Because they are the public face for your company, you know your frontline employees are essential to your business and your brand. You’ve invested in training that shows them how to greet customers with a smile, offer help, and create an atmosphere that inspires positive Yelp reviews. You’ve even taught them the basics of customer conflict resolution when it comes to things like return and exchange policies. Black Friday during a global pandemic is a whole new story.
Now, due to COVID-19, your employees are being asked to enforce rules to help keep us all safe. They’re asking customers to wear face masks and adhere to social distancing and occupancy limits during what is traditionally the busiest shopping time of the year.
Unfortunately, as we learn more about how Coronavirus is spread the rules can change, and your employees bear the brunt of frustration from customers. We’ve all seen viral videos of essential workers being faced with escalating situations as an angry customer refuses to follow mask and social distancing policies.
The truth is, we don’t know what Black Friday is going to look like this year. Will it be busy with holiday deal seekers? Will shoppers stay home? Will the holiday spirit fill shoppers and they’ll be kinder when stuck in line outside in the cold due to occupancy limits? My guess is no.
What we do know is mask and social distancing policies are here for the foreseeable future, and your staff needs tools to de-escalate conflicts that arise before your store becomes internet famous for the wrong reasons.
Five Tips to Survive Black Friday in a Global Pandemic
1. Show Empathy
No one wants to be a ‘Karen,’ but many shoppers are at their breaking point. They’re working from home while their kids are distance learning. They have older relatives they’re trying to keep safe, and they’re scared. We all are. So instead of meeting fear with fear, and anger with anger, put yourself in your customers shoes. Black Friday shopping may be an annual tradition and the only outing a customer has taken, they’re suffering from quarantine fatigue, and they can’t find the one thing they wanted to give as a holiday gift. When voices rise, your best bet is to remain calm and let them vent. Agree when you can. For instance, if someone doesn’t want to wear a mask you can say: “I know wearing a mask is annoying, I have to wear this thing 8 hours a day. But our store policy is that all shoppers wear a face mask according to CDC guidelines for everyone’s safety. If you don’t have a mask, we can provide a disposable one to you.”
2. Know Your Company Policies
When you joined your company, you learned about store return and exchange policies. You learned what decisions you could make as an employee and when to call a manager. When you share the above policies with customers, you don’t make it personal or about you. Mask requirements, store capacity, and social distancing policies are no different. Here’s an ideal response when someone is frustrated from waiting outside: “Our store policy is that no more than X customers are allowed inside at a time. We thank you for your patience. If you need to leave the line, please consider placing an order on our website for delivery or curbside pick-up.”
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Once you understand your store’s health and safety policies practice saying them out loud. Emphasize that the policies are those of the store, you’re not singling out one particular customer. If things get heated, remember to show empathy. If the situation escalates, call a manager for assistance. If a customer comes at you saying they refuse to live in fear, you can respond with: “We respect your right to your opinion, but it is our policy to refuse entry to someone not wearing a mask.” They may get upset and threaten to not shop with you again and that’s unfortunate, but your store’s rules are in place for everyone’s safety.
4. Spot the Warning Signs
Most conflicts go through four phases: warning, distress, aggression, and recovery. In retail, most conflicts can be resolved in the warning stage, that’s when a customer exhibits signs of irritation – gritting teeth, raised voice, furrowed brows. When a situation escalates to distress the anger is palpable and you have to intervene. The customer may become verbally abusive and this is where your practiced responses come in handy. If tempers continue to rise, you may be faced with an aggressive customer. If there is even a hint that the customer may become physically violent, contact security or law enforcement. Recovery is the final stage, and it means the conflict has been resolved. It may mean checking to make sure everyone is ok, cleaning up any mess, or filling out paperwork. Since you’ve stuck to your script and shown empathy to get to this point, pat yourself on the back for a job well done – even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
5. Make a de-escalation plan
You’ve seen the ‘I’d like to speak to the manager walk.’ You’ve heard the raised voice and seen the furrowed brow. With the proper de-escalation techniques, you can talk almost any ‘Karen’ off the ledge. The most important thing you can do for an angry customer is listen. Ask any parent who’s dealt with a four-year-old having a tantrum. If you get upset, the tantrum continues. If an angry customer is telling you they’re frustrated with masks, or lines, or bare shelves, or backordered items, remain calm, listen and validate their feelings. Shoppers may say, ‘the customer is always right,’ in order to get you to bend to their will. As a retail worker, you know that’s not true – especially during a global pandemic. Right now, your job is to enforce the policies that keep everyone safe.
In anticipation of Black Friday in a global pandemic, we’ve put together five new courses on de-escalation. We released these courses early for our retail clients to help them be prepared. This series of Retail Excellence courses, “Retail Conflict Management” which can be found in our Business Skills Library.
- Why Retail Conflict Management?
- Preparation and Scenarios
- Phases of Escalation
- Maintaining Control
At ej4, we keep track of what’s important to our clients and create relevant training that’s available right when they need it. One of the benefits of subscribing to a library like ours, is that you have a wide variety of topics to choose from when you are faced with new situations. If you are in the retail industry, we have curated a special curriculum from our off-the-shelf library with courses on conflict and stress management, communications, and overall retail excellence. Sign up for a free trial of Thinkzoom, our LMS, to see all of these courses and much more.