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How to De-Escalate a Challenging Caller

angry signEscalations. Love them or hate them, they are a part of everyday contact center life. Often when things aren’t going the way we imagine they should as a customer or consumer, our responses can mirror our feelings and we can potentially react without thinking; we are only human, after all. I can think of a time or two that my interaction with an over-the-phone representative didn’t go as well as it could have because I wanted to be heard and I felt as if my concerns were being dismissed.

As I was pondering the direction I wanted to take with this short guide to deescalation, the initial lyrics to the song, Believer, by Imagine Dragons popped into my mind.

“First things first, I’ma say all the words inside my head,

I’m fired up and tired of the way that things have been…”

It felt as though I was listening to a caller who appeared to have a grievance that they wanted escalated. It was a reminder to put myself in the shoes of our customers. We all just want to make sure we feel heard.

A few contact center associates in my organization had the opportunity to help fill the role of de-escalation expert on the team for approximately three months. Recently, I sat down with two of them to ask about their top escalated scenarios, and to my surprise, they each shared two different situations.

Let’s take a look at two types of calls that can go very wrong very quickly, and what to do about them. These deescalation scenarios can be broken down into two sections: associate-inspired escalations and dissatisfied caller escalations.

Associate-Inspired Escalations

These types of escalations are interesting because they can be prevented almost entirely if an associate takes the time to get an unassuming feel for what the caller is experiencing and then work to establish a genuine connection. This escalation is not specific to phone interactions; they can happen over the phone, through live chat, at an Interactive Teller Machine, and even in person. Now, what are some of the potential causes?

The caller doesn’t feel that the employee provided an adequate explanation.

To improve this experience, the associate must strive to appear more confident during their interaction. This can be best accomplished by using stronger, affirmative language and providing empathetic responses to the caller. It’s as important to be honest about what you, the associate, don’t know, as it is to assure the caller you’re going to find a solution.

The caller doesn’t feel heard by the associate.

According to my teammate, the best way to improve this kind of experience and keep it from escalating is for the associate to affirm the caller’s concern before providing solutions. Giving the customer an opportunity to share concerns is an important first step in making sure they feel heard and are ready to learn about the solutions and options available to them. By reusing the language the caller uses (except not in the same strong tone they may have used), responding with emotional intelligence, and validating their feelings, the associate can connect with the caller. Sometimes it’s even essential to step away from the official “professional call center language” and simply be one human talking with another human.

Dissatisfied Caller Escalations

Sometimes we are not going to be able to make a human connection with a caller at the beginning of the call, and that is okay. It doesn’t mean that we have permission to treat a caller disrespectfully or dismiss their feelings, but it does mean that we may have to work a little harder to make a meaningful connection.

The caller isn’t remaining calm or willing to listen.

To help establish a foundation of professionalism, the associate must be willing to stay calm and listen to the caller. To do this successfully, the associate should take a moment to breathe. It is okay to wait to speak until a moment arrives to steer the conversation toward seeking a solution and identifying or understanding the root cause of why the customer is calling.

The caller has been bounced around to multiple associates.

To avoid further escalation, the associate must recognize that what we’ve asked our caller to do is to tell a financially and emotionally stressful story over and over. As a way of regaining the caller’s trust, use confident, reassuring language and take ownership of both solving the problem and following up with the caller. Remember that the caller may not always be privy to our jargon, so it’s important to use generic terms when explaining the solution.

At the end of the day, we’re not perfect. The welcome we give to callers may not best reflect our ability, but that’s where listening with the intent to understand, being willing to learn from our mistakes (even in the midst of a call), and authentically connecting with callers comes in to aid our success. Additionally, this approach is relevant for so much more than the contact center world. Validating the feelings of others and hearing them out is so important in building trust and having a strong relationship, whether you’re interacting with customers, managing a team, or even parenting your own children.

Topics: Best Practices, Customer Experience, Coaching And Quality Management