We all need and value our customers but what if their interaction with us causes disruption to our business?

Occasionally customers get upset, occasionally we have to tell them bad news and occasionally there is a risk of a dramatic reaction. Imagine if one of your front line staff gets physically attacked by a customer.

If an attack happens you need to be able to respond with a view to protecting everyone involved and calming the situation to prevent further escalation. You could be faced with having to deal with injuries and shock not only to the people involved but also to other people around the scene.

How do you deal with the incident? Are you able to deal with an attacker? Do you try and apprehend them? Do you let them go?

In some lines of work negative or even aggressive customer behaviour can be anticipated or even expected. Training and preparation of your organisation’s people followed by adherence to the right procedures can help to minimise the risk and potential impact. Even the layout and control of your premises can do a lot to reduce the risk.

I have delivered several exercises on this theme for Crisis Management Teams. Such scenarios raise a range of issues for organisations to consider, including:-

  • Dealing with the incident itself
  • Safety of staff
  • Site security
  • Imposition of crime scene
  • Trauma of witnesses
  • Succession planning
  • Customer/staff interaction arrangements

The impact to your organisation can obviously be much more than a quick clean up followed by a return to work. The ramifications can be serious and last for some time if not managed effectively.

Prevention is always better than cure so to begin with it’s a good idea to assess your operations, processes and potential scenarios.  Identify what you can do to minimise the risks whilst still being able to provide the service your customers require and in a manner that is appropriate to your relationship with them. It is not always appropriate or practical to shield yourself behind a screen or counter.

Identify the triggers that may lead to confrontation. Be ready for them and ensure you have good procedures and training in place with your people to manage the situation.

We may not be able to prevent every incident so make sure you have procedures for responding and work with your people to embed and practice exactly what they need to do. This needs to include your people being alert to what is happening around them – is an incident developing? Does my colleague look uncomfortable in that situation? Does that behaviour look like a threat?

Most customers are fine and engage with us as we would like them to. For the rare occasions when they don’t we need to be prepared.