Difficult customer behaviour is on the increase. According to research by the National Retail Association, Australia’s 1.5 million retail workers have been on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic and are experiencing increased customer aggression and abuse. This is having a significant impact on the health and well-being of team members, making it essential for them to feel fully supported and prepared with the appropriate tools to manage difficult customer interactions. Equipping your
team to manage difficult customer behaviour includes addressing four key areas. Mindset Each team member has a responsibility to respond professionally when managing difficult customer behaviour. This is not always easy in a service role – especially when faced with a highly emotional or angry customer. The customer is most often angry at the process or outcome, and in turn, their anger is directed at the person they are dealing with. Helping the team to focus on the issue, not the behaviour can be extremely useful. The team needs to recognise the customer is angry at the situation and choose not to take it personally. Help the team to view the difficult customer in front of them as a challenge and an opportunity to provide the best customer experience possible. Handled well, some difficult customers can become your biggest advocates. Clear boundaries Consistency of messaging in regards to the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable customer conduct is paramount. It is the role of every organisation and leader to have clear procedures in place to safeguard the team ensuring their protection, safety and well-being at all times. The team needs to be very clear about what actions to take and the leadership support that is available when the customer’s behaviour is unacceptable. While accepting the customer may be angry, the customer is responsible for acting in a way that does not infringe on the rights, safety, or well-being of the team and needs to be aware of what conduct is acceptable, what is not, and the implications of crossing those boundaries. This includes visible signage that asks customers to treat team members with respect and declaring zero tolerance for poor behaviour. The visibility of these messages in a store or on a website, sends a clear message to both customers and the team. Training Managing difficult customer behaviour is a skill, and like all skills there needs to be opportunity for specific training and practice. Through role-plays and scenario-based learning, the team can be given practical tools, strategies and techniques to ensure they feel confident and empowered to manage the customer. This includes: Self-awareness and self-management techniques including managing the fight and flight response to conflict situationsBreathing techniques to remain calm, focused and in control when in front of the customer Verbal and non-verbal cues to diffuse customer angerResponding with authentic empathy – sitting in the shoes of the customerEmpowering the team to choose their response, regardless of the customer’s behaviour Using the four-step technique, the ‘HEAT Method’, focusing on hearing the customer out, empathising, apologising where required, asking questions and taking ownership of the customer’s issue. Tools for resilience Working in the world of customer service requires the team to be able to bounce back very quickly as there is often very little time before serving the next customer. It is important to acknowledge just how tough it can be for the team, and providing specific training and strategies for self-care and resilience can assist in supporting overall team member well-being. It is essential there is leadership de-briefing and post-incident support for very difficult interactions. There are a number of tools that can be engaged by the team including employing a mental reset button between interactions, breathing techniques in high stress situations and focusing on the quadrant of self-care both inside and outside of work. This includes mindset, daily habits, health and well-being and connection. There are multiple benefits in preparing the team to manage difficult customer behaviour including reduced customer escalations, increased team member engagement, reduced stress, increased safety and well-being of the team and increased customer satisfaction. This ultimately makes a difference to your organisation, your team members and the quality of interactions with your customers.