Retail Experience

18 Nov 2021

Don’t Go Viral: Supporting Store Employees in Navigating Customer Tantrums

Author: Amy Suto

Going viral is a good thing — until it’s not. While social media can clean out some shelves, it can also be a weapon unruly customers wield to “take down” anything they don’t love, or exercise misogyny or racism on your sales floor.

The last thing you want this holiday shopping season is Karen whipping out her phone to yell at one of your employees for asking her to wear a mask to maybe, I don’t know, stop the spread of the global plague?

When it comes to customer service in the era of social media, the winners will be the stores with solid social policies and a good team morale.

That way, “ma’am, please wear a mask in our store” can end with the customer happily complying with your policy — not with a video compilation on Retail Nightmares.

Difficult Customers Aren’t New: Social Media in Retail Is

The angry customer is as old as time. Now? They have a megaphone that reaches millions.

With over 3.6 billion social media users worldwide, there are over 3.6 billion opportunities for your company to receive positive — or negative — feedback on a public forum. According to a report by Microsoft, one third of Americans have used social media to complain about a brand.

Wielding social media in the retail digital space can be your make-or-break tool. Quick, thoughtful responses online can help foster trust in your customers.

There are plenty of ways to recommend positive approaches to utilizing social media sharing for in-person shoppers. Popups do this well: by offering “Insta-worthy” neon signs or photobooth setups, you can encourage customers to document their shopping experience in a more positive way. These shareable art installations don’t need to be costly: they can be as simple as a funny quote on a mirror to encourage customers to snap a selfie.

The Great Resignation is (Partly) to Blame

If the recent Great Resignation has taught us anything, it’s the importance of creating a business ethos that sets your company apart. Because if you don’t, get acquanited with the “we’re hiring” signs, because they might be here to stay.

The pandemic threw unforeseen challenges across every industry and workers are feeling it. In the service industry, we’re seeing how restaurant and retail staff are facing high-risk workplaces and angry customers, all while managing their own set of issues, such as mask mandates, staff cuts, and extended hours. A restaurant in Cape Cod even shut down in July of 2021 for a “day of kindness” in response to weeks of verbal abuse and hostile behavior from patrons to their staff members.

We get it — things have been tough, and we lost our thriving social lives to become semi-permanent shut-ins for the duration of the pandemic. And while “can’t we all just get along?” is a great sentiment, it’s likely not something that can help us survive the holiday season as customer demands and stress levels reach their annual highs.

By recognizing the concerns of customer service and retail employees — such as long hours, low incentives, and heightened contact volumes for support staff — companies can respond with solutions that set themselves apart as a sustainable workplace that values its employees and has their backs.

Your team reflects your company, whether in your brick and mortar store or online. In order to maintain consistent, high quality customer service, your team must be motivated. Rewards and incentives can help keep morale high, but it’s important that companies first pave the roads for employee success. Building clear social media strategies for managing retail customer service will help give your teams the tools they need to feel confident in their work and ready to calm the adult temper tantrum.

So, how can your team stop the all-too-present in-person meltdowns? The apocalyptic, customer-throwing-a-fit-in-the-aisles kind of meltdown?

Stopping the In-Store Social Media Meltdown

When it comes to stopping the flood of social media in retail settings, begin by creating solid policies with your store’s staff.

If you notice, many of the videos depicting angry customers are filmed by employees. It’s one thing if your workers are filming to document an incident, and another if they decide to spill the tea on the web.

Be sure that your employee handbook is clear: documenting an angry customer interaction might be okay to record an escalating incident, what’s not okay is sharing that video online. Your employee might not be able to stop others from filming, but the key in these scenarios is to step in and diffuse the situation.

Create a response plan for some of the triggers that might send customers over the edge. Whether that’s something small like an unaccepted return item or something bigger like not complying with a mask mandate, be sure your team knows how to deal with different scenarios that come up.

A post-meltdown debrief might be in order, as well. While you can’t always control the reasons why customers throw a fit, you can check-in with others in your store after an incident to make sure everyone is okay. Rattled customers might be quick to share a spirited meltdown online, but if your staff can check in with bystanders to make sure they’re a-ok, they might be less likely to throw up their day on their socials.

Same goes for your employees as well: make sure management knows to check in with them after a particularly fiery exchange of words, and follow up with any needed next steps to protect their wellbeing. Emotional burnout is real, but it can be mitigated.

While you can’t always control customer behavior, you can control your team’s response to it. Start there, and then turn your focus to building morale to create a more resilient sales force.

Motivate Staff Through Boosting Morale

As the challenges facing modern day employees stack up, the best way to set your company apart is by raising morale. And no, that’s not just through a quarterly pizza party. Today’s employees work hard and want to feel recognized for their work. A single holiday bonus just doesn’t cut it anymore. Businesses can motivate employees year-round through incentive programs, sales contests, and employee rewards.

SparkPlug has developed a platform to transform the relationship between staff and retailers. The best part? Employees respond. Consistent incentives create a two-way street between employee and employer. It’s a benefit loop: when companies reward value in their employees, these employees feel motivated to keep supplying it.

As customers flock to the digital realm, the pandemic has created a unique opportunity for expansion in the retail industry. Record profits are in sight — but only if your staff is motivated to manage the obstacles that come their way. Develop a team confident enough to manage any social media meltdown and reap the benefits of another successful day in the store.

Get started with SparkPlug today to learn how to reward employees and see how motivated retail staff give back to their business.