The rise of customer aggression is a concerning trend that demands immediate attention from leaders across all sectors.
Recent reports in the media of extreme physical violence directed at frontline workers while simply performing their duties, highlight the urgency of the issue. It is widely acknowledged that customer aggression has accelerated globally since the pandemic began.
With reports of incivility on the front lines of business increasing, the mistreatment of frontline service workers affects their health and productivity. Customer abuse and aggression should never be tolerated, and leaders must recognize the significant implications involved.
Recognizing the impact of customer aggression
The impact of dealing with aggressive customers is substantial, leading to increased stress, fear, anxiety and emotional exhaustion among frontline workers.
Consequences such as reduced job satisfaction, heightened risk of burnout, and the challenges of increased turnover and recruitment further emphasize the gravity of the situation.
Customer aggression should be regarded as a workplace hazard akin to others, necessitating accurate identification and prevention measures and should be an utmost priority for leadership.
Workplace health and safety risk
It is essential to distinguish between an angry or upset customer and an aggressive one, as customer aggression poses a substantial workplace health and safety risk.
It is crucial for organizations to manage the risks associated with workplace violence and aggression between team members and customers.
Every team member has the right to feel safe at work, and it is the responsibility of leaders to ensure the protection and safety of their employees, regardless of the industry. This message must be driven by the CEO and supported by all levels of leadership.
Establishing an unacceptable customer conduct policy
Developing, implementing, and socializing an unacceptable customer conduct policy falls under the purview of leadership.
It is imperative to have a clearly defined policy that defines unacceptable customer conduct, incorporates clear escalation paths and is known and understood throughout the entire organization.
It is imperative to have a clearly defined policy that defines unacceptable customer conduct.
Customers need to be made aware not only of boundaries, but the implications of crossing those boundaries.
Every team member has the right to work in an environment free from threats of physical harm or violence, actual physical harm, swearing or personal insults and inappropriate religious, racial or derogatory remarks. This applies across all communication channels, including face-to-face interactions, telephone, email, live chat and social media.
Leaders must foster a culture of zero tolerance for customer aggression in every workplace.
Proactive measures and awareness
Many organizations responded swiftly to escalating behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking proactive steps to address customer abuse and aggression. This included implementing signage or recorded telephone messages declaring zero tolerance for poor behavior.
This visibility should continue to be maintained by leaders to deter aggression and reinforce appropriate conduct.
Investing in training and development
Leaders must prioritize investing in training and development to equip their teams with the necessary skills to manage customer aggression effectively. Diffusing and de-escalating difficult and aggressive behavior should be key components of leadership’s training initiatives.
Training on customer aggression must be included in the initial induction training and revisited regularly.
Training on customer aggression must be included in the initial induction training and revisited regularly to ensure that team members are never left wondering how to handle aggression or threats.
Empowering employees with the knowledge and skills to respond appropriately is crucial in creating safe and confident workplaces.
Immediate support and post-incident care
Leaders need to make themselves readily available to handle customer escalations and provide immediate support to affected team members when faced with unacceptable customer conduct.
Such conduct may lead to terminating a call, asking the customer to leave the premises, or, in serious cases, imposing restrictions on the customer’s future access to the organization.
Post-incident, leaders play a critical role in supporting their team members, ensuring immediate availability for those impacted. These incidents can be challenging to process, necessitating time, space, debriefing, and, if necessary, referral to external employee assistance or counseling services.
With increasing levels of customer aggression comes increased leadership responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of all team members.
A follow-up from the leader of the affected team member a few days later is highly recommended, as the impact of these incidents is not always immediate. It is vital to apply the same rules of post-incident support to leaders, who also encounter aggression and escalations.
In order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those on the front line, organizations need supportive leaders, strategies for making customers aware of their conduct responsibilities and team members who feel confident in the steps they need to take should they be faced with customer aggression in their role.
With increasing levels of customer aggression comes increased leadership responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of all team members. Clear boundaries must be established for customers, and leadership bears the ultimate responsibility for accountability of addressing this issue.
Monique Richardson, author of They Serve Like We Lead – How To Take Care Of Your People So They Take Care Of Your Customers, is a service leadership and customer service expert. Richardson is a highly sought-after global speaker and trainer who is obsessed with transforming customer service cultures through a service leadership driven approach. Find out more at www.moniquerichardson.com.au.