Do You Have Trouble De-escalating Angry Customers? If So, Try This.

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Four minutes into the call and I could see I was heading for trouble. The customer was a storyteller and a rambler. Plus, she was mad. She’d already spoken to an employee in the field and to one of my employees at the corporate office. Now the call had come to me. I got the call literally just as I was picking up my book to head to the park to enjoy a quick lunch and hopefully a couple of chapters of my novel.

The problem was easy enough. The customer’s rental car had broken down. That happens every day in the world of car rentals. Our solution to this problem is always swift: we get a replacement car out to the customer, reimburse any expenses and tow back the original rental.

But with this customer, the conversation was anything but easy. She kept rambling on, rehashing her frustration, making sure I knew how difficult it was to be stranded on the side of the interstate with 3 small children. If I was going to help the customer and have any shot at enjoying my lunch and a little reading, I had to resolve the problem and wrap up the call quickly.

So, here’s what I did. I used what Robert Bacal, a brilliant consultant, calls the topic-grab approach. The topic-grab approach involves listening carefully to your upset customer and then taking something they’ve said (grabbing a topic) and commenting on it or asking a question about it. This is especially effective if you can express empathy on the topic you “grab.”

In order to regain control of the conversation, I blended with my customer’s energy using the topic-grab approach. I grabbed on to the topic of being stranded on a hot afternoon with three children. Here’s what I said to her: “I cannot imagine what it was like for you to be on the side of the interstate in this heat with three small children. I realize this must be terribly frustrating for you. Let me help turn this situation around by quickly getting a replacement rental to you. The first thing we need to do is…”

Using the topic-grab approach, I successfully de-escalated my customer’s anger and rambling, and I regained control of the conversation! I also got off the phone in time to dash out the door and head to the park to eat my Greek salad and read my novel.

There’s only one thing you have to do in the topic-grab approach:

“Grab” a topic that your customer keeps coming back to and flip it into something productive. I did this when I grabbed on to the topic of being stranded with 3 small kids in the heat and quickly moved the conversation to getting my customer out of the heat and into a replacement rental.

When you grab a topic that your customer has brought up and then flip it to a problem-solving focus, your customer will feel you are listening (because you’re mirroring back what they said) and you will be in control of the conversation. Use the topic-grab approach the next time you need to de-escalate a situation with a rambling or angry customer. When you do, you’ll be back in control within seconds!

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.