“The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.” ~ Meister Eckhart
This is not a bad way to look at escalations when you think about it. As stressful and challenging as they are, escalations can be a powerful way to ensure that mistakes, deviations, and delays in the course of a project get the attention they need.
In this article, we look at the four major areas of customer onboarding where escalations are most likely to happen, the underlying reasons for them, and how you can avoid and manage escalations.
This is one of the most common reasons for escalations across the board. However, given how heavily customer onboarding relies on people, planning, and processes, it’s important to understand how a failure to balance these three factors can cause escalations during onboarding. The most common reasons for escalations arising from timeline issues include:
Here are a few tips to prevent these issues:
Whether it is the issue of a missing feature or one not working as expected, the lack of alignment at a functionality level is one of the challenges most likely to turn into an escalation. If you were to dig deeper to understand the reasons for this, it boils down mostly to:
Here are a few tips to avoid these issues:
Given how critical integrations can be to the customer onboarding process, it’s important to understand exactly how they cause escalations. These include:
Here are our recommendations on tackling these issues:
Escalations arising from performance issues are often a result of misaligned expectations or just a lack of understanding of how your solution solves the customers’ problems.
This is especially true in cases where customers are used to running certain processes a certain way, given their experience.
As you grow from onboarding smaller companies to bigger ones, your team's people/management issues could become more evident. Your team needs to build a strong partnership with your customer and hold them accountable for the project's success. Whether this is about managing their tasks, deliverables, and timelines or holding customers accountable for theirs, any gaps in their competence, collaboration, and communication abilities could be paving the way for an escalation.
Here are some ideas we recommend:
“Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part” ~ Anonymous
As harsh as this may seem, this line does a great job of explaining what escalations look like to a new customer. Here are a few steps you can take to avoid uncomfortable escalations during onboarding, a customer’s first interaction with your business.
At the start of every customer onboarding project, look at the four areas discussed above and think through the risks in each one of them.
Before the kickoff, identify all the things that can go wrong in the areas of functionality, integrations, timelines, and performance, and openly communicate these risks.
Highlight potential risks and propose and obtain sign-offs on alternate plans or workarounds.
The kickoff is also a good time to introduce the key team members responsible for resolving any deadlocks or making decisions for the project. You can also use this phase to explain the process for handling escalations.
Besides using the kickoff to set expectations and ground rules, use weekly updates or meetings to draw attention to blockages or issues that could cause future escalations.
Ensure that the cadence of the steering committee meetings is set up such that they act as a forcing function for decision-making at key stages and as an avenue to handle escalations, especially when misses from the customer end need to be escalated.
Establish what gets taken to the steering committee, such as adoption issues, deadlock situations, etc.
Escalations are rarely a one-off issue. They are mostly signs of a deeper problem.
Ensure that you have a process in place to review past escalations, document learnings, and close the loop at the customer’s end and yours. What does this look like? At the customer end, this could mean highlighting how the problem was solved and how learnings from the escalation are fed back into your process. At your end, it could mean iterating your systems/processes/documents based on learnings from every escalation.
Take ownership of the mistake as a team and acknowledge any lapses on your part without singling out a team member at either end. Where possible, explain any measures you took to avoid the issue.
Run a root cause analysis to break down the issue at hand and communicate its implications to everyone involved. Keep your apology short and honest, and bring in someone from the leadership to reassure the customer that you’re committed to solving the issue at hand.
Find out exactly why the issue is creating a problem for your customers. Identify the source of discontent: Is it a case of blocked value or delayed go-live? This will help you develop your approach for the next stage.
Based on the findings of the above stages, use the information at your disposal to get the business view so you can brainstorm any potential tradeoffs and assess revised priorities.
Propose a few resolution options (and your top recommendation), their pros and cons, and explain their potential impact on the issue at hand as well as the future project phases.
Ensure that the leadership team signs off on any decisions related to tradeoffs or revised priorities at the customer end.
After you’ve finalized the remediation approach, close the loop with the customer by outlining the next steps, the timelines, and any other implications on the project. Thank the customer’s team for their support and, if possible, showcase the steps you’ve taken to ensure that such a situation doesn’t arise again.
If we had to sum up the best way to handle an ongoing escalation, it would be this: Apologize, empathize, understand, remediate, communicate, and follow up.
For a phase as critical and complex as customer onboarding, a carefully designed foundation of systems, tools, and practices that enables better planning, tracking, and collaboration is the best way to avoid and manage escalations. We hope you find the tips and ideas in this article helpful as you go on to design delightful onboarding experiences for your customers.
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