Why De-escalation Training Is Essential for CSRs

I recently moved to the beautiful state of Colorado and made an appointment at the DMV to get my driver’s license. I looked online at least 3 times to make sure I had the right documents, made the earliest appointment I could, took time off work, showed up early, checked in, and waited in my designated spot until my number was called.  

As it turned out, I did not have the right documents. The woman at desk #10 did not point this out to me right away. Instead, she typed some things into the computer, looked at my Pennsylvania license and social security card, tapped her fingers on the pieces of mail I provided, and then wandered over to the printer for a few minutes without telling me why. She returned with a sheet with my name on it, upon which she slowly highlighted each of the documents I would be required to bring with me when I returned… on another day… after more time off work. She was never exactly rude, but her tone and deliberate highlighting were condescending and made me feel stupid – and if there’s one thing I don’t tolerate well, it’s being patronized and made to feel like I didn’t read the rules. I ALWAYS read the rules.  

I left feeling like I might need to hit something, and I sat in the car for a minute to cool down. Why was I so angry? I knew the mistake was mine. It wasn’t until I had gotten home and started explaining the incident to my partner (who was loyally irritated on my behalf) that I realized it was almost entirely because of the way the woman had treated me. Had she smiled apologetically and said something like, “This happens all the time, I know the website isn’t the best,” I would have been annoyed only at myself and much less inclined to be rude, feel like I might cry out of frustration, or want to find the nearest punching bag.   

This visit was a classic example of how a normally polite and compliant rule-follower can quickly escalate to anger - even though I was the one who made the mistake. This escalation happens even more easily when emotions are high, as they often are in our veterinary practices. 

Debbie Boone, CVPM, our guest on the May 10, 2022 episode of Central Line: The AAHA Podcast, has over 30 years of experience managing veterinary teams, and she advocates for giving our client services representatives specialized training in how to read human behavior, prevent or deescalate situations that could lead to blowups whenever possible, and say “no” the right way. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation, made possible with support from CareCredit. 

Debbie Boone: We teach people, “When you answer the phone, say this.” But we don’t teach people to be aware of the emotion behind why people are acting the way they are… That empathy is so important in these challenging situations. A lot of times, we haven’t paid attention to the subtle signs… and sometimes we have inadvertently been the flame thrower, because we say things that set people off. 

Katie Berlin: And we are all bad at [this] when we’re stressed and upset, and we have all been stressed and upset for a long time. And clients are more stressed and anxious than they’ve ever been. 

DB: When we don’t blindside people, chances of their blowing up are much lower than if we just surprise them with stuff. You have to give people messaging over and over again, but we also need to pay attention to the things that are happening in people’s lives. They will sometimes give us subtle cues about that, and that is active listening.  

KB: That’s a good point – that’s something CSRs can do. They can feel empowered to listen to [a client’s] story and write everything down… make sure they’re including those little details. That is such an important part of the job, just remembering to take in what you’re hearing.  

DB: My [CSR] team was trained on medicine, because they’re the ones who are answering the screening questions. They knew the anatomy of ears and rears because that’s what we talk about 90% of the day.  

KB: … It probably escalates a lot of people who get on the phone with a CSR if they don’t feel like any of their questions are getting answered. 

DB: When you have somebody who’s really confident in their knowledge on the telephone with you and they’re answering your questions, then there’s trust built up. And that is really the most important thing we can get in veterinary medicine. One of the really important reasons for training all of your team on what your standards and protocols are is because clients are going to get a consistent message through every person on your team.  

Catch the rest of Debbie’s episode anywhere you get your podcasts, including Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher; on YouTube; or find links to all of these platforms, full audio and video, and transcripts to every episode at aaha.org/podcast.  

This episode was made possible with generous support from our friends at CareCredit.  

Love Central Line? Please subscribe/follow and leave us a rating and review – it helps others find us! Send us feedback anytime at [email protected].  

NEWStat Central Line: The AAHA Podcast Client communication Practice management