Inappropriate Customer Behavior: How Do You Respond to It?

March 5, 2012
Hands clasped together

A short time ago, I was at a new clinic with my husband and overheard an individual tell the receptionist that if what she said wasn’t correct about the deductible he was required to pay, he was “going to come back and take the difference out of her hide.” I mentioned this to the nurse who we saw and she said, “Yeah, we get a lot of that from frustrated people.” The lackadaisical attitude about the behavior of the individual surprised me and made me wonder if this was a safe place to continue to obtain services. The receptionist didn’t respond to the verbalized threat in any way other than to just look at the person, and the nurse made it sound like such occurrences were common and they regularly blew them off.

Now, contrast this with the recent clinic visit I had with my son. I overheard the receptionist who assisted us inform the other receptionist that she needed to contact security. With my career background, this of course piqued my interest, so I listened to more. The second receptionist asked the first one why she should do that. The first receptionist told the second one that the clinic has a violence-free workplace policy that addresses threats. Since the person on the phone told the second receptionist that if she couldn’t do what he wanted he’d kick her butt, she needed to notify security and have the information on the patient file recorded. The first receptionist continued to explain that individuals who make threats, regardless of any extenuating circumstances that precipitate verbal acting out, are banned from the clinic.

You may be wondering about the differences and similarities between the two clinics. Both are located in major metropolitan areas, both are adjacent to but not part of hospitals, and both focus on respectful service to their consumers. The difference that I could immediately observe is that one serves mostly middle-aged to elderly adults and the other serves a pediatric population; however, it was also apparent that in one clinic, frontline staff were used to verbal abuse and threats which are against the law in every state, and the other had either good communication channels or training, support, and violence-prevention policies and procedures in place. 

I could cite similar examples of retailers and hospitality establishments. I have had experience with disrespect, threats, and verbal abuse both as a customer and as an employee in various retail, lodging, and fast-food establishments. The difference in morale, confidence, and retention is night and day between companies that truly integrate workplace-violence policies and procedures and those that don’t. It surprises me that some well-known Fortune 500 and 1000 companies don’t better integrate the policies and procedures they have in place. Not integrating policies and procedures well creates high attrition rates and low customer loyalty bases. How many of you have stopped patronizing an establishment or working somewhere because of the tolerance by leadership of inappropriate behavior?

Workplace-violence policies and procedures often exist within organizations, but they do nothing to protect employees if they are not thoroughly communicated and integrated into the culture. If employees have not been trained to recognize potential violence or if the designated policies and procedures aren’t enforced, the policies and procedures may as well not exist. It is important that employees working in the frontlines of any organization have the tools and skills to identify behaviors, respond appropriately, and know where to get help should a threat of violence occur.

CPI training products are designed to assist you in defining, recognizing, and responding to the continuum of behaviors of workplace violence.

Schedule a Consultation

Learn how CPI’s training programs can benefit your organization.

Let's Connect