AHRI Forum – Addressing Dysfunctional Customer Behaviours Wrap-up

AHRI Forum – Addressing Dysfunctional Customer Behaviours Wrap-up

In May our AHRI Safety and Wellbeing forum welcomed Andrew Ellery, Head of Community Engagement at icare, to brief attendees on the research and program development for its “Respect and Resilience in Retail” trial.

icare provide workers compensation insurance to more than 326,000 public and private sector employers in NSW and their 3.6 million employees. Whether a person is severely injured in the workplace or on NSW roads, icare supports their long-term care needs to improve quality of life, including helping people return to work.

Mental health averages 3.5% per cent of total NSW workers compensation claims, however, the cost of mental health claims is 2x more than physical injury claims.

The largest volume of psychological claims is in health and community services (21%); property and business services (15%); and retail trade (10%). Work related harassment of bullying is the most common mental health claim at 39% of all psychological claims.

With mental health claim trends rising, icare sought to identify peer-reviewed research and develop a program trial to address dysfunctional customer behaviour in retail.


One of the key issues for the trial was the wide variation in customer misbehaviour (i.e. low intensity, such as being critical or rude, through to high intensity such as threats or violence). When preparing for the trial it was discovered that only the serious incidents were being reported.

Customer misbehaviour affects mental health, wellbeing and occupational satisfaction – i.e. the significant health impacts also directly impact operational performance through decreased job satisfaction, lower organisational commitment and higher absenteeism.

icare’s trial sought to reduce the incidence, severity and impact of customer aggression at local trial partners KFC and the Reject Shop.

icare “Respect and Resilience in Retail” Trial

Griffith University undertook a detailed review of scientific studies, peer-reviewed papers and grey literature on potential solutions to inform the trial.

The four strategic directions to reduce dysfunctional customer behaviour were:

  1. Modifications to the customer-service environment
  2. Increased workplace support
  3. Specialised customer-service training to de-escalate potentially dysfunctional customer interactions
  4. Emotional regulation training for customer-facing employees

The trial is currently underway at specific KFC and Reject Shop stores around NSW.

Although the trial is underway in the retail sector, icare is confident this strategy and intervention tactics can be tailored for other customer-facing sectors such as health and community services, property management, hospitality and financial services.

Scott Paine, AHRI Network Convenor, summarised the insights from designing a new frontline customer aggression trial:

  1. It’s important to suspend the idea that the customer is always right – e.g. don’t get supervisors to back an aggressive customer over a worker as it sets the wrong example for both parties
  2. The trial’s tactics are flexible – these can be mixed and matched to suit individual organisations, however, ensure there is a rigorous evaluation process established from the start to measure its effectiveness (including a control group)
  3. Don’t underestimate the time and effect required to build rapport with trial participants on the ground prior to launch. Their training and support is critical to the trial’s success
  4. Leadership buy-in for trials (and change programs in general) can significantly affect the program. In this case, focus on direct line managers such as supervisors
  5. Simple incident reporting tools drastically reduce the barriers for frontline staff to report incidents or near misses – there are now many smartphone incident reporting tools that can easily capture data for detailed insights


The icare trial concludes this month and Andrew will return to present the insights and findings at the AHRI Safety & Wellbeing Network Forum in October 2019.

If you are interested in more information or would like to attend icare’s “Respect and Resilience in Retail” Program Trial Insights AHRI Forum in October send me an email at [email protected].