Executive escalations can be a real life-saver for an organization. Whether it’s a high-profile Customer or just someone whose experience has gone completely off the rails, sometimes escalating dramatically can truly save the day for CX. I recently had an experience that was saved by an executive escalation. I happen to know a Senior Director at a service provider that had recently disrupted its service, potentially causing a serious problem for me. He’s in CX too, and as a benefit of swimming in these waters, I was able to reach out to him directly and ask for help. As you’d guess, my issue was handled with great effectiveness and speed.
But that experience got me to wondering: what if I hadn’t ‘known people’? When I worked for a corporation in the Customer Support organization, we had an executive escalations team that was top-notch, filled with professional problem-solvers who had all the tools at their disposal with which to address any issue our Customers may have. They were a well-oiled team, run by one of the best senior managers I’ve seen. But as with any other organization, there are a few inherent risks with executive escalations and how we handle them.
First of all, there’s the simple magnitude of it. If someone is involving somebody high up in your organization, lots of resources go into solving an identified issue for a specific Customer. Potentially, a team of people jumps into action, certain problems get pushed to the front of the line, and people drop everything to work on a ‘diving catch.’ Once all that’s done, there may not be too much excitement about revisiting what caused it. For one thing, there’s usually another escalation to address. But even if not, the unique nature of executive escalations often means that patterns aren’t seen, nor even sought. Each is a special one-off incident, so larger, enterprise-wide solutions aren’t always considered. This is a huge missed opportunity, because as you can imagine, for every executive escalation (one that rises to the severity of someone picking up the phone to call a director or VP), don’t you think the same sort of thing may be happening to other people, also?
That leads to another potential missed opportunity: It won’t surprise you to note that, many executive escalations are simply a matter of squeaky wheels. There are websites and services out there that will direct people where to write if they want to ‘take it to the top’ of an organization. And lots of people avail themselves of it (that’s why there are departments and teams, like at my former employer, for executive escalations in the first place). Now, of course, my issue was a very serious case…just like everybody else’s, right? But then, not everybody is as rational as me, or you, Dear Reader. (Believe me, if I didn’t know somebody, I’m sure I’d have eventually found a solution to my problem, albeit probably not on my preferred timetable. After all, this particular service provider is, generally speaking, quite awesome, so I was going to be in good hands one way or another.) Plenty of crabby angry Customers simply want to make sure that the CEO is aware of this or that issue. But it’s just that sort of ‘they’re the lunatic fringe’ mentality that can likewise lead to a dismissive approach to the systemic problems that may exist and be demonstrated through executive escalations. Passing them all off as kooks puts us just as at risk of overlooking flaws in our systems as treating them all like royalty. They may be special, but their issues aren’t necessarily unique to them.
These two risks culminate in a much more general problem with how some organizations handle executive escalations: Ultimately only those who escalate get their problems fixed. Recall that one of my Five Principles of CX is that when in need, every Customer becomes Elite. The philosophy there is that, when something goes wrong, we owe it to our Customer who’s suffering to prioritize his or her needs. While everybody deserves great service and attention, that becomes even more heightened when we as an organization have already let a Customer down. For those Customers who escalate that’s just what they get: White Glove, concierge service, and someone to handle their issues personally and with lots of communication. Well, that’s exactly what each Customer who’s notified us of a problem should receive: Not just those who have a way of contacting our executives. Just as it’s a risk of us missing opportunities for more fundamental organization-wide improvements, executive escalations often also deprive us of insight into other Customers who need our help. Bottom line: Everybody who we let down deserves the experience that those who seek an executive escalation gets.
In all, it’s a good thing to have efforts addressing executive escalations. When someone has an acute issue that’s so egregious (or even thinks it’s that egregious) that it’s brought to the attention of our leadership, the potential for trouble is huge and should be addressed. But let’s not lose track of the run-of-the-mill insights we can gain from these incidents as well as appreciate that for each one who raises a stink, there are likely dozens who are simply stewing over it.