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CM escalations are one type of request that the Community Management team handles. These are issues that Moderators send to the Community Managers when an issue needs to be escalated to someone on staff. Common reasons for escalations include moderators dealing with a complicated voting invalidation or sockpuppet investigation cases who need staff to dig further. Another common reason for an escalation would be if a moderator notifies the CM team about an issue via chat and it is going to take us more than a few minutes to investigate and resolve; we’ll ask that an escalation be submitted.

On average, we receive over 120 escalations each month. When we’re short-staffed or pulled into time-sensitive situations, the escalations can pile up, leaving us with a major backlog. This time last year, the team had to work on a ticket smash because we had a backlog of over 600 CM escalations.

We weren’t at that level of a backlog this summer, but escalations were piling up. I’m sharing how the team avoided the major backlog we had last year and our plan for mitigating backlogs in the future.

Out with the old approach

At the beginning of the year, we shared that the Community Team now had three subteams and areas of focus: Community Operations, Curator Support, and Trust & Safety. Even with the split, there are certain tasks that are a shared responsibility across all teams. One of those shared responsibilities is Community Emergency Duty (CED). Each week, the Community Managers rotate who is on duty to handle issues that get flagged as emergencies. These issues include things like removing underage user accounts from sites and reaching out to users when it is reported that they have said something that indicates they may be in danger of self-harm. These issues get specialized attention so that we can quickly get appropriate resources to those in need.

During the first half of this year, the Community Manager who was on CED was also responsible for handling the non-emergency CM escalations. By the end of Q2, we realized that wasn’t the best process. If the person on CED had a lot on their plate during that week, they wouldn’t be able to get to many of the CM escalation notices that weren’t true emergencies, leaving the next CM on duty dealing with a backlog. We built better internal notices to warn the team if the queue was getting to 50 or more open escalations and would try to set aside time for all of us to crush some outstanding escalations out; however, with the team being short-staffed at the end of Q2, that solution wasn’t proving to be successful either.

Trying something new

At the beginning of Q3, we decided that the Community Operations team would handle triaging CM escalations. The majority of issues that get sent to us are for the Ops team to handle anyway. During triage, if something falls under Curator Support or Trust & Safety’s purview, we are able to forward those issues to those team members.

We were all excited about this new process; however, getting it off the ground proved to be more complicated than we thought it would be. We were still dealing with the backlog from Q2, in the process of onboarding and training new team members, and due to vacations and other summer commitments still a bit short-staffed in July and August. We were getting through escalations, but if we could only get through 20 escalations a week and another 20-30 were coming in every week, this meant we were only breaking even or, in some weeks, still falling behind. We were hovering at about 60-90 open escalations a week at the peak of this summer.

This is when the team pulled together and focused on a solution to avert the backlog of last fall. Catija and JNat spent time training our new Ops members Slate and Vanny on the ins-and-outs of CM escalations. Even though Cesar is on the Trust & Safety side of the team, he graciously volunteered to also help with training since he has had a lot of experience handling these issues in the past. During the first half of September, the five of them spent time each week smashing out the backlog of escalations and working together on more complex ones.

This resulted in the CM escalation queue hitting zero on Friday, September 24th. A zero inbox on CM escalations is not something that I’ve seen in the 7+ months I’ve been on the team. Now, a zero inbox won’t last forever. Escalations will continue to come in, but we’re now in a sustainable place where we can triage and resolve them quicker. If we get to a point where the backlog is growing and this new triage process is proving not to be sustainable, we’ll re-evaluate and adjust things.

To give you an idea of how long these escalations can take here are some stats on CM escalation resolutions this year:

Between January and now the CM team has resolved 1105 escalations. Here is the breakout of how long it took to resolve these escalations

225 escalations were resolved in less than 24 hours

116 escalations were resolved in more than a day but less than three

155 escalations were resolved in more than three days but under a week

223 escalations were resolved between 7-14 days

259 escalations were resolved between 15-30 days

77 escalations took more than a month to resolve

I think it’s important that we share this story with you. Process may not be the most exciting thing to read about, but we’re committed to improving how quickly we can respond and handle issues that you bring to our attention. My goal is to come back to you in early 2022 to share the stats under our new process which will hopefully show a faster time to resolution. Also, every time we talk to community members, they express an interest in how things work “behind the curtain”. I also want to thank Catija, Cesar, JNat, Slate, and Vanny for their hard work in crushing this backlog. They made it their priority because they care so deeply about improving everyone’s experience - including yours.

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    The difference has been noticeable. Recent escalations are handled in days, not 6-8 weeks (we joke about it, but when I started as a mod it was sometimes literally that bad)
    – Machavity
    Sep 30 at 17:06
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    I find featured posts quite helpful; I would not have wanted to miss this. Thanks for the good work!
    – amWhy
    Sep 30 at 18:02
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    I love seeing behind-the-scenes stuff, and I love good news even more 🎉 Impressive work!
    – GammaGames
    Sep 30 at 18:26
  • My attempt to destroy Community in a Team is still awaiting CM approval :(
    – Smitop
    Sep 30 at 19:02
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    @Smitop Since it doesn't look like you're a mod anywhere, you're probably talking about a different thing. These CM escalations can only be sent by moderators. That said, I'm not sure why you would want to destroy Community in a Team and I don't think that's something we would support since the bot is needed for some things. CMs can not access Teams and do not have any control therein.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Sep 30 at 19:48
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    @Catija Some of the internal routes that moderators use on real sites also work on teams, just without any UI for them. If you try to destroy Community in a Team by hitting the right endpoint, then it claims that the CM team was notified about it. I guess that no actual notification took place. I don't actually want to destroy Community, I was just curious what would happen.
    – Smitop
    Sep 30 at 19:50
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    @Smitop That action does not generate a notification in the same way as CM escalations do - it would drop the account into a developer accounts queue for review manually. But that queue does not exist for teams and thus nobody would ever review it. Staff cannot see such things on a per-team basis. I'm not sure attempting to do so for the Community user even drops the request into that queue. It might just ignore it and send back the standard error.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Sep 30 at 20:31
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    This is impressive, especially relatively speaking. The way you got out of the hole that was dug is pretty efficient, and the plans in place to prevent this sort of thing from happening again look solid, IMHO. Thanks for the update. Thank you for your care.
    – Ollie
    Sep 30 at 21:19
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    How many escalations are handled within the next working day? (i.e. 24h + weekends + holidays)
    – Bergi
    Sep 30 at 22:50
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    Are contact tickets considered as a part of CM escalations? Oct 1 at 16:49
  • @Smitop - Destroying Community? You could take some inspiration from this story, ironically related to the lack of people working the escalation queue as well.
    – Travis J
    Oct 1 at 18:02
  • Just don't move CM's away, like SE used to do way too many times before, and things should be fine. Hopefully. Oct 3 at 6:26
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    @Bergi - the original question gives the answer to that: 225 escalations were resolved in less than 24 hours. We don't define it quite the same as you, and that would take some custom work to define, I suspect. But the 225 number is pretty close.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 3 at 12:47
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    If you are running low on escalations, you should have said so. I can easily give you more.
    – Dharman
    Oct 3 at 14:10
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    @RandomPerson No. CM escalations come from moderators only. Contact tickets are triaged daily on weekdays.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Oct 3 at 21:02
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This team does great work. I'm really proud of the creativity and devotion that Rosie and her team show every day. They do an amazing job of processing a huge number of requests from mods and curators. Glad to see them featured here so that others can see what we already know: that they're a talented group of people working hard to support the communities that make up the network.

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As a mod who just escalated something, without knowing if it fit under the mod menu options, it's helpful to know how these escalations are being handled, and just how many escalations there are.

Perhaps listing the number of open/unresolved escalations somewhere for mods to reference might be helpful to know as well, so if there's a backlog, we can initiate non-emergency and lower-priority escalations at a later date when there's fewer open/unresolved escalations. I for one don't want to stress-out the CM's any more than necessary :-)

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    A few years back I used to post a weekly summary of these in the TL. Been thinking recently about bringing it back.
    – JNat StaffMod
    Oct 1 at 10:21
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    @JNat-There should be a way for us to programmatically get this and send it to a dashboard somewhere, I would think. There's the API to get the data out, if that's one of the potential options. Let's think about the best way to do this so that stats are nearly realtime, if possible.
    – Philippe StaffMod
    Oct 3 at 12:49
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When was the last time this happened?

When I asked in the Tavern, I noticed you said

A zero inbox on CM escalations is not something that I’ve seen in the 7+ months I’ve been on the team

It looks like there are 5 members of the CM team who joined before you, and I'm fairly sure there are a few staff members who were CMs but who have now moved around in the company, and was wondering if any of them remember an empty escalations queue (or, if it exists, is there any historical record of the queue that current staff can use)?

Journeyman made an excellent point that, with fewer CMs in the recent past, the queue naturally grew rather than shrank, and Sonic directed me to this post, detailing the ticket smash last year, but it definitely seems as though the queue hasn't been empty for the past 2 or so years.

Overall, I'm just interested, as part of the "peek behind the curtain", when was the last time this happened?

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    Isn't the whole escalations queue concept pretty new, as whole? My best guess it was never empty. ;) Oct 4 at 7:32
  • Well - it's been there is some shape or form as long as I've been a mod.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Oct 5 at 22:32

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