Managing customer aggression

In this article the ARA has compiled some basic tips for how respond to customers who behave poorly. If you would like to learn more about this topic, the Retail Institute has a course all about responding to customer aggression which you can find out more about here. 

While most customers are polite and reasonable, there will always be those who, for various reasons, behave poorly. Staff should be trained in how to respond to these types of customers, with an emphasis on good customer service and de-escalation.

In the case of a customer who is being verbally aggressive, the best approach is to try to de-escalate the situation before it becomes violent. This could include situations where a customer is complaining about service, demanding refunds, or appears to be suffering from a mental health condition or the effects of drugs or alcohol. In most cases, if you are patient and non-confrontational, the person’s anger will subside. To de-escalate, you should:

  • Remain calm and patient
  • Keep a safe distance from the aggressive person
  • Be sympathetic:
    • Allow the customer to finish their rant without interrupting them
    • Acknowledge their problem
    • Calmly explain the options available to address the situation
  • If they continue to be abusive, politely request for them to leave the store
  • If they refuse to leave the store, call the police.

You should not:

  • Raise your voice
  • Respond with aggression.

Other employees should monitor the situation discreetly and not get involved.

In the case of violent customers, you should:

  • Step back from the person
  • Discreetly use counters and shelves as natural barriers between you and the offender
  • Discreetly remove items that could be used as a weapon
  • Call the police on triple zero
  • Only use force if it is necessary for self-defence and proportionate to the harm being avoided.


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