3 Proven De-Escalation Techniques for Customer Service

What do you do when you just can’t anymore?

It is not easy to de-escalate a conversation with a client, especially as a customer service rep. The last thing you want us to say is that it’s easy. Sometimes you just want to throw your computer out the window and walk out. But you don’t.

We’re here to tell you the best tried and tested techniques for de-escalations in customer service. We reviewed our training materials, scoured the internet for the best info, and listened in on a few escalated calls to see what works and what doesn’t.

Lastly, we did away with all those overly-general pieces of advice like “be kind.” If only it were that easy! Everyone wants to be kind, internet, that’s a non-solution. The REAL solution is:


1. Maintain a Commanding Composure


When it gets tough, remember you are the one in control. Do not, for any second, think the customer has the upper hand. Even if the situation you’re presented with says the customer is right, that doesn’t have to put you at a disadvantage over them.

Take advantage of it and empathize! Genuine human connection is a good way to command a situation and de-escalate it.

Step 1. Don’t patronize them

Take notice of their concerns and relate to them. It’s not always easy to put yourself in their situation, but you always have to try. While you do this, say comforting things that tend to be seen as genuine: “oh gosh”, “that sounds horrible”, “I can totally understand why you decided to call”, “you’re right to want to get in touch with management.”

There are loads of things you can say along the same lines. Make your own list with what feels natural to you and use it!

Step 2. Interact in a human way

Next up is possibly the hardest part and probably the one that gets skipped the most. Try as much as possible to be human.

Now, a lot of you think being human means giving in to the customer’s requests. However, I find the most powerful way of expressing human connection is relating to real-world events.

Is it Christmas and they have an order that’s not going to make it on time? Say “oh no, right on Christmas! I’m so sorry. Really not a good time for this to happen.”

These statements don’t do anything to solve the actual problem, but it will help de-escalate any situation and enable a calm conversation about solving the problem.

Other things you can relate to: all of the holidays, regional holidays or celebrations (see where they’re calling from), birthdays or anniversaries, personal life events (careful here!) . Try to leverage any piece of information you have to your advantage.

Step 3. Offer something for free as quickly as you can

You might already know this, but customers get bored so easily. Even when you’re only trying to be nice or use one of the tips above and then, all of a sudden, they’re talking over you.

Stop. Refocus. Make a simple offer.

Depending on what you’re doing customer service for, you may have a range of free things you can offer to de-escalate a situation. I’ve personally been on the other end of this technique and I’ve always felt a tiny bit special when being offered something for free. Even if it’s really small and more of a gesture – it shows you care!

And don’t assume people don’t know you’re doing that to calm them down. That’s patronizing – they know very well what you’re trying to do, but they’ll still accept it most times because hey – free stuff!

If you’re in a position where you can give them free sweets, do it! It’s an inexpensive de-escalation technique with a very high success rate.

woman working in call center

2. Try to Present the Situation from Your Point of View


A lot of customer service representatives underestimate their customers. Just because someone is complaining (often very loudly), it doesn’t mean they’re not capable of understanding the situation you’re in – that’s the first step to bad customer service.

Oftentimes, presenting your point of view will be the only de-escalation technique that works for a specific customer.

Step 1. Present your situation regarding their call

First off, the customer needs to understand why you’re there. It might be that they’re trying to reach a supervisor or even the president of the company. No matter what you try, they won’t accept anything less than a chat with the big boss.

At that point, the best thing you can do is tell them you have the authority to handle their call and offer a solution to their problem. Ask the customer to let you do your job. If they’re using bad language, tell them it’s impossible for you to satisfy their request unless they refrain from using those words.

Do not, under any circumstances, ask a customer to calm down directly. There are many other, more polite ways to say the same thing.

Step 2. Then ask what they’d want so you can sort this out

This is a high point in the conversation – making clear that you’re there to solve it, not just to calm them down.

Lots of contact centers only give customer support limited authority to solve problems, so plenty of customers think they’re better off skipping you and going directly to your manager or CEO.

By asking what they want and trying to offer them a solution, you prove yourself useful in their specific situation.

employees in call center

3. Remember They’re Customers, Even If They’re Wrong


This part is tricky because customers are often wrong.

Maybe someone’s calling on January 7th because they didn’t get a discount offer that ran for Christmas. Obviously, you can’t give them the Christmas offer. What do you do in this situation?

Step 1. If they ask for something outrageous, come with a counteroffer

Reiterate the request to the customer, make sure they understand they’re requesting something that doesn’t make sense, but don’t say it outright. Make them understand on their own that their request is outrageous.

Once you come back to the facts, the customer may back down in their request. At that point, the de-escalation may already be successful. If not, you can probably solve it by offering something less than their initial request.

Step 2. Make it sound like you’re doing them a favor

An extra step you can take in order to make customers feel special is to present the de-escalation solution as a favor. Instead of “I’m authorized to do this for you”, try “well since you’ve been with us for a while, I can certainly make an exception for you this time.”

Be very subtle in your approach and remember today’s exceptions become tomorrow’s expectations.

The Best De-escalation Technique Is What Feels Right to You

You could try all these methods on their own OR go for a mix-and-match approach to this article. Whichever way you pick, probably the most important part you need to remember is that everyone has their own approach.

You don’t need me to tell you soft skills come naturally. Some people just have what it takes. But that does not mean you can’t learn. Get your head in the game and try out one of the tips and tricks above.

And let us know what works for you!

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