Do These Three Things to De-escalate Immediately with Customers


I overheard one of my employees saying to an upset customer, “Sir, I work in our corporate office. I had nothing to do with the problem you’re talking about.”

She attempted to get the customer to calm down. But you know what? That didn’t calm the customer. Her words made the customer even more intense.

I pulled my employee aside, and I explained to her that she was escalating the situation with the very words she hoped would get the customer to back down.

The thing is, with de-escalation you have to take action in the present to move toward a calmer state, and toward a solution. You can’t fight fire with fire like my employee was trying to do, you have to be the water that puts the fire out.

De-escalation requires you do three things. You have to create calm with a customer who is agitated; you need to assertively take charge of the situation to pre-empt more intense emotion, and, you must move the interaction forward.

1. Create Calm

So, the first thing you need to do with de-escalation is create calm. My employee did the opposite of creating peace. She intensified the customer’s emotion and ended up making things harder for herself. You create calm by avoiding inflammatory words.

Instead of I had nothing to do with your problem, she could have said, “I’m glad you called us, so we can look into this and see what’s happened.”

Create calm by using anti-inflammatory words and by using words that show the customer that getting to the bottom of the problem is as important to you, as it is to them. Statements like these work well:

“I’m sorry you’ve had such a frustrating experience.”

“This is no more acceptable to us than it is to you.”

“Thanks for taking the time to let us know.”

Responses like these show the customer that you’re on their side. Customers won’t refute these statements, and you’ll begin to create calm.

2. Assertively Take Charge

Creating calm will get you going in the right direction, but to maintain control, you have to take charge assertively. If your calming statement works for a few seconds, but later the customer gets more intense, you take charge by saying something like:

“I’m trying to help you, but if you continue to yell and swear, I am going to ask that you call back another time. It’s up to you…which would you prefer?”

“I’m sorry. It isn’t possible for me to help you while listening to that language. If it stops, I can help.”

“If a few minutes helps you calm down before we continue, that would be fine. You can certainly call us back.”

“I want to help you, yet the language is getting in the way.”

3. Move the Conversation Forward

The final thing you need to do in de-escalation is to take action right now and move toward a solution. The whole idea is to move forward, out of the past problem. So, after you’ve begun to create calm and you know you’re in charge, you say something that lets the customer know you’re working to get to the bottom of this. Maybe that’s, “What I’ll do, is take a look at your account and see what’s going on.” Whatever action you’d usually take to fix the issue, is what you’d do here.

Your customer won’t get more intense when you use these steps; they become noticeably calmer. If you start off right with a calming statement and maintain your control by using assertive comments to keep you in charge, moving to a solution, and toward closure will be the logical next step.

I put the 3 quick steps in a video that you can share with your employees.


If you struggle to get difficult customers to calm down and listen to you, you might need my  De-escalation Online Course, which is part of my Customer Service eLearning suite.