Three Proactive Things You Can Do to Pre-empt an Escalation with a Customer


Tomorrow morning I’m headed to Phoenix to deliver a workshop at the Salesforce Trailblazers for the Future Conference. I booked an extra night at the Arizona Biltmore just because I wanted some “me time” for relaxation and reading. I do this a lot, adding a day or two on to a business trip to chill, explore, and enjoy local restaurants. Do you take time just for you?

Before I wrap things up in my office today and prepare for tomorrow’s early flight, I’m sharing with you three things you can do to pre-empt an escalation with a customer. These tips will help you handle interactions in such a way that you significantly minimize the chance of a customer becoming so incensed that they feel they have to talk to a supervisor.

1. Reflect Your Brand Promise

One of my clients is a furniture protection plan company. A point of upset for a lot of their customers is when customers discover that the damage to their furniture is not covered under warranty. Customers get intensely agitated because they feel what they purchased is not the same thing as the service they are receiving. I encouraged agents in this company to reflect the brand promise in every interaction. I had them focus on explaining first what the protection plan did cover, and then by quickly going over a few of the many benefits of the plan.

Instead of merely telling the customer that their damage was not covered, I instructed agents to say something like,

“You have an excellent plan here. It covers such things as scratches and broken pieces. In this case, we do not cover discoloration of the leather, as fading is a natural occurrence that comes from body oils and usage. If anything else should come up, though, please give us a call, and we’ll be happy to look into things for you.”

Reflecting the brand promise, in this situation, is reminding the customer of the many benefits the protection plan does offer, and by serving customers with a friendly demeanor.

2. Don’t Push

When people feel pushed into a corner, they push back. If a customer feels you are defensive, rude, or unhelpful, it is natural for them to push back. They push back with their words, tone, or by asking to talk to a supervisor.

You can pre-empt an escalation in aggression or an escalation to a supervisor by not allowing yourself to push because pushing will almost always result in your customer pressing back.

I describe the Don’t Push idea in this short video. Use this video to teach your employees not to push.

3. Give Any Bad News Directly

One of the biggest reasons customers escalate is because you’ve told them something they don’t want to hear. You’ve given them bad news. When you have to give your customer lousy news, it’s best that you are direct. Directness sets you up as confident and knowledgeable, and this helps customers to accept your word as the final word. You need to be courteous and regretful in your approach, but you do need to be direct.

Make it easy for your customers to accept the lousy news by being direct, empathetic, and by offering any next steps. For my furniture protection plan client, I developed these responses for giving bad news directly:

“It is our company policy that we cannot process a claim that involves damage that is the result of normal wear and tear over time, rather than a single incident. We have a responsibility to the company to uphold the integrity of your warranty. When furniture performs as expected and is not the result of a single incident, we cannot take responsibility and accordingly cannot process a claim.”

“Although you might not agree with the company’s decision, I’d like to explain it so that you understand why the claim was denied.”

“I can appreciate how frustrating this must be for you. We cannot cover this damage because it is beyond the scope of your warranty. Your warranty covers such things as _____, ____ and ____. It does not cover ______.”

Make sure you reflect your brand promise in your words and approach with customers. Don’t inadvertently push your customers with a bad attitude. And finally, give bad news directly and with confidence. When you do these three things, I think you’ll find that you are pre-empting escalations and feeling far more in control of conversations with challenging customers.

Myra Golden’s engaging training with your employees focuses on the soft elements of service – the sound, flow, and feel, so that your employees go back to work fully prepared and inspired to express the soul of your brand, and assured in their ability to handle challenging customers. See how we do it.