Dealing with Verbally Abusive Customers

It’s not always easy to deal with unhappy customers face to face, and it’s even dangerous if you’re working alone. Some of these customers can be verbally abusive, and it may even escalate into physical assault.

That’s why the usual rules about placating customers are set aside once a customer becomes verbally abusive. Lone worker safety becomes the highest priority instead of customer satisfaction.

So if you’re running your own business, what exactly can you do if you’re alone in your shop or deli with a violent customer? Here are some guidelines that can help:

  • Assess the risk. It may not be politically correct, but you need to be realistic about the threat to your person. It depends greatly on the kind of person who’s angry with you. An elderly woman may be verbally abusive but they’re less likely to hurt you than a drunken young man.
  • Maintain your calm. Don’t add to the problem by shouting back or responding with insults. Let them speak and have their say. If they even mention a threat to your person, then whoever it is you have to take it seriously. At the first opportunity, you need to call for assistance either from passersby or from the police. You can do this right away if another customer walks in or another worker joins you.
  • Install security cameras. Make them look obvious so that they can deter people from committing a crime. When someone starts uttering threats or even just begins to scream at you, at some point mention that they’re under surveillance and their actions are being recorded. Most of the time, this will deter them from committing physical assault, and they may even leave.
  • Use lone worker safety solutions. Some of these devices are utterly effective. They can look like ordinary IDs and they can be used to send alarms to monitoring centers. Some of them can even record audio so that the evidence of the threats can be preserved.
  • If they haven’t yet threatened you, respond with empathy. Some may be verbally abusive out of frustration, and perhaps you can help. Speak gently and address the situation. Explain that you can only start to help when they’re also acting calmly. When they become verbally abusive again, remain silent and keep your hands on your phone or security device. However, this empathic approach only works if the customer has an actual valid complaint.
  • Ask them to leave when you become afraid. If you can’t help them, then you’re within your rights to ask them to leave when the customer threatens you. If they don’t leave right away, then you should call the police. Explain the situation to them while you tell them your name and location.

Be careful about threatening to call the police if they don’t leave. Some people, especially drunken young teens, may become aggressive when they feel threatened. You may have to barricade yourself to call the police, especially if you feel like you cannot defend yourself from the angry customer.

If it’s likely that you may face an angry customer alone, then you need to take steps to improve your safety. You can use safety glass to separate you from customers, and install other security precautions. Lone worker safety solutions are quite affordable, and security cameras can help as well.

However, you may want to rethink your lone worker status too. If your job requires you to deal with angry people, then perhaps you should never be alone to deal with them.

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