The Reason Your Employees Can’t De-escalate

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Everybody thinks to train employees on the company’s applications and products and to give them basic phone skills. But very few people in customer service actually get the training they need to get an angry customer to back down, politely control conversations with ramblers and skillfully handle the customer who demands to speak with a supervisor. I want to talk to you about why your employees can’t seem to de-escalate intense interactions.

Three Reasons Your Employees Can’t De-escalate

1. If You Push a Customer, They’ll Push Back

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

Customer service employees tend to push in these ways:

Arguing with a customer
Telling a customer, they’re wrong
An unwilling or unhelpful attitude
Saying something like, “There’s nothing I can do for you.”

Employees must make sure not to intentionally push a customer, because if they do, many customers will push back, and this makes the interaction much harder.

I explain the principle of “don’t push” in this video clip.

2. Delivering a Hard ‘No’

If saying, “There’s nothing we can do” is a PUSH, a hard ‘no’ is slamming the door in the customer’s face.

In my De-escalation workshops, I show a clip from Jack Nicholson’s Five Easy Pieces. In the scene, Nicholson’s character is trying to get a side of toast.

Jack can’t even finish his question before the waitress says, “No substitutions.” Her ‘no’ put the customer on the defensive, and the situation immediately escalated. The inflexible ‘no’ started the cycle of escalation, which I talk about in my workshops and eLearning. The cycle of escalation is:

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

The employee’s initial contact was negative and final. The customer responded with intensity, and then the employee became defensive and difficult. This led to an all-out explosive situation, as you can see in the clip.

3. If You Insist, They’ll Take You Up

In the Five Easy Pieces clip, the waitress, frustrated with Nicholson, barked, “Would you like to speak to the manager?” Employees do the same thing, a lot. Employees pretty much invite escalation when they say things like:

“Only a manager can override this.” Well, then, just get me a manager, because an override is precisely what I want.

“This is all I can do.” Translate: Someone over me can do more for you.

“Maybe a supervisor can take a look at this…” By all means, let’s get your supervisor on the line.

Coach your employees to not suggest outside intervention from a manager, because most customers would just prefer to talk to someone with authority to fix the issue.

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