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How technology can help manage customer abuse

Customer abuse in Australia is a rising epidemic and one that needs to be managed effectively. In fact, a 2018 survey found that 87 percent of more than 1,000 fast-food workers have experienced verbal abuse or aggressive behaviour.

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This month, it was great to see some of Australia’s biggest retailers including Coles, Aldi and Woolworths, unite in a bid to end this pattern of abuse towards retail staff, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Signing an industry pledge is a wonderful sign of support but there needs to be tangible action so shift workers in the retail and hospitality industries feel reassured and supported by their employers. Technology is an effective way to start bridging this gap and foster stronger communication in your business.

Open the lines of communication

When it comes to tackling customer abuse, the ready support of management is key. Trust is fostered when there are open communication lines and clear avenues for employees to follow if they encounter this kind of treatment from a customer. With this in mind, businesses must put platforms and procedures in place to ensure that employees can update their managers of any instances of customer abuse.

Making it clear what kind of reporting lines are in place if a staff member experiences this kind of abuse is crucial, particularly if a manager is not physically available when the instance takes place.

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While face to face communication can never be replaced — technology has become a huge helper in expediting the reporting process for employees, whether it be through the ability to text a manager or messaging co-workers through a platform like Deputy.

Experiencing abuse from a customer can naturally bring up feelings of shame and embarrassment and some staff might not feel comfortable approaching their manager in person or having a conversation face to face.  Providing a safe, confidential way to communicate with managers and team mates gives these workers an avenue to report incidents. Having more information helps employers get a clearer picture of what is happening in order to develop robust policies and procedures for future prevention.

Maintaining trust with technology

While getting rid of customer abuse will be an uphill battle, the addition of technology into the workforce means that workers are more easily able to report instances of abuse.

We’ve already spoken about how technology is important as it helps open up lines of connection between employees, management and their businesses but there are more benefits to be had. In fact a key benefit of technology is the automation of processes that typically take a long time to manage. In the case of customer abuse, tech platforms are giving employees the flexibility to make real time complaints of any incidents of customer abuse — creating a digital receipt of sorts.

Having these digital receipts means that businesses can act quickly and maintain trust with their employees.

Businesses need to look after their employees

While Australia’s retail and hospitality industries are consistently growing, cases of customer abuse are also growing. In fact a survey of 10,000 workers between 2015 and 2016 found that about half of the workers surveyed experienced violence or workplace abuse — and in 2018 a survey of 1,000 shift workers found close to 90 percent of workers experienced customer abuse — a growth of approximately 40 percent within two years.

It’s not entirely clear what’s behind this rise but one thing is very clear — Aussie businesses and governing bodies have a responsibility to look after their shift workers. No one goes to work to be yelled at, threatened or embarrassed and as instances of customer abuse become increasingly prevalent — Aussie businesses owe it to their employees to ensure that these cases are dealt with appropriately.

While technology is a valuable tool, business owners must take a holistic view and have a robust strategy in place for tackling this issue. Your policies and company culture all have a part to play but introducing  technology as a way to check in with employees and allow real time reporting is a way that businesses can immediately take practical steps to open communication lines, build trust and tackle customer abuse in the long run.

John Kearney is general manager for APAC at Deputy.