How to Debrief After a Difficult Call with a Customer

de-escalation how to handle difficult customers

It can be emotionally draining to deal with challenging customer interactions. I cannot overstate the importance of debriefing and decompressing after a difficult interaction. Here are my suggestions for leaders and frontline employees on how to process and learn from these experiences:


For leaders helping employees decompress


  • Start by listening with the intent to understand. Don't listen with the intent to reply, correct, or redirect the person's reactions or feelings. Listen with a focus on understanding how the interaction has impacted your employee.
  • Validate and support. As your employee talks, validate their feelings. Even if the employee has made a mistake or caused a problem, you must support and validate their feelings. It might sound like this. "You had a tough customer. Most of us would have struggled to get Mr. Edmondson to calm down."
  • If they want to talk, let them talk, if they need space alone, allow that
  • Follow your employee's lead for decompression. Some people want to talk through their issues. Others need space to decompress—key in on what your employee needs at that moment.
  • Give space to decompress. You need to allow space for employees who need space to debrief. Provide an extra break, let them leave early, or encourage them to step away for as long as they need.  

For more help supporting your employees in stressful interactions, check out my article, "It's Time to Talk About Mental Health in Contact Centers." 


For employees looking for ways to decompress after intense interactions


  • Reflect on the interaction. Take a few moments to consider what happened during the call, including any factors contributing to the difficulty. This can help you identify areas for improvement and growth.
  • Seek feedback from colleagues or supervisors. Share your experience with others and ask for their perspective or advice. This can provide valuable insights and help you develop new strategies for handling challenging situations.
  • Practice self-compassion. It's essential to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and encounters difficult customers. Be kind to yourself and remember that you are only human.
  • Find ways to relax and unwind. Engaging in activities that help you de-stress, such as exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones, can help you recharge and maintain your emotional well-being. 

It's unlikely that you've done something wrong. Some customers contact companies determined to be difficult. That has everything to do with them, not you. Your job is to be helpful and professional.

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If you need help dealing with challenging customers, check out my De-escalation Academy.

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