Customers are quicker to anger since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and something as simple as a person complaining to a store clerk about a price increase can escalate, according to representatives of Stillwater, Okla.-based OnCue Marketing LLC.
While incidents at OnCue Express stores aren’t typically violent, OnCue Risk Manager Tienna Halford and Chief Financial Officer Steve James say, the threat is there.
In one incident, James says, a customer threw a point-of-sale system to the ground in an outburst, costing the c-store several thousand dollars in damage.
“We blame it a lot on COVID,” Halford says. “I think maybe people forgot how to interact with each other, and we became really used to immediate responses, like online ordering. … When you deal with people, it’s not going to typically make things faster, so people don’t always have patience and they’re just quicker to anger.”
Most incidents amount to little more than product theft or verbal outbursts, James says. Still, the company has added more third-party security guards to stores since the pandemic hit and currently has guards at about 30 of its 75 c-stores.
OnCue has also invested in improving employee training to deal with the issue.
Over the summer, OnCue Director of Training and Development Doug Griffith created a de-escalation program to help employees better manage customer threats and interactions in general. He conducted the training for OnCue’s 1,500 employees with plans to repeat these sessions twice a year going forward.
The training reminds employees they don’t need to confront certain situations with customers and gives tips on how to handle difficult customers and situations.
“We saw pretty measurable results from it, both in the customer complaints department and even in our incident notices,” Halford says.
Despite the efforts, and after more than 40 years in retailing, James says he doesn’t see the problem going away.
“I don’t see how it’s going to get better other than we train our employees to de-escalate the situation and hire security to try to minimize encounters,” he says.