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Handling Disrespectful Behavior or Microaggressions From Customers

Handling Disrespectful Behavior or Microaggressions From Customers

If your organization is working to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion, you have likely focused on how employees are treated internally by managers and peers. That is a great place to start and Archbright did the same. When we were ready to go further, we realized we also needed to prepare our employees on how to handle disrespectful behavior or microaggressions from customers. A microaggression refers to a brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignity that communicates hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults. A microaggression is like a subtle act of exclusion.

Without a doubt, the vast majority of the interactions we have with our customers are respectful and inclusive. But when a challenging interaction occurs, we want our employees to be prepared. Jenna Shellman, Senior IDEAL Consultant, and Carolyn Harvey, VP of Member Services worked together to create a guide and training session for employees. These steps and processes may be helpful to you as well. 

Providing Feedback in line with Customer Service

It’s important to talk about how providing feedback to customers fits with your customer service approach. People may assume they cannot provide direct feedback when they have been trained to interact with customers in a specific way. At Archbright, we explained how providing feedback is in alignment with our brand traits. For example, one of our brand traits is “knowledgeable” and educating a member with respectful feedback is consistent with the brand trait. 

Escalation policy

An escalation policy lets employees know when and how they should report disrespectful behaviors and microaggressions. The policy should include when to document an interaction and what to do with that information. Archbright’s policy lists the person’s immediate manager as the recipient of the documentation. The policy also covers the manager’s responsibilities, as well as when the Director of VP of Member Services should become involved for further investigation and evaluation. 

Handling and Responding to Disrespectful Behaviors

Disrespectful behaviors can include insults or rude behaviors. Examples include a raised voice, swearing, sarcasm, excessive interrupting, patronizing comments or tone, and blaming. Of course, these behaviors can be displayed subtly or more overtly and can be perceived differently by different people. At Archbright, we trained employees on some suggested responses to different types of disrespectful behaviors. Some of the responses are ways to exit the call or meeting so the customer can de-escalate and the employee can get advice and regroup.  

Handling and Responding to Microaggressions

Microaggressions are targeted toward underrepresented groups of people, targeting race, gender, and sexuality to name a few. Microaggressions are not targeted toward social identity groups that hold privilege, however, anyone can be an offender. A microaggression is often unconscious and/or unintentional and is often subtle. Committing a microaggression does not mean someone is a bad person. However, there can be negative impacts.

At Archbright, we trained our employees to assess the situation and decide how they want to respond. Options include:

  • Doing nothing in the moment but document the interaction and follow the escalation policy.

  • Calling in which means engaging in a courageous conversation with the customer in a one-to-one session after the incident.

  • Calling out which means engaging in a courageous conversation with the customer in that moment in time. 

For both calling in and calling out, suggested opening comments or questions were provided. Such as, “I have some feedback that I would like to share with you. I’ve been thinking about our conversation yesterday when you said...” or, “from a legal standpoint, your words or actions might be perceived as discriminatory.”

Handling disrespectful behaviors and microaggressions isn’t easy for anyone. Providing an escalation policy and training your employees is an important step for creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace for all interactions. 

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