Dealing with customers: Management and staff behaviour
How you and your staff behave towards customers can help to reduce the risk of abusive and violent behaviour.
- Try to create a friendly, sociable atmosphere.
- You and your staff should not tolerate Anti-social behaviour such as swearing, rowdiness, and aggression in customers.
- Think of ways to detect and defuse trouble early.
- Knowing the local area can often be helpful in identifying local troublemakers.
- Use calming language. Introduce yourself to the customer and attempt to resolve the conflict. This is important as people often respond differently to a person known to them. You should allow a customer who is becoming agitated to express their anger, but try not to make any hostile remarks yourself. Respond directly to questions and try to understand the aggressor's mood. You should avoid swearing and encourage your staff to do the same.
- Think about your non-verbal behaviour. Increase your distance and avoid sustained eye contact. Adopt a relaxed posture, move slowly, rather than suddenly, and maintain calm facial expressions. You should try to control any signals of anxiety and stress.
- Try to establish control. Try to work out what the agitated person needs, encourage them to make decisions and offer face-saving possibilities. You should be tactful, rather than hasty, in removing people from the premises. You should try and avoid using physical force or intervention. Be assertive: you should be firm but fair.
- Take immediate, preventative action if you think a situation may become violent.
- Ask the potentially violent individual's friends to help control them if appropriate. If the situation is becoming violent then you should get help as soon as possible, for example by calling the police or a security guard. You should warn the individual of your organisation's policy regarding violence and let them know they are being watched, pointing out any video cameras etc.
- If you are robbed, co-operate but do not do more than requested. Avoid turning away from the attacker or making sudden movements.
- Training your staff in how you expect them to behave. The following suggestions may help you.
If staff have to refuse to sell a customer alcohol or goods because they are underage, this could lead to verbal abuse or violence. To minimise the risk:
- Be polite and explain quietly why you can't serve them.
- Make sure your company has a clear policy on age-restricted sales, and make sure this is made visible to customers (eg via posters in the immediate vicinity of the sales point). For example, your policy may be that if a customer looks under 21 staff must ask for proof of identity. If they can't provide ID explain that it is policy not to serve them and then people will not expect to get served. It is important that staff are supported and know that they can still ask for age ID even if there is a long queue and they are very busy. If an individual does not have suitable ID, it may be possible for staff to hand out application forms for national ID schemes, which might reduce the potential for confrontation, eg Portman Group proof of age card.
If juvenile crime is a particular problem for you:
- You could limit the numbers of juveniles in the shop and/or insist on them being accompanied by an adult.
- You could also exclude them at certain high-risk times, such as lunchtime or after school.
Staff who deal with customers should be vigilant for suspicious body language/behaviour. Examples of suspicious behaviour include:
- constantly looking around, watching staff and appearing nervous;
- taking little notice of products or spending a long time browsing;
- repeatedly refusing staff offers of help;
- asking questions about staff routines, cash areas etc;
- wearing inappropriate clothing for the time of year that may hide goods, carrying a large bag or carrying a coat over the arm or shoulder, or appearing to have concealed an item.
Make suspects aware if you have noticed their suspicious behaviour. Make them aware you have noticed them by making yourself busy near them, ask questions such as 'Can I help?' or talk on the phone or to other staff and letting them see you do it. This lets them know you have noticed them.
In some cases, you could refuse entry; politely ask them to leave or escort known offenders away if found in the shop. This can be safer than detaining them as they may become violent, but it can also be difficult if it escalates violence. It needs to be done with care.
Customer service techniques
Good customer service helps to reduce the risk of violence and discourage shoplifting.
- Acknowledge the customer and regularly ask if they need help.
- Improve communication to customers. This includes timely and adequate information to customers, opportunities for the customer to comment on the quality of service and measures to deal with complaints.
- Staff should be friendly and respond positively to customers. They can set the atmosphere of the premises.