How To De-Escalate a Customer Complaint Call in 3 Simple Steps

If you’re like me, de-escalating a customer service call is the closest you ever want to get to being an FBI hostage negotiator. The stakes are lower, but the sense of accomplishment when everyone (except I guess the hostage taker) gets to go home happy is the same. 

Even more importantly though, being able to successfully de-escalate calls with angry customers is essential to keeping your business profitable. 

How essential? U.S. companies lose roughly $41 billion each year due to poor customer service. Because people don’t just keep their negative experiences to themselves. They tell their friends, family, coworkers, anyone on the internet who checks reviews (which in 2019 was 97% of people). 

De-escalating every customer support call sounds like a tall order, because it is. However, it’s not impossible given the right planning and know-how. 

We sat down with our own award-winning customer service gurus and put together these simple steps to help you de-escalate even the most harrowing conversations. 

STEP 1: LET THEM TALK IT OUT WITH THEMSELVES 

You usually know right away when a call is going to need de-escalating. Sometimes before you’ve even had the chance to introduce yourself, the customer will pop off and start telling you all about their problem. 

That’s perfectly alright. Don’t take their tone personally. Definitely don’t ask them to calm down. Just let them talk (or shout) themselves out while giving verbal indications you’re listening and taking them seriously. 

Then, when you finally have a good handle on both their problem and why they’re so upset about it, repeat the main points back to them in your own words to confirm you have it all straight. This reiteration ensures your ticket notes are correct, but it also helps the customer feel like they’re finally on the path to a resolution. 

Remember, you aren’t trying to solve their problem quite yet. You’re just helping the customer calm down from their initial anger by providing validation. 

STEP 2: APOLOGIZE, EVEN IF IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT 

There’s a strange myth I’ve seen floating around various customer support teams… Like an Elf on the Shelf positioned to keep kids from taking too many cookies… 

Which myth am I referring to? The myth that you shouldn’t apologize to customers because an apology accepts blame for their predicament. 

Sorry for the language I’m about to use, but that’s a big load of hooey. 

A sincere apology goes farther than most people realize towards calming down an angry customer. They’re looking for someone to blame, someone to take on the responsibility of making things right. As a customer service agent, that “someone” is you! 

So really, it doesn’t matter whether the problem is your fault,  someone else’s fault, or if it’s even real. You’re the person who is going to fix it. 

Say sorry for all the trouble they’ve been through. 

Sorry for how much it’s disrupted their day. 

Sorry for how long they had to wait on hold before speaking with you. 

Heck, say sorry for anything else in their life that’s been bothering them. 

Give your customers the easy win of hearing someone else apologize so you can keep moving towards the real work of actually solving their problem. 

STEP 3: OFFER A TANGIBLE BENEFIT FOR THEIR TROUBLE 

The active listening validation and heartfelt apologizing we covered in Steps 1 & 2 are important. However, if there’s one thing every angry customer wants from their call with you, it’s stuff.

In fact, studies have shown that only 23% of customers are satisfied when their call to a support team ends without anything other than an apology. 

On the other hand, a whopping 73% of customers who receive some kind of compensation hang up the phone satisfied and smiling. Clearly, most calls with angry customers have already escalated past the point of simply fixing the problem, and now they believe they’re entitled to something extra for their troubles. 

Now, before you roll your eyes and claim every customer is just fishing for handouts, put yourself in their shoes. 

They’re frustrated. 

They probably tried and failed to solve this issue themselves so now they have to waste time calling you. 

They probably need a snack. 

If you were in that situation, wouldn’t you want something extra to make all the trouble feel worth it in the end? Depending on the size of your company, you may have a range of goodies you’re allowed to offer in de-escalation situations. Don’t be afraid to give those out whenever you think it will help.

Just as important though is to not make promises you can’t keep. I know, when someone is screaming at you it’s tempting to guarantee everything they want and more just to get them off the phone. But in the long run, that will do nothing to solve their problem and can irreversibly hurt the reputation of your business.

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EMERGENCY STEP: KNOW WHEN TO BRING IN A MANAGER

You tried your best. You did everything you could to make things right, and it still wasn’t enough. Now the customer is even angrier than before and demanding you cancel their service or give them a full refund. 

Things don’t have to go this way though! One of the most important skills for a support agent to master is knowing when to throw in the towel and bring a manager into the situation. 

Despite your best efforts, some customers may just be utterly unwilling to cooperate. If they repeatedly ask to speak to a manager regardless of how many options you present, it’s perfectly acceptable to transfer them on over. Handling escalations is part of a manager’s job after all. 

It may not be the part of the job they enjoy the most, but it’s still their responsibility nonetheless. 

NOW YOU CAN WORK TOGETHER TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM 

With everyone calm and collected, it’s time to… actually get down to the business of solving the problem they called you about! 

What?” you say out loud to yourself while reading this guide. “After all that, we haven’t even solved the customer’s problem?” 

No, solving the customer’s problem is covered here in our guide to the 10 Tactics for Dealing with Difficult Customers. 

What we’ve done here is successfully de-escalate the situation and get the customer to a calmer, more communicative mindset so we can work with them instead of against their emotions. Trust me, it’s much easier to troubleshoot or look up information without someone angrily breathing in your ear. 

If you have any other questions about how to de-escalate support calls like a pro, give us a call at 303-GO-CLOUD or contact our communications experts at [email protected].

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