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:

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Make Sure Your Language Doesn’t Invite Escalation

Women with headsets working at a call center

I blocked off yesterday afternoon to listen to a random sample of recorded phone calls between customer service representatives and customers (patients and providers) for my client. I’m preparing to deliver a full-day De-escalation workshop to this group in a couple of weeks.

One of the things I noticed is that some of the employees have a tendency to use language that opens the door for escalations. It’s unintentional. I’m sure of that. The employees are overwhelmed, if not stressed. Their customers can be difficult. In an effort to try to control conversations, provoking language is sometimes used. I’m hearing things like: Continue reading “Make Sure Your Language Doesn’t Invite Escalation”

3 De-escalation Strategies for Angry Customers

My daughter and I were driving home from church Sunday afternoon. We were in the left hand turn lane behind another car. We had the green arrow, yet the car in front of me hadn’t started to accelerate. The driver behind me laid on the horn something terrible. I actually turned around to look at her. She let up for a second and then honked again. “Ridiculous,” I said to my daughter. In the rearview mirror I saw the lady was giving me the middle finger, all because she assumed I was the holdup at the light.

About the time I got flipped off, the driver in front of me turned left and I followed. The honking profane driver quickly accelerated and then drove side -by-side me. What? Then she literally drove into my lane, nearly hitting me!

I found myself getting heated and frankly, I wanted to cuss. But my daughter was in the car and I had to ensure her safety, as well as my own. So, I had to de-escalate the situation. In my peripheral I could see the lady gesturing at me still. I avoided eye contact, didn’t return the bird gesture and I didn’t even utter words that the driver wouldn’t hear anyway. I slowed down just a bit so that she had to pass me. And then, it was over.

My mistake in this situation was physically turning around and looking at the driver. That enticed the driver to continue and become more aggressive. Fortunately, I’m skilled in de-escalation because I teach de-escalation in my Verbal Aikido training sessions. The moment I realized my error, I moved into de-escalation. My de-escalation tactic in this situation was to avoid eye contact, so not to appear threatening or aggressive, and to choose silence as opposed to profanity. I let it go and the out of control driver was defused, or at least, the situation for me and my daughter was calm.

De-escalation is a strategic tool that your employees can use when they find themselves in a ridiculous situation with an agitated, angry or out of control customer. Not unlike what I experienced in traffic 2 days ago.

Examples of de-escalation include:

Continue reading “3 De-escalation Strategies for Angry Customers”