Hospo Voice

6 tips for dealing with angry customers

October 18, 2021

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How to deal with aggression at work

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the past 18 months haven’t been easy. We’ve been dealing with extra financial and caring pressures on top of social isolation and fears about our health.

When people are under pressure, sometimes they lash out. And if we’re the ones asking them to wear a mask or check in with a QR code, unfortunately as hospo workers we’re often in the firing line.

Aggression in the workplace is unacceptable, no matter what your customers are going through. Harassment or aggressive behaviour is considered workplace violence and can affect your physical and mental health.

Here are some tips for how you can deal with angry customers.

1. Get some help

First and foremost, your health and safety at work is the responsibility of your employer. That means if customers are now required to check-in, show proof of vaccination, or wear masks and someone has just abused you about it, you may no longer feel safe.

Your first port of call should always be to get your manager. They should be better equipped to deal with an angry customer and can help provide an effective solution.

If your manager isn’t available and you feel threatened, ask for help from a security guard, colleague or people nearby.

2. Stay calm (even if you don’t feel that way)

If someone has just abused you for making them a flat white when they asked for a cappuccino, your natural reaction will probably be to get pretty pissed off yourself.

But it’s important that you don’t react to their aggression and stay calm. When you talk to them, use a low, monotonous voice and try to treat the person with respect.

Ignore their insults and don’t say anything to them that might exacerbate the situation.

3. Empathise with their feelings (but not their behaviour)

To help calm an angry customer, it can help to try to understand their point of view but also point out that they’re being inappropriate.

Say things like ‘I understand you’re upset, but it’s not acceptable for you to swear at me.’

By pointing out their behaviour, it might help them realise the impact they’re having on you.

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4. Move away from the situation

Make sure you put some physical space between you and angry customers for your own safety. Stand about four times further away than you usually would.

You have a right to refuse to carry out unsafe work. If you feel physically unsafe, such as in the threat of physical violence, remove yourself from the situation and go somewhere you feel safe.

5. Report it

Always tell your employer about the incident, even if you resolved it. They should have workplace procedures in place to help support you.

Depending on the level of aggression from the customer, you may want to report their behaviour to the police. This is important if the behaviour escalates to physical assault or the threat of violence.

If a customer spits or deliberately coughs on you, this is also considered physical assault and should be reported. Make sure you keep a record of what happened, when, and where it happened.

6. Talk about it

Regardless of how serious it seemed at the time, you may find yourself affected by verbal abuse long after the event. It’s important to talk about what happened to you, whether it’s to a colleague, friend, family member or your employer.

If you’re struggling to cope, talk to your employer about what support services are available to you.

You can also talk to services including:

Need some more help? Join Hospo Voice and get 30 days free access to our workplace experts on our app Mobilise.

You can also access our new member hub resources including:

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