Customer Service: Hostile Client De-escalation

De-escalation: To decrease in intensity, magnitude, etc.

As employees of the agency, we can expect a phone call or an office visit from an angry client. Knowing how to de-escalation a client’s anger is important so that communication can take place and we can assist the client in finding solutions/options/resources.

Our clients are often in crises when they walk through our office door or when they contact us by phone. I once heard it said, “we don’t see people at their best, we seem them at their worst.” Clients are experiencing stress in their lives that come from many sources; their life circumstances, drug abuse, legal issues, physical health, family involvement or lack of, mental functioning, emotional health, financial situation, among many other things.

Keep in mind that reasoning with an angry person is not possible. Angry clients don’t want to hear about rules, policies, or procedures. Their main concern in that moment is having their need(s) met.

When an angry client makes contact with us, we must appear calm, professional, respectful and in control. This is not easy and it does not come naturally when a client is shouting and cursing at you. Our own anxiety can add to the stress of the client, causing the anger to increase or losing control of the meeting. De-escalation skills must be practiced so that they become natural and are automatic.

Many experts recommend the following techniques for de-escalating a hostile person:

Hear the client out, let the client finish their thought, let them vent. Do not interrupt or try to talk over them. This may take an amount of time to let them vent. Acknowledge that you are hearing what they have to say – people want to be heard.
Validate the client’s feelings and their right to be upset. Talk with the client, not at the client. Never tell an upset person to “Calm Down!
Always apologize immediately after the client has let you know they are upset. An apology does not mean you accept blame.
Do Not Take it Personally
This is a hard one. The client is upset at the situation, not at you. Do not be defensive even if the comments or insults are directed at you, it’s not about you. Do not defend yourself or anyone else from insults, curses or misconceptions about your role. Stay relaxed, keep your voice low and calm, do not engage in a power struggle, do not argue or try to convince and don’t escalate the situation by getting upset. It is not about who is right or who is wrong. It’s about finding solutions/options/resources for the client.
Help the Client Find Solutions/Options/Resources
Concentrate on what you can do, not what you can’t do for the client. Tell the client: I want to resolve your concerns, how can I help you? You are the knowledgeable expert, educate the client on our system, set realistic expectations about timeframes, and take time to provide general information.

During the contact, some clients will want to automatically go back to how they think they were wronged. Allow them to vent until it becomes a barrier to moving forward toward a solution. Remember, you control the meeting with the client – keep the discussion moving forward toward a solution. You can say something like, “I can’t change what happened in the past, but I am here with you now and this is what I can do for you today.”

Always trust your instincts when it comes to your own safety. If you feel that de-escalation is not working, then STOP and follow the SOP Hostile Client Procedure:

SOP Hostile Client Procedure
If a client becomes threatening during an interview, appropriate personnel should be notified. If at any point in the office indicates a threat of physical violence, the Police are called immediately. The County Director and, if provided, security guard are to be notified as well. It is each employee’s responsibility to be aware of situations that may indicate a danger to themselves or other workers in the office.
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