4 Things Your Agents Can Do To Preempt an Escalation

Your escalations have gotten out of hand. Agents are frustrated and are sometimes happy to give calls over to supervisors. Customers feel that the only way to get the answers they seek is to speak to a supervisor. Meanwhile, supervisors are frustrated, backlogged and overwhelmed because all they do is handle escalated calls.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I know it does. Well, I have help for you.

Customers escalate to supervisors for 4 reasons:

  • They think they’ll get help faster/better if they speak with a supervisor.
  • The customer does not feel the agent is knowledgeable or capable of helping them.
  • Customers feel the agent isn’t listening or doesn’t understand the problem.
  • Agents lack the confidence to assertively control the call by being direct.

If the goal is to reduce escalations, and certainly it is, we have to position agents as confident, attentive listeners who are knowledgeable and capable of serving customers. In this article I have 4 ways your agents can do just that.

1. Reflect the Brand Promise

I was working with a client recently where agents are put in the position to have to occasionally deny claims. Customers don’t want to hear that their claim shall be rejected and denials are one of the key reasons calls escalate in this call center. I encouraged the agents in a recent training session to start the denial discussion off by explaining what the protection plan does cover and to convey to the customer just how valuable their security plan is.

Instructing the agents to start off by discussing what the plan does cover and reiterating the plan value ensures agents reflect the brand promise. In order to de-escalate calls, agents have to establish trust with the customer. Reflecting the brand promise helps agents build trust.

2. Don’t Push

Last week at a Leadership Retreat I asked all participants to choose a partner. I had one person be Partner A and one was designated as Partner B. I instructed partner A to push their palm against the palm of partner B. I did not give partner B instruction to push their palm.

After a few seconds, I asked, “How many of you who were Partner B pushed against Partner A’s palm?” Nearly 100% of the people who had the role of Partner B said they “pushed against Partner B.” Then I said, “I asked A to push, not B. Why did you push?” The unanimous answer was, “Because A Pushed.”

Here’s the thing. When we are pushed, the natural response is to push back. As customer service professionals, we have to make sure we don’t push in any way, because if we do, customers will push back. Customers often push back by escalating to a supervisor. That, or they yell, cuss, etc.

How might you be perceived as pushing?

  • Saying “There’s nothing else I can do for you.” This builds resistance, and the customer feels they have to push to speak to anyone who can help them.
  • Speaking with a tone that comes across as defensive, irritated or unhelpful is a push for customers. They’ll push right around you to talk to someone they think will be more helpful and pleasant to deal with.
  • A statement like “Look, a supervisor will just tell you the same thing.” This sounds defensive and it is another form of pushing. Not only that, but you’ve planted the seed in the customer’s mind that a supervisor is standing by. The customer will often push back and just request to speak to a supervisor because the agent has mentioned the word “supervisor.”

3. Be Regretful and Direct

People respect confident people. If a customer respects an agent, the agent is perceived as believable and credible and the call is less likely to escalate. When you have to refuse a customer’s request, do so confidently. Denying a request directly and with an expression of regret helps you come across as both confident and credible.

Don’t waste time or words, get right to the point, and yet be gentle in your communication. Here’s how I encouraged my client to deny claims directly and with regret:

“I know this is upsetting for you. [pause] I wish there was something we could do. We have to honor the terms of your protection plan. There’s simply no way around this.”

4. Demonstrate That You Are Listening

When customers feel misunderstood or that the agent is simply not listening, they will nearly always attempt to escalate. Be careful not to cut the customer off mid-sentence to tell them what you can’t do or to ask questions. Interrupting customers shows you are not listening. Customers need to be heard and to feel understood. Allow customers to explain their situation to you. When it’s your turn to speak, demonstrate that you are listening.

Here’s an example of not demonstrating that you are listening.

Customer: “I sent in documentation and evidence to prove my case in the dispute, but then today I got a letter in the mail saying you are moving forward with the charge in favor of the merchant!”

Employee: “What’s the claim number associated with this charge on your debit card?”

In this example the employee fails to acknowledge the customer’s emotion, gives no evidence that she’s listening and she jumps right to questioning. The statement is rote and robotic. This pattern of response makes it very difficult for the agent to establish rapport, build trust and to control the call. If customers don’t feel a sense of rapport and confidence with agents, they are more likely to escalate. Listening helps agents create rapport and trust.

Here’s a perfect example of demonstrating that you are listening.

Customer: “I sent in documentation and evidence to prove my case in the dispute, but then today I got a letter in the mail saying you are moving forward with the charge in favor of the merchant!”

Employee: “I realize that must be frustrating for you. Let me take a look to see what’s going on here. Do you happen to know the claim number associated with this charge?”

Here the agent uses a statement to acknowledge the customer’s frustration. It’s quick and straightforward. This acknowledgment allows the agent to begin establishing rapport and it positions the agent as confident and empowered. The customer is more likely to trust the agent and in turn, the agent will have much more control over the call, reducing the risk of escalation.

The Bottom Line

Position your agents to reflect your brand promise, ensure they don’t inadvertently push customers, coach them to speak directly and with regret and get them on their A-Game when it comes to listening. When you do, you will find that they are preempting escalations and your supervisors will love you for this.

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.

What Aikido Masters Know About Handling Difficult People That You Don’t

Aikido woman


I’m sitting at my desk reading feedback from my recent Verbal Aikido workshop. The workshop was: “What Aikido Master Know About Handling Difficult People That You Don’t” As you know, much of what I teach is focused on how to most effectively deal with difficult customers. So, for this special online training event I taught my clients how to deal with extremely difficult customers. I call these customers collectively The Consumer Vigilante. Here’s what one participant had to say about the training:

“We have seen versions of this before but I like that you are updating and refreshing these webinars. Sometimes seeing them refreshed or in a different format or something, it may help things click with some of the reps. I think with the climate we are in and more customers being stressed out than ever, we are having more and more challenging customers and our reps need the ammunition to help them and help themselves otherwise it makes the job so much harder. I can’t wait to get the recording of this to make this one a required webinar where we will sit down and talk about it afterwards as a team.”

Deb Riley, Former Consumer Affairs Supervisor, Ahold USA

In the training I explained that today’s consumers are impatient, savvy and relentless. Some customers, the consumer vigilantes, will stop at nothing. I walked my audience through the toll difficult customs are taking on employees and organizations:

  1. Extremely difficult customers are putting serious stress on employees. This stress is bringing down morale and inviting burnout.
  2. Difficult customers cost companies money! The time it takes to deal with unhappy and extremely difficult customers is taking time away from your best customers and resulting in a poor customer experience because staff can’t deliver the best service to the best customers.

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Screen shot from my Verbal Aikido rehearsal

I shared thoughts, stories, perspectives and research to inspire my audience to take a more focused approach toward handling difficult customers. And then I presented a powerful solution to handling difficult customers, the consumer vigilantes of the world: What Aikido Masters Know About Handing Difficult People That You Don’t 5 Aikido Principles for Creating Calm, Defusing Anger and Moving to Closure with Difficult Customers.

If you missed the big event, you can still purchase the training video. Your training includes: Unlimited viewing within your organization with no expiration Rights to download and save webinar video Rights to incorporate webinar within your Learning Management System (LMS) What Aikido Masters Know About Handing Difficult People That You Don’t 60-minute video on-demand video training $299 per organization Purchase

The Secret to Handling Difficult Customers

Myra Golden BW-2

I’m about to reveal a hidden way for you to literally
convert “nightmare” customers into an almost endless source
of loyalty, goodwill and profits.

Simply put, you can use these insider secrets to instantly
turn angry customers into raving fans for you and your
company – without giving away the farm.

Amazing but true … and the best part is virtually nobody
knows about these techniques!

What I’m talking about is my “Stop Screaming At Me” online video training.

Check it out here.

What response would you use in the event a customer starts yelling and cursing at you?

Yesterday I delivered my “Becoming a Customer Service Rockstar” presentation to a wonderful long-time client, the International Contact Center Association (ICCA). During the Q & A segment, an attendee asked,

“What response would you use in the event a customer/client starts yelling and cursing at you?”

That was such a great question that I thought I’d share my response with you.

You don’t have to get frustrated dealing with demanding, irate, or unreasonable customers and you don’t have to put up with verbal abuse and threats from customers. You just need the right tactics, assertiveness, and the right attitude. Here’s how I responded to my attendee’s question yesterday.

Draw the line on yelling and profanity with phrases such as:

▪ “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 to help 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 me back.”

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

Note: Your tone is critically important to the above statements. You must come across calm, neutral, and non-threatening.

These phrases let customers know that you will not tolerate verbal abuse. They give customers the option of “shaping up” or ending the interaction.

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26 little ideas to help you be nicer to unhappy or complaining customers

Portrait of a smiling business woman with an afro in bright glass office

Here are 26 ideas you can print off and share with your customer service employees. Or, you could share these ideas in a quick 3-minute training.

 

The ABC’s of Customer Recovery

Act as if every lost customer’s value to the company comes out of your paycheck.

Believe the best of customers. Don’t make the mistake of assuming most customers are out to simply get something for nothing. The truth is, less than 1% of customers contact companies with ulterior motives in mind.

C ommunicate with diplomacy and tact when you final answer is “no” and when explaining company policy.

D on’t tell a customer she is wrong. Telling a customer they are wrong never makes them want to agree with you. It only pushes them more forcefully into their original position.

E mpathize with unhappy customers and allow this empathy to season your responses.

F ind a way to say “yes” to customers. Instead of saying “no” or telling the customer what you can’t do, think critically about what you actually can do.

G ive a token item such a coupon as a concrete form of apology.

H ave a sense of urgency. Demonstrate with your words and speed of response that getting to the bottom of the problem is just as important to you as it is to your customer.

I nvolve customers in the problem resolution process. Sometimes it’s very helpful to simply ask, “How do you see us resolving this?”

Jot down the customer’s name and details of the problem they are describing so you don’t have to ask the customer to repeat information.

K eep customers apprised of your timetable and progress toward resolving their problems.

L isten with the intent to truly understand your customer, not with the intent to interrupt, reply, or correct.

M onitor your voice and attitude to make sure you sound  friendly, helpful and willing.

N egotiate resolutions that balance both the interests of your company and your customer.

Open the door with unhappy customers with open- ended questions. Make your questions demonstrate a sincere interest in better understanding the customer’s problem or experience.

P ut yourself in the customer’s shoes. How would you feel if the exact same problem happened to you?

Q uickly apologize. Apologize both when the company is at fault and even when the customer is responsible for the error. An apology goes a long way in creating calm, diffusing anger and regaining goodwill.

R ecognize that the issue is not the issue. The way the issue is handled becomes the real issue.

S ay “no” diplomatically and without causing resentment. The best way to do this is to start out by telling the customer what you can do.

T hank customers for their feedback.

U p-Service your customers by suggesting products or services that enhance the value of their current purchase.

View the customer as the reason for your work- –not as an interruption to your work.

W OW customers.

EX amine the root cause of problems and work to eliminate problems at the root.

Y ou are the company to each customer. Never underestimate your power to influence the customer’s future buying decisions.

Zero in on the customer’s needs and wants.

 

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches and phrases to help your employees help your customers.