You know when you’re working with a customer service team that has pressure-tested escalation management processes in place. It’s a difference you can measure—mainly in time saved.

A lot of work goes into creating these experiences, but it’s worth every minute. Smoother customer care interactions drive more brand loyalty. As market competition heats up and consumers become pickier about what they buy, that’s what will make sure your product or service doesn’t end up on the chopping block.

Nailing an omnichannel escalation management strategy means accounting for all of the touchpoints that make up your customer experience. The goal is to unify and simplify, so frontline support teams, social customer care teams and self-service support administrators are working in alignment.

If you want to create a seamless escalation management strategy, keep reading. We’re sharing how to design your approach and how to put it into action.

What is escalation management?

Escalation management is the process of prioritizing customer service concerns, ranking issues based on severity and ensuring that they’re addressed by the right reps (in the appropriate order).

Although 79% of customers expect consistency in customer service interactions, more than half (55%) say it generally feels like they’re communicating with separate departments rather than one company.

This creates a major opportunity for brands that are willing to prioritize an omnichannel approach to escalation management. Strategies that unite self-service, phone, chat, email and social stand to do more than just satisfy customers—they foster enduring brand loyalty.

Escalation management goes hand in hand with greater customer retention. Mastering it means maintaining a timely social media response time while also empowering your best-equipped reps to handle their respective tickets. The end result is more satisfied customers and positive sentiment across digital channels.

How an escalation management plan impacts the quality of your customer service

A bad customer service experience feels like entering a maze specifically designed to wear you out. As you bounce from agent to agent across channels, looking for someone that can resolve your issue, frustration mounts and your confidence in the company dwindles.

A quality customer service experience, on the other hand, is straightforward. If the first agent can’t solve your problem, they’re at least able to clearly explain why and outline what you can expect in terms of next steps. That’s the magic of a customer escalation management process.

These strategies empower support agents by providing them with the processes and tools to cut ambiguity out of the customer experience, resulting in faster resolutions and happier customers. When your service teams can navigate complex situations without having to ask around for help or loop in management, everyone involved saves time—leaders, agents and most importantly, customers.

How to handle escalation management

Below we’ve broken a step-by-step process for creating an escalation management plan—including when and how to factor in social media customer service requests.

1. Identify your customers’ most pressing issues

First thing’s first: You need to differentiate between tasks that deserve immediate attention versus issues that can wait.

There are some instances where a saved response won’t cut it. Also, failure to respond quickly could cost you customers.

For example, there’s a huge difference between a customer looking for a shipping update and a social media meltdown from your biggest client. Below are some examples of priority issues when it comes to escalation management.

Major product and service problems

Arguably the most important issues related to escalation management involve your customers’ finances. Some examples might be:

  • Unexpected charges or fees (such as double billing)
  • Service interruptions or outages
  • Undelivered or unusable products or services (damaged products, broken links)
  • Escalation management examples to guide your processes

These types of issues can snowball from a single customer issue to a full-blown call-out if left unanswered.

And again, speed counts. Consider that more than two-thirds (77%) of people expect a response from brands within 24 hours on social media. Especially when it comes to massive customer inconveniences, you can’t let those bad feelings linger. These are situations where you need to jump into action and suggest next steps ASAP.

Inflammatory comments and call-outs

Navigating call-out culture is tricky.

Sometimes it’s difficult to decipher legitimate call-outs from minor complaints or trolls.

However, if your sentiment analysis shows a flood of negative mentions or reviews from industry players, influencers and/or verified accounts, damage control can’t wait. Whether it be a clarification or apology, brands have to find a balance between timely and thoughtful responses to keep the situation from getting worse.

This is yet another situation where the customer care rep that makes the response really matters. Leave delicate situations like these in the hands of people who understand your brand voice and values.

Opportunities to close eager customers

Not every situation related to escalation management is necessarily negative.

For example, let’s say that someone browsing your website uses your chat support window to ask when a best-selling product will be restocked. The longer you wait to respond, the more likely their interest will pass.

The takeaway? For good and bad situations alike, you need to emphasize proactive service that directs customers to the right resource—whether that be an agent, a self-service hub or an automated customer service chatbot.

Doing so is an ongoing process that requires you to anticipate customer needs and update your resolution paths accordingly.

2. Determine your levels of service (and the reps responsible for them)

Create customer service tiers that allow agents to handle issues aligned with their set of abilities and system access. In practice, that might look like:

  • Tier 1 support deals with common questions, many of which could be answered by a saved reply or knowledge base.
  • Tier 2 support deals with individual issues that require a personalized response but aren’t necessarily pressing.
  • Tier 3 support deals with the high-priority problems that we discussed above (such as billing problems, outages and so on).

And for each level of customer escalation, you can assign different reps (think: junior versus senior reps).

How this sort of policy works in practice varies from business to business. Either way, the concept is simple: issues are ranked by severity and are only dealt with by the proper personnel.

For the sake of the organization, consider coupling your escalation management strategy with permissions and approvals. Doing so keeps your reps’ tasks organized and creates a sense of accountability, plus ensures that the right tasks go to the right people.

3. Document and implement your escalation management framework

You won’t nail your escalation management plan right out of the gates. All great strategies evolve through iteration, so don’t beat yourself up trying to outline every possible escalation situation prior to implementing your work.

Instead, document your process in an accessible space, like a training resource drive or knowledge base. Use this as an opportunity to highlight the iterative nature of this work. Include a call-to-action that encourages agent feedback so you can stay up to date on how the process adoption process is going.

From there, you’ll need to implement your process throughout your customer service tech stack. That might look a little bit different depending on your tools of choice. For example, in Sprout Social, case routing is set up using our AI-powered Case Management solution. With Case Management, system administrators set up rules that automate case creation and routing.

The "Create New Rule" dialogue box in the Sprout Social app. The tool uses if/then logic to determine how cases should be routed and to which teams. 

4. Create a tailored escalation management strategy for social customer care

Social customer care is in a league of its own. On social media, customers sing your praises or air out their grievances in public, impacting your brand’s reputation along the way.

On top of that, social rarely lives within one team. More than a third (36%) of brands split social customer care across marketing and customer service. If those teams aren’t moving in lockstep, critical messages can get lost in the shuffle.

Data visualization from the 2023 Sprout Social Index breaking down which teams will own the social customer care function in 2024.

To build your social-specific escalation management strategy, determine what messages can be handled in your social media management platform and what needs to be escalated to your help desk software. Remember: Protecting your customer’s privacy is imperative so if a case involves billing information, account details or protected health information, escalate it to a private channel ASAP.

Escalation management examples to guide your processes

If you’re interested in seeing how brands with complex business structures handle escalation management, look no further than Instant Brands.

Instant brands is home to a portfolio of seven kitchenware brands, including Pyrex, Instant Pot and more. What makes their escalation management process run so smoothly? Consistent collaboration between marketing and customer service teams.

Social is a direct line to the Instant Brands customer. It’s their fans’ go-to channel for feedback, praise and of course, service. “We’re always generating cases with Sprout for Salesforce,” says Camille Pessoa, Social Media Manager at Instant Brands. “We get quite a few requests for Instant Pot and Pyrex—usually things like requests for replacements or product defects. To solve those issues, we need to be able to ask for consumer information, which has to be done in Salesforce.”

Sprout Social messages appearing in Salesforce through Sprout's Salesforce integration.

Both teams work together to resolve customer issues quickly, resulting in more seamless customer experiences. This level of coordination isn’t reserved for consumer-facing brands. Even highly regulated industries, like financial services, can replicate this approach with a few tweaks.

A proactive post on X from the PNC Bank Help account that reads: Good morning! How can we assist today? Message us if you need us!

Regardless of industry, the key to exceptional escalation processes is making the hand-off as frictionless as possible for the consumer. PNC Bank pulls this off by making it easy for users to self-escalate by prompting them to move chats to X (formerly known as Twitter) DMs at the click of a button.

Training your team to handle escalations

If a good escalation management strategy is iterative, then your training procedures must be, too. Both team structures and customer concerns are anything but static. Regular training sessions help refine your teams’ skills, creating better customer service experiences.

These trainings can look like:

  • Tool training: Walk through your escalation process across all involved customer service software tools. Be sure to record these sessions so employees have them available for future reference.
  • Service simulations: Plan practice sessions where agents navigate real-world escalation scenarios in a lower stakes environment.
  • Resource sharing: Documentation is paramount, especially if you’re working in a remote or hybrid environment. Ensure all your resources are up to date and easily accessible, so your agents have everything they need to succeed.

Pro tip: Include this social media customer service training deck in your training materials, so support agents can move easily between channels. It’s templatized, so you can update it to include your social media escalation management processes.

Create your plan for customer escalation management

Customer expectations are always rising. To meet and exceed them, you need to be proactive. An escalation management process is one way to ensure service issues are anticipated and addressed before they spiral out of control.

To further future-proof your customer care strategy, check out Sprout’s research on social’s role in modern customer service. We surveyed business leaders, consumers and marketers to learn more about today’s customer service landscape, so your team can evolve right alongside consumer expectations.