Dealing with violent and abusive customers

A new report published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) suggests violence against retail staff has significantly increased since 2003. More worringly, in less than one year verbal abuse by customers has risen by 35 per cent and physical violence against retail employees is up 50 per cent since the turn of the century.

Putting the cost to businesses aside, BRC Director General, Kevin Hawkins, is quoted as saying:

"...the most disturbing figure is the growing trend of verbal and physical violence experienced by retailers. Retail crime is not victimless; it leaves deep scars not only on business viability and retail staff, but also on the community with the significant costs of prevention often passed on to all threads of society."

The report also goes on to suggest businesses need to do more when training staff to deal with threatening behaviour. I really don't think that even the best training can have any significant effect on the ability of retail workers to ward off abuse, never mind physical violence. By suggesting an employee can always be trained to do something may result in employees taking responsibility for something they have little control over in the first place. Train to sell more stuff - yes; train to stop abusive and violent people - no! The key to defending employees from customer abuse and violence starts by making it absolutely clear that employees play no role in such behaviour. After all, are women "trained" how to "deal" with abusive and violent husbands or partners?

To view the press release by the BRC see: BRC retail crime survey: cost of crime up, violence against staff up. You have to buy the full report through the BRC website, however, a summary of the report - Retail Crime Survey 2004-2005: Key Facts - can be viewed here.


PHS said...

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Abusive customer management can be approached from three dimensions. Staff can react to a really tough conversation in the following ways:
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James said...

To be honest PHS I only agree with you to a point. It should not be overstated that even innovative training may lead to front-line employees feeling they have played some part in the behaviour of abusive and often sometimes violent customers. It is the duty of management to deal with this problem and fully protect their employees even if this comes at the expense of profit. I reiterate the marital analogy, i.e. there should be zero tolerance of this kind of behaviour instead of training that is probably poorly delivered and post hoc in most cases.