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The Conflict Pyramid: What Happens During Customer Conflicts

Updated: May 18, 2020

Have you ever had a conversation with a customer quickly escalate, even when you thought you were being polite and not doing anything to trigger him or her?

You might ask yourself...

Why is my customer so upset over this, especially when I have a solution for him or her?


How did the conversation even arrive here?

Your answer might lie in the Conflict Pyramid.

Let's start at the bottom with unmet needs.

Here's another question for you: Have you ever needed something from a business, and it feels like you are asking for help, except you aren't being helped at all?

You feel like you are making a reasonable request, and the representative tells you everything he or she can't do for you.

When customers are in these situations, they feel like they will not get their needs met. They don't feel heard and they certainly don't feel valued...

They begin to experience negative feelings like doubt, disempowerment, stress, overwhelm, etc.

Negative feelings are the second rung of the conflict pyramid.

These negative feelings and unmet needs can land customers and the representatives they're speaking with in the conflict zone, which is the third rung of the pyramid.

You know you're in the conflict zone when tensions are high. The whole room is on edge, and you can feel it.

Note: One big thing that will put customers and businesses in the conflict zone is negative words.

Negative words shut down listening and problem solving and invite arguments.


"No, I can't do that."
"That's against our policy."
"That's not possible."
"I don't know."

Back to the pyramid...

Once customers are in the conflict zone, they might start seeing the representative or business they're dealing with as an enemy or threat -- someone who is not on their side and someone they need to protect themselves from at all costs. The boxing gloves are on. This is the fourth rung of the conflict pyramid.

This could lead customers to formulate an escape plan or plan of attack -- the fifth rung of the pyramid.

What is an escape plan vs. a plan of attack?

If customers have bad experiences with a company early on, they might look for an escape plan, which could be as simple as no longer using the company's services. They might tell their friends to avoid the business as well.

On the other hand, if customers are further along and can't back out of using the company's services, they might go for a plan of attack like leaving negative reviews or requesting unreasonable refunds.

All of this leads to the company losing money, which is what you see at the top of the pyramid.

Final thoughts

Words can make or break us. In business (and in life), you can spend years building a relationship only to destroy it with one regrettable communication.

To learn how little shifts in word selection can keep your customers from moving up the conflict pyramid, check out my previous blog posts and give me a shout.

Do you have your own strategy for keeping customers out of the conflict zone? Or have ever had a company pull you out of the conflict zone? Tell me about it!

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