Reducing the impact of customer abuse

Respect and resilience in the retail and fast-food industries

Woman buying olives and cheese at deli shop.

Most of us are retail trade customers every day when we purchase goods and services from businesses, ranging from the café where we get our morning coffee to the supermarket where we do our weekly shopping or the supplier we go to when our car tyres need changing.

And every day workers in these businesses are experiencing the impact of dysfunctional customer behaviour, an issue identified as growing in prevalence and contributing to workplace injury, higher rates of absenteeism and increased staff turnover.

Verbal abuse is the most common negative customer behaviour

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) NSW Branch’s annual member survey found that over 85 per cent of members had experienced verbal abuse from a customer in the previous 12 months, 15 per cent had experienced physical customer violence and 11 per cent sexual harassment or abuse.

“In response to the growing concern of dysfunctional customer behaviour, we’ve partnered with the retail trade industry, the SDA and Griffith University to understand more about how businesses can prevent such incidents and respond more effectively when they do occur,” said icare Chief – Customer and Community Sara Kahlau.

Key intervention points to better support customer experience

The initial findings of the Respect and Resilience in Retail and Fast-food Project 1 listed four strategic directions for intervention to both support better customer experiences, reduce the opportunity for complaints, and support employees to have the skills to respond should incidents occur:

  1. Modifications to physical elements of the workplace
  2. Increased workplace support
  3. Specialised and focused customer-service training
  4. Incident reaction training

"The findings also highlight the few rigorous studies done on specific interventions focused on reducing dysfunctional customer behaviour,” said Ms Kahlau. “Together with our customers and Griffith University we’re conducting a series of innovative trials to fill this knowledge gap. One of the businesses participating in the trial is discount retailer, The Reject Shop.”

icare spoke to The Reject Shop about why they decided to participate in the Respect and Resilience in Retail and Fast-food project. “The Reject Shop has a strong purpose in serving our customer needs. We value our team and our customers, and constantly seek to ensure an exceptional shopping experience.”

Aggression is emerging as a community issue

“At times however, our team has sometimes borne the brunt of dysfunctional third-party behaviour which has placed the wellbeing of team members at risk. We note that this trend of aggression and anti-social behaviour is emerging as a broader community issue that impacts multiple industries and workplaces beyond The Reject Shop.”

“The Reject Shop has a history of contributing proactively to broader retail safety knowledge through networking programs and via collaboration with state- based regulators. The opportunity to partner with icare and Griffith University on this ground-breaking research will help us better protect our team and customers and support the broader industry.”

“We are excited about the opportunity and the value that the Respect and Resilience in Retail and Fast-food project offers. The research aims to prove that there are positive ways to prevent incidents, as well as provide de-escalation training for front-line team members and store managers, and to ensure we are best-positioned to support team members who are exposed to dysfunctional behaviour.”

At icare we believe injury prevention is good for employers, their workers and their customers. We look forward to sharing the results of the intervention trials at The Reject Shop and other participating retail employers throughout 2019.

What is dysfunctional customer behaviour?

Dysfunctional customer behaviour refers to the spectrum of negative acts directed at service employees, including incivility, verbal abuse, physical aggression and violence. These behaviours can have adverse consequences in the short and long term for psychological wellbeing, physical health and work attitudes and performance. Motives for dysfunctional customer behaviour usually include gaining esteem, revenge, and/or financial benefits.

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