8 De-Escalation Techniques For Customer Service Reps

Learn to handle unhappy customers effectively.

Zight | May 21, 2021 | 8 min read time

Article Last Updated: May 26, 2024

8 De-Escalation Techniques For Customer Service Reps

Did you know that poor customer support costs American businesses $62 billion a year

That’s a lot of green flying out the window! Fortunately, there’s a way to minimize these losses for your company: learn de-escalation techniques for customer service.

Once you and your team know how to handle frustrated customers in a positive way, you’ll be able to increase their loyalty to your brand.

In this article, we’ll look at the three main types of unsatisfied customers you’ll engage with. Then we’ll share seven de-escalation techniques you can use to successfully diffuse tense situations between you and your company’s patrons.

Types of Unsatisfied Customers

Alt Text: De-escalation techniques improve customer service.

Before you learn how to handle frustrated customers, you need to understand the different ways people express their ire. Every person is different, of course. But there are three main types of unsatisfied customers you should be aware of:

The Angry Bird

People in this category are enraged by their current problem. Because of this, they’ll often yell, swear, and threaten to return the product / drop the service your company provides.

Unfortunately, the Angry Bird is common, though this doesn’t make them any easier to deal with. As a customer support rep, you’ll need to tread lightly and make sure you have a solid hold on your emotions when engaging with this type of customer.

The High Achiever

People in this category want one thing: results. They usually don’t care how those results are achieved; they just need to know that you and the rest of your support team are going to do everything in your power to remedy the situation for them.

When dealing with High Achievers, try not to make excuses—they don’t want to hear them. Instead, do what you have to do to solve their problems.

The Chatty Cathy

People in this category don’t just have a problem, they need to talk about it.

When you come into contact with this customer type, prepare yourself for a lot of repetition. The Chatty Cathy tends to repeat their words to ensure you really understand what their problem is. They’ll probably take time to vent about their woes, too.

The best thing you can do for customers in this category is be patient and listen. Especially if your Chatty Cathy has a bit of Angry Bird in them, too, and isn’t happy about their situation.

How to De-Escalate Difficult Customers

Alt Text: Boost your business with de-escalation techniques for customer service.

So how do you handle frustrated customers in a positive way that puts your company in a positive light? Here are seven de-escalation techniques to help you:

1. Keep Your Cool

It’s really hard to remain calm when a customer is screaming at you from the other end of the telephone. You’ll probably be tempted to yell back, transfer the call to someone else, or just hang up. After all, they’re being incredibly rude; didn’t they kind of ask for it?

These natural impulses, while understandable, will only make the problem worse. Instead, take a few deep breaths and do your best to keep your cool at all times.

Remember, the customer you’re talking to isn’t angry at you. They’re angry at the company you represent and the situation they currently find themselves in. So try not to take their behavior personally. Remain calm and look for solutions.

Note: if the customer you’re talking to has completely lost control, begins verbally attacking you, attempts to start a physical altercation, etc. talk to your supervisor ASAP. The customer might “always be right” but that doesn’t mean they can treat you like garbage.

2. Understand the Problem

Fortunately, one of the best de-escalation techniques available to you is simple: listen.

Unhappy customers, no matter what category they fall into, have a lot to say. They need time to vent. They want to make sure you truly understand their problem. And they definitely want to feel like your company cares about the issues they face.

So give them time to say whatever it is they need to say.

When they’re finished, repeat back the main points they shared with you. Say things like, “I’m hearing you say…” or “It sounds like your problem is…” Sentences like this do two things: they help customers feel heard, and they ensure you understand their problem.

Don’t be afraid to show empathy as well. Tell callers that you understand why they’re frustrated and assure them that you’ll do whatever you can to remedy their issues.

3. Take Ownership of the Issue

Next, take ownership of the issue at hand. Apologize for any inconvenience the customer has experienced due to company negligence or oversight.

A sincere apology is a proven de-escalation technique for customer service reps—even if you’re not the person who actually made the mistake. By apologizing on your company’s behalf, you show customers that your organization cares and wants to fix things.

4. Offer Realistic Solutions

At this point, you’ve taken the time to understand what your customer is going through. You’ve also accepted ownership of the problem and apologized, which hopefully helped calm them down. Now it’s time to offer realistic solutions and remedy issues.

Be crystal clear on what you can and can’t do for them.

For example, say, “In situations like this, the issue is usually X. Let’s try Y and see if that fixes the problem.” Or, “Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to solve this problem. But I’ll put in a request right now and you’ll hear back from someone on our team within X hours.”

Just remember, it’s never wise to make promises you can’t keep. Don’t tell a customer you can solve their problem if you can’t. This will only make them more angry.

Pro Tip: Don’t just tell customers how to solve their problem, show them. You can do this by recording a quick video of your computer screen (or yourself via your computer’s webcam) to illustrate processes. Sometimes an annotated screenshot works well, too.

By going above and beyond in this way, you’ll ensure your customers are well taken care of. You may even increase their loyalty because you handled their problem so well.

5. Do NOT Put the Customer on Hold

Think back to the last time you called a customer support line. What was the most frustrating part? If you’re like most people, the answer is being put on hold.

One of the worst things you can do when an angry customer calls is put them on hold or transfer them to another department where they have to re-explain their problem. If at all possible, resist these two scenarios.

Note: sometimes the hold or transfer buttons are unavoidable. If this is the case, tell customers why they’re on hold and how you’re going to solve their problem while they wait. If you have to transfer them to another representative, take detailed notes so that your colleague knows exactly what’s going on when they talk to this customer.

6. Mend Fences With an Offer

Hopefully, the de-escalation techniques above help you keep customers calm and solve their problems in a productive manner. But before you send folks on their way, we suggest offering them an incentive of some kind to mend fences.

A recent study found that 73% of customers are satisfied with customer service teams when an incentive such as monetary relief is offered. This is a huge jump from the 23% of customers who are satisfied when support calls end with an apology alone.

What can you do to keep customers happy? Discounts of future products or services, partial refunds, upgraded accounts… All of these things make for satisfied, loyal customers.

7. Follow Up at a Later Date

Last but not least, make sure you follow up with customers after your call with them. The easiest way to do this is to send an automated email asking how their experience was.

But if you really want to take this de-escalation technique to the next level, have someone on your support team call the customer a few days after your talk with them to make sure their issues were resolved and they haven’t run into additional problems.

Following up shows them that your company actually cares about its customers. This often leads to greater customer loyalty and higher sales numbers. In fact, 84% of companies that prioritize customer experience report a boost in revenue.

Bonus Tips!

  1. Practice Active Listening: Give your undivided attention to the customer, acknowledging their concerns with nods and verbal affirmations. This shows that you value what they’re saying and are fully engaged in finding a solution.
  2. Empower Your Team: Equip your support team with the authority and resources to resolve issues promptly. Empowered employees feel more confident in handling difficult situations and can often prevent escalations before they occur.
  3. Stay Solution-Focused: While it’s essential to empathize with the customer, always steer the conversation towards finding a resolution. Offer alternatives and workarounds if a direct solution isn’t immediately available.
  4. Know When to Escalate: Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may encounter a situation beyond your control. Recognize when it’s appropriate to escalate the issue to a higher authority within your organization for further assistance.
  5. Provide Timely Responses: Aim to respond to customer queries and complaints promptly. Even if you can’t resolve the issue immediately, acknowledging their message shows that you’re attentive and committed to helping them.
  6. Personalize the Experience: Address customers by name and reference previous interactions or purchase history whenever possible. This personal touch demonstrates that you value their individual patronage and are invested in their satisfaction.
  7. Offer Self-Service Options: Empower customers to find solutions independently by providing comprehensive FAQs, troubleshooting guides, and online resources. This not only enhances their experience but also reduces the burden on your support team.
  8. Seek Feedback: Encourage customers to provide feedback on their support experience, whether positive or negative. Use this valuable insight to identify areas for improvement and refine your customer service strategies accordingly.
  9. Invest in Training: Regularly train and upskill your support team on effective communication techniques, conflict resolution, and product knowledge. Well-trained employees are better equipped to handle challenging situations with professionalism and confidence.
  10. Celebrate Successes: Recognize and celebrate instances where your team successfully de-escalated a difficult situation or went above and beyond to assist a customer. Positive reinforcement reinforces desirable behaviors and fosters a culture of excellence within your organization.
  11. Monitor Customer Sentiment: Utilize feedback surveys, social media monitoring, and customer satisfaction metrics to gauge overall sentiment and identify recurring issues. Proactively addressing underlying concerns can prevent future escalations and enhance overall customer satisfaction.

Integrating these additional tips into your customer service strategy can further enhance your ability to de-escalate tense situations and foster positive relationships with your customers.

Keep Customer Issues Under Control

Every company has to deal with unsatisfied customers from time to time. The trick to handling these scenarios successfully is using the de-escalation techniques for customer service that we outlined in this article. Doing so will help you boost customer loyalty.

As it turns out, the seven de-escalation techniques above aren’t the only way to improve your company. You can also invest in a customer support tool like Zight (formerly CloudApp).

Zight (formerly CloudApp) is a visual communication app that brings screen and webcam recording, GIF creation, and annotated screenshot features to the cloud. Use our tool to communicate with customers clearly, quickly, and productively. Try Zight (formerly CloudApp) today for free!

Create & share screenshots, screen recordings, and GIFs with Zight