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Retailers: How to manage that angry customer

Posted by: Arun
Category: Industry insights

We have all witnessed when an angry customer starts to take out their bad experience on the people around them, usually your staff members. Uncomfortable isn’t it?

This can have a really negative effect on your other customers and your colleagues.

The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) define work-related violence as ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.’ This can include verbal abuse or threats as well as physical attacks.

According to the International Business Times, 56% of UK retail staff were subject to such  over the past couple of years which clearly shows that this is a major problem affecting the retail sector.


An assault can lead to poor morale and a poor image for your organisation, making it difficult to recruit and keep staff. Absenteeism, higher insurance premiums and compensation payments can lead to higher costs in the long-term.


An assault can cause pain, distress and even disability or death. Physical attacks are obviously dangerous but serious or persistent verbal abuse or threats can also damage employees’ health through anxiety or stress.

Employers: The law

There are 5 pieces of legislation which affect retailers:

  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act) – Employers have a legal duty under this act to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – Employers must assess the risks to employees and make arrangements for their health and safety..
  • The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) – Employers must notify their enforcing authority in the event of an accident at work to any employee resulting in death, major injury or incapacity for normal work for three or more consecutive days.
  • Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (a) and The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (b) Employers must inform, and consult with, employees in good time on matters relating to their health and safety. Employee representatives, either appointed by recognised trade unions under (a) or elected under (b) may make representations to their employer on matters affecting the health and safety of those they represent.

In order for employers to keep their staff safe and happy at work and also abide by their legal obligations, they must provide comprehensive training for their staff to avoid a potential conflict.

How can I roll out training to help my staff manage angry customers?

There are many training models you could follow from traditional classroom methods to elearning or an approach which involves a blend of the two.

The important thing to remember is that any training needs to be relevant and engage the user in order that they complete the training objectives.

A recipe for a blended learning approach could include the following elements in your module.

  • Understanding conflict
  • Common causes of conflict
  • Body language
  • Defusing a conflict
  • Dealing with aggressive behaviour
  • Communication
  • Escalation procedure
  • Your company policy

Suggested steps to for employees to deal with conflict

  1. Remain calm – when a customer starts yelling or being otherwise rude maintain control of yourself, even if the customer’s tirade makes you feeling like yelling yourself.
  2. Don’t take it personally – the customer is not angry with you, they are displeased with the performance of your product or the quality of the service you provide.
  3. Use your best listening skills – when an angry customer vents, they need someone to listen. Hear them out. Body language can be critically important here. Keep eye contact. Stand or sit up straight. Keep your arms uncrossed.  Show how closely you’re paying attention to their problem.
  4. Actively sympathise – post vent, express sympathy for their unpleasant customer experience. Respect and understanding go a long way toward smoothing things over.
  5. Apologise gracefully – whether the customer’s complaint is legitimate or not is really irrelevant.Express an apology for the problem they are having (or perceive to be having).
  6. Find a solution – ask them what they feel should be done or put forward your own fair and realistic answer to the problem. In most cases, that’s all the customer is looking for—and may result in providing some degree of satisfaction.
  7. Take a time out – after the situation has been resolved and the customer is on their way, you could experience lingering stress. Take a short walk, treat yourself to a snack or find someone to talk to who makes you laugh.