I’m an author and one of the things you learn as a … writer… is to try not to repeat words, but I used “escalation” twice in the title of this post, and now I’m cringing. So, I shall now randomly expose you to a writer’s concept called “hanging a lantern on it”, which is basically identifying that you did a bad thing by calling it out in some way in the text, and then not actually fixing it. Which is exactly what I just did. Although usually it’s handled a bit more subtly than I... just... did.
Anyway… (another thing you learn as a writer is that anytime you feel compelled to write “anyway”, it means you are way off topic and should just cut the entire previous paragraph… but I won’t… because… um… it makes me chuckle a bit.)
Whenever you are escalating an issue to a vendor there comes a time where the person you are interacting with (like the front-line support folks) is, in one way or another, not able to address your issue. If any of you have ever called Comcast for technical support on your home internet connection… you know the pain of which I speak.
Though, while I (and pretty much everyone in the IT industry) pick on Comcast mercilessly for this, there is a reason for it. Not one I particularly agree with, mind you, but I do understand it. The reason is a financial one.
Many businesses work on a model intended to lower costs for their services, and they cannot do that by staffing the phones with super experienced people, so they staff them with more junior folks armed with scripts that hopefully answer the bulk of callers’ questions. The result, in theory, is that a significant number of callers have their questions answered by the scripts that these front-line people have at their fingertips, and in the cases where that does not work out, they get escalated to the next level up. (also known as “the more expensive people”) Since - again, in theory, this should not happen very often, the business can employ fewer of the more expensive people to “get the job done”.
That all makes sense, right?
And what’s the alternative? Think about it for just a moment. If Comcast had to hire all “expensive people”, then your monthly cable bill would be higher. How much higher is hard to say, of course. But an interesting question for anyone who has ever called into Comcast is “how much more would you be willing to pay per month for that call to have gone a little easier.” (This is why - by the way - iuvo Technologies only hires experienced technical professionals… but that’s another topic for another post.)
But the key in all this is to understand that there is almost always someone with a greater set of technical skills or an increased level of authority, and if you are not getting results with the level of person you are interacting with now, then you must make a point to work to get beyond them so that you can have your issue addressed. And the way to do that is through a gradual process of escalation.
Gradual Process of Escalation
The gradual aspect of this is important and has many layers.
Remember… Maintaining the Moral High Ground
The temptation for some people is to just bully the first line person and make them escalate right away, but remember that throughout this process you have to be good to the people you are interacting with… because they are people… just like you.
Follow the Process
You can’t be a special snowflake… even if you really are one. Some people just want to push through the first level because they know better, but the entire support system is designed around whether you have patiently worked your way through the system and answered all the basic questions. And I have seen cases where something as simple as “did you turn it off and then on again” was actually the fix. So, you really do need to go through the steps. Earnestly attempt to work with the first level person so that you can reasonably state that you’ve tried all the basic stuff. I know it hurts. I know it’s annoying. But just do it.
Know When to Escalate
Any reasonable person, after some amount of time trying, is going to understand that they are not going to be able to fix the problem. And it is at this point that you must begin pushing them… gently… to get to that next level. And we’ll talk about some tricks to that in a moment, but there is one final thing to understand before you start that.
Understand that breaking through any given line of support gets you to someone who may be more able to help you, but they may still not be the final level that you need. Prepare yourself for the possibility that each given level will have its own series of steps that you’re going to patiently need to go through, and that may even include repeating things you have already done, and that’s just the way it is. Go through the steps, give them an honest chance, keep your temper in check, and escalate again if you must. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
How Do You Escalate?
Here are a few very basic methods I employ when the time comes to push.
Let Them Know You’re Not Gunning for Them
Part of the problem with escalating is that the person you are talking to has essentially “failed”, and that’s a dark mark on their record. As I talked about in my first post on this topic, these people spend all day on calls like this and they are rated on success and failure rates. It’s just awful. And any time the call goes beyond them, that’s a tick on their report card.
Because of this, I make a point to assure them that I am not unhappy with them and that I just feel that this problem is peculiar enough that I’m likely to need someone who is more familiar with the deeper nuances of the technology or situation and ask if they would please escalate me to that person.
Appeal to Them
I cannot stress enough that these are people, and that people are going to react to situations just as any person would. How would you react to “Look. Just get me someone who knows what they are doing, okay?” Probably not well. But how would you react to “Hey. I really appreciate all your effort on this, but it seems like we’re not getting too far, and I have to believe this is taking a lot of your time where you could be helping more people? Would it make sense to escalate this?”
Note that “helping more people” is a trigger because they know they are also rated on how many people they help in any given shift.
Tell the Next Person How Helpful the Previous Person Was
I’m not suggesting that you lie… if the person was a train wreck or rude or whatever, you may have very little to say, but usually I can find something to pass on to the next person that may soften the impact of that tick on their report card.
“The last person who helped me was very polite…” or “…tried very hard...” or “…really did their best…”. It makes a difference, and it also sets the stage for the person you are now talking to because you come across as reasonable and measured. Remember that the people at the next level are used to hearing from people who have had to suffer through the prior level of support… and usually those customers are even more agitated, so starting the discussion as someone who is reasonable and complimentary will only serve to ratchet down the tension, which can only hope to serve you well.
But then sometimes, normal escalation methods fail.
Sometimes this all works, and you eventually get to someone who fixes your problem.
And sometimes it doesn’t. And oh boy… that’s when it starts to get interesting.
No matter what you do working within the system, sometimes you cannot get a resolution. This may result in efforts that go on for hours… or days… or even months. And when that happens, you must get into the methods we will discuss in my next post: Vendor Escalation Management through Networking.
If you're interested in talking more about the business of IT management, feel free to contact me here.