Most retailers by now have experienced instances of a customer showing disrespect for face mask rules or some other guideline the store has set to comply with Governor Whitmer’s orders or protect their staff members.

Michigan Retailers Association has held six webinars on dealing with difficult customers and two on active violence in the workplace, in case de-escalation techniques don’t work. We hope you were able to attend some of those webinars.

If not, then these tips bear repeating.

Paul Beasinger of Keene Training and Consulting, provided the MRA trainings. As an active law enforcement officer, he trains other officers and often bar staff that must deal with drunken customers.

Set a calm and professional tone at the entry
Greet customers with a calm voice and give them a layout of any guidelines they need to be aware of. “Calm begets calmness,” Beasinger says.

Arm employees with phrases
It’s best to ease tensions with customers well before words become heated. Listen to them intently. Don’t be distracted or let your eyes wander. Don’t challenge with questions like “What’s your problem?” but instead come from a place of empathy. Repeat words back to the customer that they used, so they know you’ve heard them.

Summarize the problem
Make sure you have an accurate picture of what the customer’s complaint is. That reinforces for the customer that they’ve been heard, and sometimes that’s all they really need. If appropriate, talk about the process you must follow in order to resolve the situation.

Provide options, not ultimatums
Everyone wants choices. In the case of an unmasked customer, you can offer face masks for free or a low price. If they still are belligerent, say, “I’d be happy to provide you with curbside service.” Think of ways you can still serve unmasked customers, and consider being proactive in your signage with those messages.

Watch for signs of aggression
There can be tipoffs to potentially dangerous behavior. When someone breaches social distancing protocols, raises their voice, uses foul language or continuously repeats a phrase, the situation could be deteriorating. Sometimes the best strategy is to allow the customer to enter and immediately call the police.

Training is key in tense times
You don’t want your manager always dealing with these situations. You want your frontline staff to de-escalate tense interactions before they get out of hand. So train all your staff in these techniques. And make sure they all know your policies. Consistency is key.