How to De-escalate an Angry Customer in 3 Words

Call Center Agent

When you have an enraged customer on the phone or in front of you, nothing threads the needle like mirroring the customer’s words. Copying the customer’s angry expressions makes the customer feel heard and understood. When the unreasonable customer feels like you’re listening is when they go from a boil to a simmer.

There are only three things you have to remember to do when mirroring:

  1. Copy the last three words the customer says:
  2. Pause for a beat
  3. Repeat

Mirror the customer’s last three words

The most critical part of mirroring is to merely repeat back the last three words (or the critical one to three words) your customer mouthed, and put a question mark in your voice.

I learned the three-word technique from former FBI hostage negotiator, Chris Voss in his book, “Never Split the Difference: Negotiate Like Your Life Depends On It.”

Let me walk you through this.

Customer: “This is insane! I called yesterday to cancel my hotel reservation because my flight was canceled – and you still charged my card!”

Employee: “I’m sorry for any misunderstanding here. Your card was charged?”

All you do is repeat the last three words and deliver them as a question. This tactic makes sure you don’t come across as a judge or interrogator because any judgment from you will just tornado the conversation into a full blown escalation.

Customer: “Yes. As soon as I saw that my flight was canceled and that I wouldn’t get into Austin last night, I called the hotel and told them what happened. They told me they’d cancel my reservation.”

Look how magically the three-word technique worked. Instead of escalating, the customer is now explaining, giving you the details you need to look into the matter.

Employee: “Your reservation was canceled? Did they give you a cancellation confirmation number?”

This is you effortlessly getting more details while the customer is noticeably gone from a boil to a simmer.

Repeating your customer’s last three words de-escalates things because you’re acknowledging the customer’s situation and giving them a chance to provide you with the details they’re anxious to share. The acknowledgment and detail sharing work to get people to calm down without even realizing what’s happening.

Pause for a Beat

When I was filming a customer service training a couple of weeks ago, my Director told me many times, “Pause for a beat. Let that just sink in with viewers before you go on.” This is precisely what you need to do to ensure de-escalation. After acknowledging with your three words, pause. Because your magic three words were laid down as a question, your customer will respond.

Repeat the Mirror + Pause Process

Echoing your customer’s last three words will make you feel silly. Silly like a cat in a hat. But I promise you, if you do it right, your customer won’t notice your strategy. All they’ll feel is heard and calmer.

So, keep copying the last three words until the customer has tranquilized and you have all the information you need to take the next step.

About the Author

Myra Golden is a favorite training partner to Fortune 500 companies with her customized, engaging, behavior-changing (and fun) customer service workshops. Through consulting, keynotes, training and blog posts, Myra Golden helps companies design and deliver the best possible customer experience.

CCW EU 2019

  • Don Wiggins January 25, 2019, 5:04 pm

    More GOLDEN advice from Myra Golden! Thank you, CSM, for consistently delivering insightful, valuable information to all of us on the front lines of CS!

  • Gangadhar Krishna January 27, 2019, 4:04 pm

    A good technique. Worth trying. Thank you Myra.


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