3 Expert Tips to Pre-empt an Escalation with a Customer

Women with headsets working at a call center

I remember being a new manager preparing to deliver bad news to a group of executives. I was nervous, fearing I would get questions I couldn’t answer and thinking I’d get slammed in the meeting. My boss, the executive vice president of the company, helped me prepare for the meeting.

“Here’s the strategy you use. You go in there and answer their every question, before they even have a chance to ask you anything. This is what politicians, CEOs, and law enforcement officers do in every high-pressure press conference.” And then he walked me through the 3 steps that politicians and CEOs use. We even sat there and role-played in his office.

Three weeks later, I delivered the dim news to a group of 68 executives, all men. And it went well. To my shock and relief, there were no flaring tempers and no questions I couldn’t easily handle. There were very few questions. Using the 3 steps my boss had shared with me, I was able to pre-empt an escalation. Thank God!

Thrilled with the results I got in that meeting, I shared the 3 steps with my employees who worked in customer care. I thought the steps could help them pre-empt escalations with our difficult customers, and they did!

In this article, I’m going to share with you the 3 steps politicians and CEOs use to pre-empt an escalation—the same 3 steps my employees used to successfully pre-empt escalations to supervisors and to pre-empt escalations in aggression. Using these steps, you’ll be able to create calm, prevent an escalation, and be in complete control with difficult customers.

Here are the 3 steps:

1. Here’s what we know.

2. Here’s what we’ve done.

3. Here’s what’s next.

When you have to deliver bad news to a customer or when you want to keep a conversation from escalation, you just walk the customer through the steps.

Here’s an example of how a young man used these 3 steps on my husband when he had some very bad news to deliver. We’d parked our rental car with the valet of a very nice hotel. The next afternoon when my husband picked up the car, he found that the rental had been damaged. It wasn’t bad, but it was a noticeable dent. My husband was pissed. Totally pissed. The young valet employee quickly created calm using the steps.

1. I listened as he told my husband what he knew:

The accident happened in our parking garage at 7:42pm. The driver was in a white Honda Civic, license #…. He sped off and left the scene.

2. Then he explained what they’d done:

We’ve filed a claim with our loss-prevention team. We have two eye witnesses. We have filed a police report with the Austin Police Department.

3. Finally, he explained what was next:

You need to also file a police report. You need to notify both your insurance company and your rental car company. Your insurance company will go after the driver.

I’ll be honest, my husband was still pissed, but he was calmer, and so the valet was successful in de-escalation. I certainly felt fine, and I was impressed with the young man’s explanation and his confidence.

When you have to deliver bad news to a customer, work to pre-empt an escalation in aggression or an escalation to a supervisor by leading with the 3 steps politicians and CEOs use. When you do, you’ll create calm, de-escalate successfully, and be in control of the conversation.

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”  on-demand video training, and your people will walk away knowing exactly how to pre-empt an escalation.

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