Responsibility: Let me speak with your supervisor!!! Does escalating help?

“Let me speak to your supervisor!”  These are words that many of us have uttered at one point or another.   The words may conjure up images of ineffectual entry-level customer service employees who are unempowered to resolve any “real” issues.  Maybe they conjure up images of customer service employees who don’t realize just how valuable your business is when you’re asking for something.  Surely a supervisor will listen to reason.  Or will they?

Read on for an insider’s perspective on escalating and what it does (or doesn’t) accomplish.


What usually drives people to escalate?

People escalate over a number of things: contracts, cancellation fees, credits, warranty issues, upgrade eligibility dates and other things.  The common denominator in virtually all these scenarios?  The customer is taking issue with policy and asking for an exception to be made.  Rarely is it ever a case of a customer taking issue with the rep they are working with.

Is there a certain personality type of the customers that tend to account for most escalations?  Absolutely.  Customers who escalate usually have strong feelings of entitlement.  I chose your company as my wireless provider:  give me the world.  Having an “all or nothing” attitude comes in a strong second.

An extreme example:

A woman who I spoke to threatened to cancel her account after her 13 year old daughter left her $700 iphone (which she had purchased less 2 months ago) on their picnic table and it rained.  The phone would not power on.  Her demands?  We would need to replace the device at the 2 year contract price ($299) or she would cancel her account and the cancellation fees would need to be waived because we refused to provide her daughter with a working phone.

Numerous questions popped into my head on this call.  Why does your 13 year old daughter need a $700 phone?  Is it wise to give a 13 year old girl a $700 phone?  Why did you not purchase the optional insurance for your phone?  How is this our fault?  Do you have any idea what these phones cost?  Did you read the contract you signed?

I went through our pallet of solutions with her.  Upgrade at the early upgrade pricing (at that time available in this case) for $499.  Get a cheaper early iphone upgrade by buying last year’s model or refurbished stock from the website.  Buy your daughter a gophone (starting at about $15) to use until other upgrade options become available.  Use the upgrade eligibility from another line to get her a phone.

None of these solutions satisfied this customer.  The early upgrade pricing was too high, she “knew” how retail pricing worked.  Her daughter wouldn’t be happy with a gophone, she would only be happy with an iphone.  Refurbished or last year’s model would not be acceptable.  And she was saving her upgrade for when the new iphone came out so she couldn’t use it to get her daughter a phone.

I attempted to explain that retail pricing didn’t work that way for cell phones, that there were no over-rides for iphone eligibility because of just how much those phones are subsidized in the first place and that we wouldn’t be able to waive the cancellation fees because the contract doesn’t state that we will provide you with another subsidized phone if yours is damaged before you’re eligible .

“Let me speak with your supervisor.”

What did my supervisor tell this customer?  He said he was very sorry to hear that her daughter’s phone was damaged; he recommended doing the early upgrade or buying a gophone.  He said we would not be able to offer 2 year pricing at this time.

“Well let me speak with your supervisor then.”

This is an extreme example, some situations have more merit than this.  However I can tell you as a customer service employee that a lot of escalated calls are from customers requesting things like this.  Did this woman get another $700 iphone for her daughter for $299?  No.

What is the difference between an agent and a supervisor?

Not as much as people believe.

  • Supervisors have a higher “credit limit.”  As an agent there is a limit to how much credit you can put on an account, supervisors have a limit too- in fact it’s only 40% higher than an agent’s.  For really big adjustments a “case” needs to be submitted and the adjustment request is reviewed by a special team. 
  • Early upgrades require supervisor approval. 
  • Price over-rides on equipment are reserved for a supervisor.
  • Supervisors are also usually temporarily given access to recently expired features in the event that a grandfathered feature was removed in error.

The policies that people are frequently escalating over are the same for both agent and supervisor.  So if the policy is that we can’t waive a cancellation fee because of a damaged phone that’s the same policy for agent and supervisor alike.  Calls get audited and more severe violations of policy can lead to termination for agent or supervisor alike.

Granting a request like the one above could get a supervisor fired.

Do supervisors use the additional powers that have been bestowed on them?  Yes.  They use them as directed by policy.  It is within my power to place fairly sizable credits on accounts.  Does that mean that I put one on everyone’s account that calls in?  Absolutely not.

There have been times when the resolution that comes out of an escalated call is something any agent could have done.   Some people with the “all or nothing” attitude just won’t believe an agent telling them that exactly what their asking for is impossible and that we need to look at other solutions to solve the problem. 

Does escalating ever accomplish anything?

Usually not.

Agents are aware of what kind of things are going to require supervisor approval.  So if a call comes in where someone needs a credit above my limit, first I do the account research to see if the credit is merited and then I say, “Let me speak with my supervisor about this.”

An example:

A customer had called in last month to have unlimited texting added on her daughter’s line, the call is documented in the notes and the agent wrote that he/she added the feature, but did not.  The customer got their next bill with $300 in texting overages on her daughter’s line.

Clearly this would be a situation that merits a credit.  The first thing any agent would do is grab a supervisor for the adjustment.  No one would say, “We’re sorry about the error, this is definitely our fault.  Unfortunately, we’re only able to credit $XX.XX.”

Agents are given credit limited high enough to handle about 99% of adjustment requests.  If you’re escalating over a $20 charge it’s not because the agent can’t issue the adjustment, it’s because they don’t believe you deserve it.


The escalations I sometimes see granted?  When a customer is asking for something small that a supervisor will approve not because it’s deserved but because it will prevent them from having to take the call and get their agent off of the call to help other customers.


Escalations that I almost never see approved -  Cancellation fee waivers, requests for price over-rides on equipment, large credits that are not the result of a company error, and early upgrade requests that aren’t within the realm of early upgrade policy.


Okay, you’ve said your piece.  But I still want to escalate about [insert problem here].  What should I know?

When dealing with customer service you should listen to what a rep is proposing because it’s something they can do, what you’re requesting may not be.  As a general rule, a rep will be much more likely to go out on a limb for you if you’re being pleasant and respectful rather than cussing them out like every problem on your account was caused by them. 

If you really feel you’re being treated unfairly it’s okay to ask for a supervisor, but there’s a good chance they may tell you exactly what the rep you were just talking to did.