Call Center De-Escalation Techniques

Published: August 15, 2023 | Last Updated: September 8, 2023by Jeremy Pollack

Almost everyone has successfully solved a problem by calling a call center, but most people do not truly appreciate the efforts of the call center employees who helped them solve the problem.

When their service isn’t working, it’s an emergency and you had better do something about it this instant, but once you fix it, they just hang up and go on about their business. If you’re lucky, they might say “thank you” before they hang up.

Working at a call center is a much more stressful job than people who have never worked at one realize. Imagine helping one angry person solve a problem that he could have solved by reading the help menu more carefully, and then immediately getting another call from someone who is even more outraged about an even simpler problem.

Why Is De-Escalation Important for Call Center Employees?

The hardest part about working at a call center is not solving customers’ simple problems. It is not solving customers’ complex problems, either. The most challenging part is dealing with customers’ intense emotions. Sometimes you want to scream, “Read the FAQ page, you ignoramus!” Of course, the customer is always right, so you must keep a stiff upper lip and not show your frustration.

Therefore, you must learn to de-escalate the situation so that you can focus on your job and not your anger or someone else’s. Once you start learning about de-escalation, you will realize that it plays an essential role in your job as a customer service representative or technical support staff member at a call center.

Providing Better Customer Service

It is hard to focus on problem-solving when someone is yelling at you. It is even more distracting if they are spewing profanity and personal insults. You may be able to find an easy solution if only the customer would stop ranting and give you a chance to think.

Even if the problem is not simple and you will need a supervisor’s help with it, you could get that help more quickly if the customer would give you a chance to get a word in edgewise.

In other words, de-escalation gives you a chance to focus on the problem and not on the emotions. Even if you are famously drama-proof in your personal life, it is hard not to feel angry or intimidated when customers yell at you nonstop, especially about problems that you had no role in creating.

Saving Your Own Mental Health and Preventing Burnout

When you were a student, you might have taken a personality test at your school’s career counseling center. The career counselor may have told you that you were an introvert or an extrovert and recommended jobs accordingly. An introvert would not enjoy working as a summer camp counselor, and an extrovert would not enjoy working as a proofreader.

Being a customer service representative is the worst of both worlds. You don’t get peace and quiet, but you also don’t get much of a social connection with customers, either, like you would if you worked at a restaurant or retail store.

Oscar Wilde once said, “A bore is someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with company.” Even though there were no call centers in Oscar Wilde’s day, this is also an accurate description of the people who call customer service lines and demand solutions to their problems. Sometimes they are just being irrational. They are stressed out about living paycheck to paycheck, so they call you and give you an earful about how expensive your products are or how “evil” your company is as a whole.

Photo of Call Center Executives

You did not apply for a job at a call center because you are a bore-o-vert. You did it because you need money. It is easy to get burnt out in a job where you get all of the blame and none of the appreciation.

Just walking away from your job is not a practical solution to the stress of working as a call center representative. Instead, you must find a way to stop the customer meltdowns before they start. You know that people are calling you because of issues and complaints that they have about your products and services.

Your goal is to stop the customer meltdowns before they start. This way, your job is a lot less stressful, because you are only dealing with the subject matter of the call, not the customer’s anger and frustration.

Principles of De-Escalation

De-escalation is not the same thing as conflict resolution, although it is often an important part of the process of resolving a conflict.

Among the five modes of conflict resolution, namely accommodating, avoiding, compromising, collaborating, and competing, de-escalation can involve any combination of the modes except for competing.

The purpose of de-escalation is to stop things from getting worse. In some contexts, de-escalation means getting the parties to a dispute to leave each other alone before a physical fight starts. The good news about working at a call center is that no customer, no matter how angry or aggressive, is going to punch you in the face. In a call center, your de-escalation goal is to get the customer to listen long enough that you can get a clear picture of the problem and either solve it or transfer the call to someone who can.

Be Kind and Respectful to the Other Person

Remember that the angry person on the other end of the line is a human being. Give her a chance to finish speaking before you start suggesting solutions. Definitely don’t react or overreact to the other person’s anger, at least not before giving the person a chance to tell you the problem. You may find that many customers calm down when they notice that you are listening and paying attention.

Be Kind and Respectful to Yourself

No one should be forced to endure verbal abuse at work. If a customer will not stop yelling at you or calling you names, it is appropriate to say that this behavior is not acceptable. You should say it calmly and then go back to trying to solve the problem.

Practical De-Escalation Strategies for Call Center Staff

In your training for your call center job, you may have role-played examples of common types of calls that your call center receives. Your employer might have even given you a script to use as a guide in certain situations. When you need to de-escalate a tense call, it helps to use the HEARD method.

The HEARD Method

The HEARD method is an effective and versatile way to de-escalate conflict-prone situations, including calls by angry customers to call centers. HEARD is an acronym for Heard, Empathize, Apologize, Resolve, and Diagnose:

  • Hear: Listen to the customer’s thorough description of the problem.
  • Empathize: Acknowledge the problem and the customer’s frustration. Ask follow-up questions, but not in a challenging or accusing way.
  • Apologize: Say that you are sorry that the problem is happening and that you will make a reasonable effort to solve it.
  • Resolve: If you can resolve the problem during the call, then do so. If not, transfer the call to the appropriate department where the customer can find a solution.
  • Diagnose: Only after the problem is solved do you talk about why the problem happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

Photo of an Executive Trying to Explain Something

Real-Life Examples of De-Escalation at Call Centers

These are some common situations where call center employees will need to use their de-escalation strategies in the course of calls from customers:

  • An employee or the company’s automated system charged the customer more than the customer owed.
  • A customer wants to cancel his subscription to your company’s services. Listen to him vent his frustration for a reasonable amount of time, pursuant to the HEARD method, and then help him cancel the subscription.
  • A customer wants to troubleshoot a common problem with one of your products and is getting frustrated. You should patiently walk the customer through the troubleshooting steps, even if you think that it is so simple that the customer should have been able to figure it out for themself.
  • You are the second person this customer has talked to at the call center today. The customer thinks that the first call center representative he talked to was rude and unhelpful.
  • A large number of customers are experiencing a service outage or your website has a glitch. A lot of people are calling you all at once about the same problem. It may be helpful to record a message that customers hear when they first call. For example, “We are experiencing widespread service outages in the Cincinnati area, and we are working to resolve the problem. If you would still like to speak to a customer service representative, please press one.”

Build Your De-Escalation Skills With Pollack Peacebuilding Solutions

Pollack Peacebuilding Systems offers de-escalation training courses geared toward professionals in many different industries, including call centers. Contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today and find out more about our conflict management training workshops for call center employees.

Jeremy Pollack

Jeremy Pollack is the Founder and CEO of Pollack Peacebuilding Systems.