Perfecting Service Management

Issue #75

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Customer Advocacy Framework - Escalation and Response
by Craig Bailey

Continuing on our Customer Advocacy journey, this edition provides additional insight regarding the process framework to establish a highly responsive approach to ensure that escalated customer issues are attended to, and resolved, in a timely and effective manner. As indicated in the prior edition, the process framework includes:

  • Customer segmentation
  • Engagement process
  • Escalation process
  • Response planning, analysis and execution
  • Managing the customer experience through resolution
  • Internal management review

This edition will cover the escalation process and response planning, analysis and execution aspects of the Customer Advocacy framework.

Escalation process

Once engaged, the Customer Advocate will need to reach out to the appropriate subject matter experts to assist in responding to the customer situation. This requires that a "who to call list" is pre-established, with a comprehensive listing of:

  • Each subject matter or support area (e.g., sales, engineering, product management, legal, technical support, finance, professional services, etc.) that the Customer Advocate will depend upon
  • Name of the primary point of contact, backup, manager, director, vice president for each area
  • 24x7 contact information for each person in the hierarchy

This will be one of the most valuable assets that a customer advocate will have to enable prompt engagement of necessary resources.

With any process, it is expected that exceptions will occur. Gracefully handling exceptions is key to minimizing impact to the customer and the business. As relates to the Customer Advocacy framework, it may become important to escalate a particular customer issue for a number of reasons, including:

  • Promoting management awareness of a particular customer or product situation that warrants attention, either based upon best judgment of the Customer Advocate, or a pre-established escalation request for that particular customer or product.
  • Primary point of contact in a support organization is unresponsive to engagement requests from the customer advocate. Person could be out of cell range, indisposed, or otherwise unavailable.

For real-time issues needing immediate attention and support from a particular subject matter (or support) area, the Customer Advocate will attempt contact with the first designated person on the "who to call list" for that area. Should that person not respond within 15 (+/-) minutes, the Customer Advocate will then attempt contact with the next person on the list for that area, and so on up to and including (if necessary) the VP.

Taking this approach ensures that all subject matter areas/support organizations are fully aligned to the Customer Advocate model. Rest assured that the VP will not tolerate calls at 2AM resulting from his/her staff being unresponsive to customer issues. Additionally, by "sharing the pain" the subject matter areas/support organizations will be increasingly motivated to resolve the root-cause of issues requiring escalation.

Response planning, analysis and execution

Now that the Customer Advocate has successfully engaged subject matter experts necessary to address the situation, the next step is to "get all the liars in the same room" (or on a con-call). The objective here is to clarify the situation, determine what the problem is (based upon information gathered thus far), determine how we got here (in a non-accusatory way), what the options are and a potential course of action. This may require that individuals pull performance reports, a history of customer inquiries and problem reports, invoices, contracts, etc., to create a chronology of the timeline leading up to the point of customer dissatisfaction. The output of this step is a first draft Situation Summary, which includes:

  • Executive summary - Top-level summary of the situation
  • Chronology - Timeline of events
  • Root-cause(s) - Item(s) identified (thus far) that are foundational to the issue at hand
  • Contributing factors - Related factors that, while not root-cause, may have exasperated the situation and/or contributed to the "swirl" factor, swirl being defined as when a number of people are (un-necessarily) "spun up" and emotionally charged over a situation
  • Action-plan and recommendations

After a first pass has been done at this, the next step is to re-engage with the customer, in order to effectively manage the customer's experience through resolution. This topic will be covered in the next edition.

If your organization is in immediate need of a Customer Advocacy framework, and you can't wait the several weeks for completion of this newsletter series, give us a call. We would be happy to provide a walkthrough of the complete customer advocacy framework and if necessary, assist you in the implementation of a customized framework for your organization.

View previous articles in this series.

Southwest Airlines: Out-Operates the Competition
by Craig Bailey

This article completes our series highlighting Southwest Airlines, a firm that demonstrates the characteristics of being customer centric and reaps the benefits of doing so. To review prior articles on this topic, click here. As promised, we will close the topic by sharing concrete evidence as to why another well-known airline is in the toilet, learned first hand while traveling recently to a city that SWA doesn't (presently) serve. Names will be omitted to protect the guilty...

I recently had the opportunity to travel to a city not presently served by Southwest Airlines. After evaluating all possible options for flying SWA (attempting arrivals at destination airports in the vicinity) I reluctantly decided I'd have to fly another airline. Luckily I had some frequent flyer points on this other airline that would enable me to get one of my tickets for free. And, here we go...

As always, when booking travel arrangements, my first step is to (attempt to) leverage an airline's web-site. However, after attempting to get 2 seats on a non-stop flight from my departure to destination city with no luck, it became clear I would have to call the airline directly. Upon calling, I learned that my frequent flyer points could only be redeemed for a specific set of (undesirable) flights (early / late and with connections). After spending 20 minutes on the phone we finally locked in our flight arrangements. Oh, and the airline had to charge me an extra $5 because I called in rather than use their online booking - hardly enough revenue to account for the time that the agent spent on the phone with me wrestling with complex frequent flyer redemption rules. The airline just took its first "hit" on cost...

As can happen with ANY airline, we had a flight delay due to weather, at our departure city. Upon arriving VERY late at the connecting airport, my first step was to proceed to the monitors to determine the status of my connection, which was scheduled to depart over 2 hours earlier. Because the connecting flight wasn't displayed, my natural assumption was that it had departed. After scanning the airport and seeing no "manned" stations to help me (being late at night), I called the airline to get a new connection to my destination. Speaking with the agent, I learned that the flight had NOT left. It too was delayed and was scheduled to depart in 30 minutes. Well, that was GREAT for me. The agent indicated that someone must not have updated the system. And, because that flight's scheduled time had passed, it was automatically removed from the monitor. How dumb is this? The airline just took its second "hit" on cost, as they received a totally unnecessary phone call from me.

We finally arrived at our destination airport. Things were looking up now! The pilot then welcomes us to the city by explaining "we will be a few more minutes before we can get you unloaded because there is a plane parked at our gate. We need to get it moved and we'll then get you on your way." We then sat there for over 15 minutes burning fuel waiting for "that same airline's" plane to be moved. How much does fuel cost these days? The airline just took another "hit" on cost. But, there is more...We had a return flight...

When available, I leverage automated communication features offered by airlines to keep me up to date on flight status. Prior to heading to the airport for our return flight, I received a courtesy message indicating that our flight would be delayed, causing us to miss our connection. The message politely encouraged me to call-in to make alternative arrangements. Upon doing so, I learned that the flight "wasn't" delayed and that we would make the connection just fine. The airline just took another unnecessary call from me (another hit on cost).

I wonder if the federal government is going to hold this airline accountable to improving its operating practices before providing ANY relief in their bankruptcy protection proceedings. Otherwise, the airline ought to just die and get it over with. They do NOT get it.

In closing, any firm must deal with inevitabilities (delays due to weather, etc.) and we as customers "get this." However, when dumb things happen that waste our time (as customers) and obviously waste the resources of a company (fighting for its very survival), it becomes clear that the firm needs to get its head out of its assets and focus on the customer.

How is Southwest Airlines able to thrive in such a battered industry? They out-operate their competition by focusing on the customer.

View previous articles in this series.


+ Customer Advocacy Framework - Escalation and Response
+ Southwest Airlines: Out-Operates the Competition
+ Recommended Reading


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Presentation Available
Visit CCI's website to download Positive Power Influence, presented by Craig Bailey at the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Mass Bay Chapter Career Development Day on May 14, 2005.


Recommended Reading
In his CRM Today article When It Comes to Customer Relationship Management, It's The "Why" That Matters, Dr. Paul Squires presents 5 simple, yet critical, steps for creating an online survey. Equally important, according to Dr. Squires, is getting beyond the survey tools and CRM technology to understand the why - "why your customers do business with you and why they choose to be loyal."

Reader-Input Incentive Program
Do you have opinions or input on any of our articles? Send us feedback you think might be useful to our readers. If we publish it, you'll get your pick of an item from the Customer Centricity Online Store.

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