Retail sales - Shop workers
Work-related violence case studies
Based in Wales, Walkers TV, Radio and Music Centre Ltd is a small electrical retail company with three shops.
Walkers employ 11 people between the three shops. Most employees work at the shop counters and also deliver electrical goods or service them at customers' homes.
All staff will, at some point, spend time working alone.
- Verbal abuse from rude, angry, and frustrated customers.
- Drunk and mentally ill customers.
- Non-authorisation of credit card purchases can lead to anger and resentment.
- Culture of complaining, often encouraged by the media.
- The shops sell expensive items that are highly desirable and may increase the risk of robbery.
- Work in customers' homes.
- Exposure to aggressive members of the public while out on delivery jobs.
Examples of incidents
- Verbal abuse on the telephone when a customer's television broke down three times.
- A customer reacted angrily and became verbally abusive when a delivery was 20 minutes late.
- Activation of the panic alarm because of a drunk and disorderly customer in the shop.
Training and information
Health and safety training: all employees receive this training which includes appropriate responses to theft, the threat of violence, and handling complaints.
Customers communication: staff are advised to be non-confrontational and taught to be diplomatic when dealing with customers. For example, asking if a customer has checked the batteries when repairing a remote control is likely to insult their intelligence. Better to say 'Can I just check your batteries?'.
Awareness, vigilance and anticipation: this is considered to be the most successful form of violence prevention and the best defence against customer threats.
- Observe body language: red faces, glaring eyes, swift and agitated movements, loud voices, standing very close - these can signal that a customer is unhappy.
- A busy shop: unhappy customers may wait until a shop is full before raising a complaint because they see this as the best way to get the result they want.
- Awareness of previous problems: staff should be aware if customers have had previous problems with certain goods or services. This makes the customer feel looked after and noticed.
Sharing information: communicate to other staff and alert other businesses in the area.
Codes on job sheets: employees can alert other staff about potentially difficult or abusive customers by writing a code word on their job sheet (eg 'care') or warning delivery staff to be careful when a particular customer may be unhappy.
Accident book: staff record incidents in an accident book. This helps to raise awareness of the risks to staff. It is part of the employment contract that employees report incidents of violence and abuse.
Work environment and equipment
CCTV: all three shops have CCTV. Cameras allow staff to observe the shop and detect any problems or potential incidents.
Good lighting: good visibility of employees and activities helps to deter potential troublemakers.
Telephones/call buttons: these are installed at the shop counters so that employees can alert staff in other areas of the building if they need help.
Discreet emergency panic alarm: a panic alarm installed in one shop can be activated in an emergency. It will continue to ring until it is turned off and so is very effective in alerting the need for assistance.
999 speed dial: staff in shops without a panic alarm have a speed dial function on their telephones. If pressed discretely this connects directly to the police station.
Emphasis on customer service: staff are well trained in customer service skills. This helps to minimise incidents involving angry and frustrated customers. It is company policy that customer problems are dealt with quickly, calmly and positively to avoid the problem escalating.
Doubling up for difficult jobs: if a delivery job looks particularly risky, two people may attend. There is a culture of openness in the shops so that employees do not hesitate to ask for back-up if they need it.
Mobile phones: mobile staff are issued mobile phones to make contact if problems occur.
Less successful measures
Some measures can be less effective, or have disadvantages:
Written rules: it has been found that good communication and an open culture in the company is more effective than written memos and rules.
Costly: CCTV is expensive.
No transmission: mobiles phones are out of range in some areas.
Not reported: staff do not report every incident of physical or verbal abuse to the manager, or record it in the accident book so some risks are not identified. Verbal abuse is not generally reported.
The benefits and cost
- Staff are more confident to ask for assistance if they feel the need.
- Staff feel more secure and able to take on more work responsibilities.
- Staff know they have the support of their manager if any violence occurs.
- Staff are happy to do their jobs and do not avoid certain tasks because of the risks of violence - so more jobs get done.
- Dealing tactfully with customers results in improved customer satisfaction and reduced frustration. This leads to quick and effective service for customers.
- Reporting and recording incidents means that management is aware of the risks.
- All measures to reduce violence are an accepted cost.
- Panic alarms may be expensive but they can be made simply and cheaply using a large doorbell, light switch and battery (costs £5-10).
- Some measures are cost-effective because they have more than one purpose, for example CCTV doubles as a crime and theft prevention measure.
- A positive, caring and friendly attitude towards customers costs nothing.