Managing Bad Customer Behaviour: Strategies For Frontline Workers

Raised voices, swearing, name calling. These are things frontline workers in service roles often find themselves dealing with. Whether it’s a disgruntled customer in a shop, a frustrated caller on a helpline, or a challenging guest at reception, these encounters are unfortunately all too common. 

This article explores the prevalence of negative customer interactions, delves into the industries and employees most affected, and sheds light on the unintended consequences these incidents have on the overall quality of customer care.

How Common is Bad Customer Behaviour?

Statistics show the widespread nature of bad customer behaviour. According to a survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), over 60% of frontline workers in service industries report encountering rude or aggressive customers regularly. Industries such as retail, hospitality, and call centres tend to bear the brunt of these interactions. 

Which Industries are Most Affected?

Retail employees, call centre workers, and hospitality staff are among the most affected by bad customer behaviour. The Australian Retailers Association reports that nearly 70% of retail workers face rude customers on a weekly basis. 

Similarly, the Customer Service Institute of Australia highlights that call centre operators receive a disproportionately high number of complaints and verbal abuse. Hospitality workers, from waitstaff to hotel receptionists, regularly encounter challenging customer interactions. 

The Effect of Bad Customer Behaviour on Employees

The emotional strain on these frontline workers should not be underestimated. Research shows employees can experience anger, anxiety, restlessness, depression, frustration, and burnout. If these negative emotions are not alleviated, they could lead to employee physical or mental health disorders. The toll is not only emotional but also affects the ability of employees to provide top-notch customer care.

Detrimental Effects on Customer Care

A study by the Australian Institute of Customer Service found that employees who regularly deal with bad behaviour are more likely to experience job dissatisfaction and increased stress levels. Another study, found negative emotions triggered by dysfunctional customer behaviours have a negative impact on employees’ ability to provide attentive and empathic service to customers. The vicious cycle of negative interactions ultimately erodes the overall customer experience.

Strategies for Dealing with Rude Customers

Frontline workers need effective tools to navigate the challenges posed by rude customers. Here are my top three tips for de-escalating bad customer behaviour.


  • Switch into active listening mode


This technique involves fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and remembering the customer’s words. This diffuses tension and demonstrates empathy, potentially turning a negative encounter into a positive one.


  • Reframe the conversation


Focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problem. Frontline workers should aim to redirect the interaction toward a more constructive path. This strategy not only addresses the immediate issue but also helps in preventing further escalation.


  • Set boundaries


Frontline workers must establish clear and respectful boundaries to manage customer expectations and behaviour. This empowers employees to assert themselves professionally while maintaining a positive customer experience.

Dealing with bad customer behaviour is an inevitable aspect of frontline service roles. By understanding the commonality of such encounters and recognising and acknowledging the detrimental effects on employees and their ability to deliver high-quality customer care, employers can equip staff with the necessary tools to navigate these challenges. 

Get The Skills to Master Tough Conversations in Customer Care

Our ServiceTalk workshop offers valuable strategies for frontline workers, focusing on active listening, reframing conversations, and setting boundaries. We delve deep into these techniques through knowledge and role play so you can empower your team to handle challenging interactions and enhance their ability to provide exceptional customer care.

To book your workshop or discuss your organisation’s needs, reach out to me on 02 8036 5558 or email