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How to Manage Threatening Situations with Customers

Published December 08, 2021 -
employer who understands how to manage threatening behaviour from customers

Running your business in a world where vaccination status has become a divisive issue certainly isn’t easy. You may be concerned about the new role your staff may be expected to perform as ‘Vaccine Police’. Or you may be worried about threatening behaviour your staff may experience on the frontline of your business whether in a pandemic or not. Threatening behaviour towards your staff is not acceptable and it’s your obligation as an employer to keep your staff safe from all hazards as much as you possibly can.

In this blog post, we will look at ways of ensuring your staff are kept safe mentally and physically from threatening behaviour and how to manage these situations. 

What Are Threatening Situations With Customers?

Staff can feel frightened or concerned when customers start to behave erratically or aggressively. It can be sudden or slow to start, the threatening customer behaviour may include:

  • Pointing at your staff
  • Raising their voice 
  • Swearing 
  • Shouting or screaming
  • Saying they will do certain things that make your staff feel unsafe
  • Breaking of things, pushing over, or physically moving of items that feels scary
  • Pushing or hitting staff

How to Manage Threatening Behaviour 

If you have a small business, it is likely you already have a risk assessment. (Well, if you don’t, it’s time to re-visit this document (we have templates and checklists in our re-opening e-guide.) If for instance, it’s checking vaccine documents that is causing your staff to face threatening behaviour, then think of all the ways that the public could react to the request for documentation. Talk to staff and really imagine how your customers will respond to proving their vaccination when accessing your services. Will some customers refuse to show proof? If so, how will your staff handle this, especially if some staff members are not confrontational types. Consider the personalities in your team and if possible, move people around to more public-facing roles in the short term. The restrictions will pass, so reassure employees and employers just need to do what they can, whilst this phase is in place. 

  • Risk Assessment – Consider what could happen and how badly/well vaccination requests could go in your business premises
  • Write a Policy – Write a way of handling of any refusal of vaccination documents
  • Implement the Policy – Utilise these ways of handling incidents
  • Train Staff – Try to train staff on how to ask for documents, and what to do if refused
  • Be Flexible – Move more confidant staff around if required 
  • Be Alert – Vaccination is a tricky subject for some and be alert that some people may get angry, Have an emergency protocol in place. 

Other things to consider managing customer threatening behaviour are:

  • Set expectations with customers on the conditions of entry – this may include placing a notice on their entry point that aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated 
  • Prepare a Safe Operating Procedure, so that staff are aware of how to handle aggression. 
  • Arrange a Customer Complaint Policy for handling customer issues. 

It would be helpful to organise staff have access to support services or counselling should they suffer any harm because of customer aggression. 

Consider how staff will handle verbally angry behaviour. For instance, empathising with a customer can really help de-escalate a customer’s anger before it becomes threatening. When talking to an unhappy customer, consider these points:

  • Respond – Apologise for any inconvenience to make the customer feel valued.
  • Empathise – Sincerely express that you understand the situation is frustrating. 
  • Reassure – Let the customer know that if there was anything you could do, you would. 
  • Paraphrase – Show you’re really listening, by using something they say back, for example: “I understand you really need to have your hair cut for your sister’s wedding, that’s so important! Under these restrictions, I can’t proceed without the vaccine proof unfortunately, even though I really want to help!”

Customers who are beginning to get angry will escalate quickly if they feel dismissed, not listened to, or not valued. “I am so sorry for this inconvenience, this situation is so frustrating, if there was anything I could do, I absolutely would.” It’s crucial to make sure a customer feel sincerely heard as you express your position, even if you do not agree with them.

Need Help?

Employers have a health and safety duty to minimise and manage the risk of a hazard in the workplace. 

Call us if your business needs employment relations support, we offer free initial advice on 0800 568 012

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Employsure can give you free initial advice on any workplace issue.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small- and medium-businesses, with over 30,000 clients in ANZ. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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