Responding to aggressive customers

How to respond to aggressive customers, and what to do if there has been an aggressive customer in your store.

Key crime prevention tips

When responding to an aggressive customer:

  • stay calm
  • listen with empathy
  • offer solutions
  • stay safe
  • call for help.

Tips for responding to aggressive customers

Stay calm

  • Only one person should talk to the customer. Many people talking can create confusion. 
  • Do not raise your voice even if the customer is yelling. 
  • Keep smiling to ease the tension.
  • Avoid using sarcasm. 
  • Think about your body language. Avoid pacing, tapping, crossing your arms or rolling your eyes. 
  • Excuse yourself and leave the room if you need to take deep breaths. 

Listen with empathy

  • Remain patient and acknowledge the customer's concerns. 
  • Ask questions. 
  • Do not interrupt.
  • Allow the person to vent, it can relieve their frustration. 
  • Summarise their concerns to make sure you have understood. 
  • The following phrases may be useful:
    • "I understand that you are frustrated"
    • "I can see how difficult this has been"
    • "Thank you for bringing this to my attention"
    • "I appreciate how you feel"
    • "That's tough, let's see how we can get this sorted".

Offer solutions

  • Do not over-promise but explain what options are available. 
  • Ensure you do what you said you would. 

Stay safe

  • Staff not involved in the incident should stand back, but monitor the situation. 
  • Keep a distance between you and the customer. Do not enter the person's physical space. 
  • Use natural barriers including the counter, shelving or clothing racks.
  • Remove any items that could be used as weapons. 
  • Do not turn your back to the customer. 
  • Move towards the exit. 
  • Activate the duress/panic alarm. The best alarms can be discreetly activated. Options include a button near the cash draw, or activation by foot or knee. 
  • Utilise evacuation plans. 

Call for help

  • Staff not involved in the incident should call for help from security or police. 
  • If the person's behaviour does not change, tell them to leave and tell them if they do not, they are trespassing.
  • Do not force the person to leave. Wait for help.

What to do if there has been an aggressive customer in your store

If there has been an aggressive customer in your store:

  • tell your supervisor or manager
  • as a witness, report the offence rather than waiting for your manager to report it.

Report it

For emergencies, to report a crime in progress, or for immediate police attendance, call Triple Zero (000).

No issue is too small to report. Report any suspicious behaviour to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

For non-emergencies, call the Police Assistance Line on 131 444 or report online at Police Assistance Line and Online Reporting.

If required, report the incident to WorkSafe Victoria on 13 23 60.

If you need more help

Your local police station can connect you to counselling and support services.

Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal

You may be eligible for financial help through the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT).

Help can be for counselling, medical expenses, and loss of earnings.

VOCAT does not provide compensation for lost or damaged property. To apply, visit Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal.


Download a printable checklist:

Responding to aggressive customers checklist – print only version
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