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Dealing with challenging customers

Customer service is one of the most important components of an organisation’s activities and part of customer service is having to deal with difficult customers from time to time.

Requirements imposed on businesses due to Covid-19 such as mask wearing, social distancing and My Vaccine Pass scanning have given rise to heightened customer emotions and have unfortunately resulted in some cases of aggression as customers vent their frustrations. As businesses do their best to navigate their way through the new system these new challenges will have to be anticipated and procedures put in place to deal with them. Ensuring that your team members have the skills needed to handle a difficult situation is important not only for their safety but also to protect the reputation of the organisation as customers can easily share their experiences publicly.

Only a small percent of your customers will share their anger with your customer-facing staff but knowing how to manage an irate customer, whether their complaint is justified or not, will result in a positive outcome. In addition to training staff and ensuring their safety, you need to also provide your staff with the emotional support required after experiencing a difficult and exhausting situation.

The vaccination mandate has stirred up a variety of emotions including mistrust and a feeling of a lack of control which has in some cases resulted in fear, frustration and anxiety. Your staff members role in customer service is not to argue the rights or wrongs of the mandate but to serve the client under the rules and regulations set for them by the Government and the organisation. Having a good understanding of the reasons for the mandate can make your staff member feel more confident in discussing the subject with an unhappy customer.

Below are a few tips on conflict resolution from a few experts including the Ministry of Health keeping calm and safe tips for de-escalation:

1. Recognise trouble before it starts

a. Read a customer’s body language and be prepared if the customer shows signs of


2. Approach the situation with the right mindset

a. Always remain calm

b. Try to keep a positive attitude

c. Take a few moments to breathe before addressing the situation

d. Politely greet the customer and introduce yourself

e. Don’t let the angry state of the customer get to you

f. Be mindful of your verbal and non-verbal cues for example don’t roll your eyes, point

fingers or put your hands on your hips

g. Educate yourself on the rules and regulations for example some people with disabilities

or certain medical conditions are exempt from wearing face masks so you cannot force

them to wear one while at your premises

3. Enter the situation with a safety-first approach

a. Set boundaries - 2-3 metres away and if a customer becomes agitated aim for 3-4


b. If the situation escalates ensure other customers and staff are kept safe

c. Know where your exits are as well as your retreat options

4. Respect the customer

a. Refer to the customer by their name if possible

b. Listen and give the customer your full attention

c. Speak slowly and maintain a calm tone of voice

d. Avoid negative or abusive language

e. If a customer blatantly ignores the rules for example wearing a face mask, point out the

signage explaining the policy and ask if they could please adhere to the requirements.

Explain that your business could be fined for not following the rules and that you need

to protect your staff from getting sick.

f. Be empathetic and non-judgemental in your words and actions - show the customer

that you understand their feelings and care

g. Once the customer has voiced their issue repeat back to them the problem to show that

they have been heard.

h. State clearly but politely what you can and can’t do

i. Calm the customer down by asking questions wisely

j. Do not get into an argument with the customer

k. Thank the customer if they follow the rule or decide to leave the premises.

5. Try to find a solution

a. Try to find a solution as fast as possible

b. If the customer continues to be aggressive be firm with your instructions but respectful

at the same time

6. Don’t take the situation personally or take it to heart

a. People are at different emotional states as a result of the pandemic so understanding

that the irate customer may be showing anger as a result of anxiety, fear, loneliness or

depression and not because of anything you did or said

7. If the situation escalates then call for help

a. If the customer continues to be rude and aggressive then politely ask them to leave

b. Be mindful that continued strong emotions can be overwhelming

c. Know when to call for help

d. Ask for management support if the situation escalates

e. Call the police if the situation starts to get out of control

8. Keep a record of the incident in your Health and Safety manual for future reference

9. Pass on the information to the next shift so that they are aware of the incident

10. Seek emotional support and/or further training if need be

DISCLAIMER: Amplify and our staff are not qualified to guide you from a health and public policy perspective. We do advise that you seek professional help to do with Covid-19 details for your business.


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