

  • Support tickets related to system outages or technical failures. In these situations, escalating the ticket is critical to minimizing downtime and restoring services as quickly as possible.

  • When a customer provides feedback indicating that the agent didn’t adequately address their issue. Such feedback should serve as a signal that the ticket requires further attention from a higher-level agent.

Remember, timely and accurate escalation is critical to delivering exceptional customer service and resolving complex issues efficiently.

Automation can help streamlining the ticket escalation process

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Ticket escalation best practices

Navigating the ticket escalation process is a vital aspect of delivering exceptional service and support. It often comes down to understanding when it’s necessary and advantageous to tap into additional resources to ensure customers' needs are being met.

To streamline the overall escalation process, consider these best practices:

Clearly define your SLAs

SLAs serve as critical benchmarks for customer support, setting clear expectations for response times, resolution times, and overall service quality. Like a well-drawn map, they guide your team through when it's appropriate to initiate ticket escalations.

It's always in your best interest to establish clearly defined SLAs with your customers. This means specifying exactly when a ticket must be escalated based on factors like complexity, urgency, or a combination of both. Additionally, these terms and conditions should be agreed upon by all stakeholders.

Automate ticket prioritization and the escalation process

Automation changes how an average customer service process functions by taking the guesswork out of the equation. By using technology to set predefined criteria, you can ensure that tickets get routed to the right people at the right time.

Prioritization and automation work hand-in-hand. Prioritizing support tickets based on urgency or complexity allows you to establish rules to sort out the critical cases from the less pressing ones. Automation, meanwhile, optimizes the escalation process based on the prioritization criteria you’ve set forth. When a ticket meets certain criteria – like not achieving resolution within a specific timeframe – the system can automatically bump it up the chain. 

Keep your customer in the loop

Communication is the cornerstone of customer satisfaction. When a ticket gets escalated, it's not just an internal process – it's part of the customer's journey. Keeping your clients informed at every step shows them that you’re not only in control of the situation, but also sympathetic to their experience during the process. 

When a ticket calls for an escalation, a customer support agent should proactively notify the user, outlining the situation and establishing clear expectations for resolution. Such transparency helps build trust and can make a significant positive impact on the customer’s journey. Even if the resolution takes time, customers will appreciate the communication, care, and respect for their time you’ve demonstrated during the process. 

Here are a few final measures you might want to consider to make your organization’s ticket escalation process more streamlined:

  • Empower your frontline agents. Provide them with the tools, training, and authority they need to resolve as many issues as possible without requiring escalation. When agents feel capable and confident, they can handle a broader range of inquiries and accelerate the average resolution time.

  • Define a clear pathway for ticket escalation. Ensure all your team members know  who to contact when a ticket needs to move up the chain. This prevents confusion and makes for a more efficient escalation process.

  • Provide training and development opportunities for your support team. Ongoing education can help your team members stay up to date on product knowledge, technical skills, and problem-solving techniques. Well-trained agents benefiting from these regular opportunities are more likely to resolve complex issues without the need for escalation.

  • Promote collaboration between different departments within your organization. This level of interdepartmental cohesion prevents unnecessary escalations by helping give individuals access to people and resources from different parts of the company.

  • Monitor critical metrics related to ticket escalations. Track and analyze average resolution time, first contact resolution rate, and customer satisfaction scores for escalated tickets. Monitoring these metrics provides insights into the efficiency and effectiveness of your escalation process.

  • Periodically review your escalation procedures to ensure they're still effective. If needed, make adjustments based on evolving business priorities and customer feedback. It’s crucial to understand that customer needs and support dynamics can change quickly.

  • Invest in a ticketing system that offers automation features. These platforms help optimize the ticketing process, making it easier to prioritize, route, and escalate tickets based on preset criteria.

By incorporating these additional techniques, you can further enhance the effectiveness of your ticket escalation process and provide exceptional support to your customers.

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Give your customer support team the boost it deserves

Ticket escalations are a common challenge in the world of customer service. Among the influx of inquiries, there are always those cases that demand a higher level of expertise and specialized skills that frontline support staff don’t possess. In such situations, a well-implemented ticket escalation process is your ally.

With the right customer service solution – such as the Intercom help desk – providing your customers with the best support possible becomes even easier. These solutions allow you to provide personalized customer support and the ability to create helpful resources, knowledge base articles, and FAQs for answering common questions.

Our help desk is highly customizable as well. You can structure it to suit your needs, including selecting your preferred language and theme, setting up workflow automation preferences, and integrating the platform with other apps. And when you want to tweak your ticket escalation process, you can use the help desk to gather reports and insights for FCR rate, response time, customer satisfaction, and many more KPIs.

Intrigued? Check out our free demo and then sign up for a free trial to get first-hand experience with Help Desk.


¹ Sprinklr, FCR Benchmark Results by Industry

² Intercom, Customer Service Trends Report for 2023. We surveyed 1,700+ customer support teams across the world.