What Call Center Agents Can Learn from Jack Nicholson About De-escalation

In this week’s professional development event, my De-escalation webinar, I’m going to open with a video clip from Jack Nicholson’s Five Easy Pieces. I’m showing the famous “Chicken Sandwich Diner” scene from the movie.

The clip shows Jack Nicholson’s character trying to customize a sandwich from the menu. I chose this scene because, as a vegan, I am ALWAYS customizing menu items in restaurants – the clip really resonated with me. In the clip, the waitress’s facial expression is sour, her body language is standoffish and to Nicholson’s request, she barks, “No substitutions. Only what’s on the menu.” With remarkable calm, Jack explains that he doesn’t want what’s on the menu, he wants to change up the sandwich. Unwilling to help, the waitress recluses herself, “Do you want to talk to a manager?” Within seconds, the situation escalates to the point of Nicholson yelling and breaking dishes.

I’m sharing this clip to set the tone for the de-escalation webinar. I share several proven de-escalation strategies that will de-escalate volatile customers. But it would be remiss of me not to prepare my clients to pre-empt an escalation by avoiding things that are known triggers.

After we watch the video, I’ll share what went wrong in this scene. The employee made 4 big mistakes; mistakes that led to uncontrollable escalation. Here’s what she did wrong:

1. Started with a negative.

Nearly before the customer could ask his question, the waitress said, “No substitutions.” Her initial negative response put the customer on the defensive and showed that she was unwilling to help. This negative response started the cycle of escalation, which I talk about in the webinar. The cycle of escalation is:

Initial Contact —>  Employee Response —> Customer Reaction —> Employee Reaction

The employee’s initial contact was negative in word, attitude and body language. The customer responded with intensity, and then the employee became defensive and difficult. This led to an all-out explosive situation.

2. Spoke only about what she could not do.

When the customer came back with the request a second time, the waitress simply repeated what she could not do. When customers feel pushed into a corner, many will escalate, either in intensity or by asking to speak with a manager.

3. Limited choices.

A big no-no in customer interactions is limiting choices. I always tell my clients to look for ways to give customers options. When I’m changing up a meat-based meal to vegan, I’ve heard things like, “We can certainly do this, but I’ll still have to charge you the full menu price.” (I actually always expect to pay full menu price anyway.) or “What if I removed the chicken and added broccolini and mushrooms to your entree?” Options like this make customers feel like they are in control and make no mistake, volatile customers have control issues.

4. Quick to escalate.

Quickly and visibly annoyed by the customer, the waitress said, “Would you like to speak to the manager?” This question came off as her passing the customer off. It didn’t end well, as my attendees will see in the scene. Don’t suggest escalation, for goodness sakes! If it comes to that, let the suggestion come from the customer and not from you.

After we discuss what went wrong in the scene, we roll up our sleeves and explore:

How to Pre-empt an Escalation with a Customer

  • 8 Things employees should never do with an agitated customer
  • Why anger must be acknowledged and exactly how to do it
  • Three things angry people want – knowing these things is the most powerful way to preempt an escalation
  • The 3-step process politicians, police chiefs, and CEOs use to de-escalate a crisis situation and how you can use these same steps to de-escalate conversations with difficult customers
  • Exactly what to say to the customer who demands to speak to a supervisor. This method is polite and effective.

When Things Get Out of Control Quickly, This is How You De-escalate

  • The 6-Step De-escalation Strategy Myra teaches in her onsite workshops, so your employees can quickly regain control of the conversation with confidence and with professionalism
  • Make sure language is not provoking, so your employees don’t dig themselves into a deeper hole
  • You cannot ignore a customer’s expression of anger – find out why.
  • The psychology of anger – Understand what is going on in the mind of your angry customer.

Regaining Control of the Interaction (When Things Are Already Out of Hand)

  • Myra’s famous “Ask 3 closed-ended question back-to-back” technique for immediately putting employees back in control of interactions
  • How the “Topic Grab” approach can work to stop a Chatty Cathy and put employees back in control of the conversation
  • 5 human relations skills that actually encourage calm with volatile customers

How to De-escalate Angry or Agitated Customers

De-escalation Training to Help Your Employees Get Angry Customers to Back Down, Pre-empt Escalations to Supervisors and, In General, Handle Difficult Customers with More Ease.

Online, On-demand video training with Myra Golden – now available for  immediate viewing

Read outline—>


De-escalation Training to Help Your Employees Get Angry Customers to Back Down, Pre-empt Escalations to Supervisors and, In General, Handle Difficult Customers with More Ease.

  • Walmart said, “When I needed soft skills and call controls eLearning modules for our Walmart.com customer care agents, it quickly became apparent that Myra’s materials were the gold standard.” And Carlson Hotels Worldwide said, “I really do love your webinars, Myra. They are very well done and extremely beneficial. I always find little helpful hints in your information.”
  • I have gathered up all of the best de-escalation and call control content from my live, full-day de-escalation workshops…the ones I deliver to companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Frito-Lay and Vera Bradley  – and neatly packaged it in a high-impact 60-minute brand-new live webinar training.
  • This live video webinar also includes the recording that you can download, save, and keep forever. My office sends out the recording and handout packet within 4 hours of the live event.

Escalations are time-consuming and frustrating for everybody, even for customers. I know you don’t want your customers to escalate. Join me for my “How to De-escalate”   video training and your people will walk away knowing exactly how to preempt an escalation.