As an employer, when was the last time you trained your management team and/or your front line employees on how to uphold your customer’s freedom of speech, yet not at the expense of your staff? If you haven’t conducted this type of training in awhile, or never, maybe you should.

It seems the media is covering incidents on almost a daily basis in which a customer is berating employees or other customers. Additionally, it appears most organizations are slow to react, or they don’t know how to react. In the last two weeks, three such incidents went viral.

The first news clip showed a customer yelling “Trump” at a Starbucks Barista because his order was taking too long. As the clip continued, viewers hear a number of angry comments being exchanged between the customer and barista and toward the end of the clip you can hear both discuss how “they should take it outside.” Finally, the customer demands his money back after he yells, “Trump,” “Trash” and “We won” at the barista. To my knowledge, Starbucks did not respond to the incident.

Another incident involved Delta Airlines. A customer asked if there were any “Hillary Bitches” on the flight. The difference is, no employee moves to stop him and he was flown to his destination. However, Delta quickly banned the customer for life, refunded ticket costs to all their customers on this flight and stated Delta will never again allow this type of behavior on any of their airplanes.

The latest incident involved Michael’s Craft Store. One customer recorded another customer who was screaming at two workers over being asked to buy a bigger bag. This customer made comments such as “I voted for Trump. So there!” The woman who recorded the incident was later interviewed and said she was impressed with how the manager reacted to the irate customer. Instead of raising her voice, the manager remained calm throughout the incident. To my knowledge, Michael’s has not issued a statement. 

Freedom of speech is one thing. However, when it borders on race relations and/or creates a hostile work environment, that’s a problem. Should your organization find yourself in this type of situation, what should you do?

After working in the Human Resources field for more than two decades, I have a few suggestions:

  1. Train your managers and staff so they know what your company’s protocol is in this type of situation. The procedure should also include consequences should proper protocol not be followed in the midst of the situation. Be sure to discuss when the staff member has the right to walk away from a situation; at what point the customer can be told to leave and when/if law enforcement should be contacted.
  2. Meet with the employee(s) who have been directly impacted and/or involved in the situation. Get their side of the story and reassure them so they feel they have been heard and are being supported by the organization. Reassure them that this type of situation is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. Also, let them know what resources are available to them should they feel the need or desire to talk further about the situation.
  3. Have a media response protocol ready and be prepared to blast it out on social media immediately.

Immediately Access your FREE first chapter of Invisible Casualities, Overcoming Adversity After a Tragedy in the Workplace to learn more.

Taking this approach supports the employee and also elevates your brand in the marketplace.

I say this because, given the three scenarios above, Starbucks and Michael’s have remained silent, thus giving the impression that they are not supportive of their employees or, at the very least, don’t know how to handle situations such as these.

However, Delta did respond immediately, and based on their response, they are getting fantastic FREE publicity. Wouldn’t you like to be Delta Airlines right now?

About Alicia

20 years ago I had no idea other people didn’t recognize and interpret body language the way I did. It was just something I picked up on naturally.
I am a national conference speaker, facilitator, and coach, specializing in non-verbal communication. I received my Master of Science in Human Resources from the University of Houston.
My passion is helping others become influential so that they can reach their career and business goals.

0 thoughts on “How Do You Respond When a Customer Exercises Their Right to Freedom of Speech at the Expense of Your Employee?

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *