By Kevin Cruze, Escalation Manager, Quality Management, DMG MORI

If there is a single truth in every industry, it would be that it’s not always going to be possible to make every customer happy, every time. 

The reasons typically fall into a few basic categories such as customer dissatisfaction with the overall experience, performance expectations that weren’t in line with reality, or disappointment with the end delivery. Consequently, when these and other customer-centric KPIs aren’t met, customers become agitated, angry and frustrated. Left unaddressed, these issues can damage or destroy a previously solid business relationship.

The process to address these situations is often coined an escalation. The good news is that in this situation, opportunities to change a negative into a positive are still possible. That means the opportunity to change a potential detractor into an avid promoter still exists!
So all we need to do is establish a few simple ground rules, right? For example, that could mean striving to shift the paradigm of reactive to proactive or from passive to active. But how do we do that, especially from a service perspective where customers only contact you once a bad situation has already occurred?

In a single word: communication. Communication, even to the point of over communicating, is the single most effective method of increasing customer satisfaction and minimizing escalations. Why? Because when a customer has a machine go down, for example, he transfers over the power to you. You become a steward for the health of that business, and in the absence of communication, even when negative, a customer will become anxious and frustrated, slowly losing confidence in your ability to properly care for their needs … and that’s how most escalations start.  

So once a situation with a customer does become an escalation, how it’s handled will likely determine the quality and quantity of your relationship. So it’s important that it’s done right. 

Here are four steps to help create the right escalation system. 
 
  1. Develop an escalation process: Establish a simple process that every employee knows, understands and will follow. Since an escalation may involve multiple contacts in multiple departments, at different facilities (including international), a clear process and single point of contact is necessary to prevent tying up important resources all working on the same problem unbeknownst to the other. Creating such a process also creates order out of potential chaos and reduces internal frustration while increasing engagement. Likewise such a process should incorporate a method of tracking the escalation to ensure that it does not stall out or fall through the cracks.
  2. Identify, establish and implement specific process triggers: A well thought-out escalation process should include specific triggers that require additional resources, managers or executives to become notified and engaged. Those triggers vary by manufacturer and industry, but combined with the needs of their specific business may include criteria such as the number of service calls, support cases or warranty requests. 
  3. Designate, assign or hire an individual to handle escalations: Successful escalation mitigation requires both a serious commitment from the manufacturer, as well a substantial investment in resources. One obvious investment should include a dedicated individual whose role is specifically escalations. This ensures that they aren’t distracted by other responsibilities but also know and work with the other responsible departments closely. Ideally, in addition to skills such as good documentation, this individual would be customer centric and technically versed on the product line. 
  4. Empower this individual to make critical decisions, whether support based or commercial: Defusing an escalation is often as easy as being able to make a simple concession to ease a customer’s frustration and demonstrate empathy for their situation. Time is critical in every step and facet of an escalation. Empowering the person responsible for escalations to make decisions on the spot (within predefined limits) is powerful. This sends the messages to the customer that 1) the company is interested in making things right in the relationship, and 2) they are dealing with the right person to get things done.
Ultimately, the goal of every manufacturer/supplier should be to manage customer expectations well so as to reduce escalations to a minimum – and perhaps eliminate them completely.

Is that possible? Maybe not, but ensuring that there is a strong culture of customer centricity and communication can be very impactful. 

Remember – a happy customer is a loyal customer, and a loyal customer is a friend and partner who will help you grow customer satisfaction even further, along with all that comes with it.