5 Things You Can Do to Protect Staff From Abusive Customers


5 Things You Can Do to Protect Staff From Abusive Customers

“I wish I had never gone to work that day. If I had have known what that customer was going to do, I would have stayed home.”

Have you ever said those words or something like them? Have you known someone who has said those words? I have said them and sadly, I know many customer service staff from many businesses around Australia who have also said them.

Let’s be honest; customers are essentially strangers, and some strangers can be aggressive or become dangerous. Even when we get to know our customers, they too can use behaviours that we may not expect and that leave our staff feeling shocked and vulnerable.

That is the downside of interacting with customers; you can never be sure what behaviour will walk through the door or be on the other end of the phone.

Businesses spend enormous amounts of time and money enticing strangers to buy their products and services. As a Service Excellence Coach, I work with businesses to educate and motivate their customer service staff to exceed the expectations of those strangers. It’s called service excellence training and my programs include the topic; “Worst Case Scenarios – what to do if it happens to you”.

Worst case scenarios are not the day to day unhappy or grumpy customer interactions. Worst case scenarios are the customer interactions that leave staff feeling shaken, upset, intimidated, violated or abused.

These types of situations can happen in any business and on any day. There are many things you can do to give your staff and customers a feeling of safety, and I highly recommend you investigate all of your options.

To help get you started, here are five things you can do to minimise the possibility of a worst case customer service scenario.

  1. Have clear policies and procedures that advise customer service staff what to do if they find themselves in a face to face or telephone worst case scenario. Review these regularly with your team and make sure they are part of your induction program for new employees.
  2. Role play possible worst case scenarios. You can make it light hearted but trust that asking your staff to say the words “please leave or I will call the police” or “I will be ceasing this call now”, as well as physically closing doors and walking away, confirms to staff that you not only approve but encourage these actions.
  3. If you have private rooms to meet with customers, advise staff to sit with their back to the door and the customer to sit opposite them. This allows a staff member to leave the room quickly and not be cornered.
  4. Have a code word for staff to use if they need help, e.g., staff who ask for a “red pen” could be code for “this customer is becoming aggressive, please call the police.”
  5. Invite the local police or a security service provider to a team meeting so they can share their tips on what to do in worst-case scenarios.

It’s important also to consider that individual staff may have different levels of bad behaviour tolerance or acceptance. Some staff may handle abusive language easily and not feel threatened, but other staff may find that type of behaviour is their worst case scenario. New or less tolerant staff who see other staff accept bad customer behaviour may feel expected to do the same – not good for the team or the business.

Don’t leave it up to individual staff to determine what customer behaviours are unacceptable in your business. Set the standard and provide your staff with the knowledge and training they need so they know how and when to cease customer interactions.

Important: Remind your staff that the majority of customers will be polite and respectful and more than happy to follow complaints procedures and to behave in a way that leaves everyone feeling valued and safe.

Worst case scenarios are rare, but anxiety is the price we for being unprepared.

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