Inside Retail Services News

De-escalating tips when talking with customers about facial coverings

Written by Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations and Retail Services

The statewide face covering mandate presents concerns for retailers as incidents have occurred when asking customers to follow safety guidelines has resulted in agitated customers and willful non-compliance.

The National Retail Federation, one of Washington Retail’s national partners, has published “How to de-escalate tense situations: Tips for retailers.” As part of Washington Retail’s efforts to provide Retail Re-opening Resources, we have summarized this article with Washington State specific face covering facts.

  • Treat people with dignity: apply empathy by seeing the world through the other person’s eyes.
  • Listen with all senses: consider your own facial expression, eye-contact, hand gestures, and tone of voice from start to finish.
  • Build a relationship first: introduce yourself gently and express appreciation for their patronage of your store.
  • Inquire if an exemption applies in their case: ask if the customer falls within one of the exemptions allowed under the Governor’s safe reopening plan.
  • Offer an apology: make it easier for people to keep listening by first apologizing that your store’s face covering poster may not have caught their attention.
  • Explain the mandate and the safety benefit of face coverings: become fluent in referencing how COVID transmission probability could be reduced from 90% when two people aren’t wearing masks to 1.5% when both people wear masks.
  • Offering options is a powerful dis-arming tool: provide a few free face covering options from which they could choose; some fun patterns could even turn into a relationship building or marketing opportunity.
  • Don’t take a no as no: a quick no comes from feelings so you may give them a chance to reconsider. It can turn into a yes.

Going over the following five communication breakdown basic indicators should be part of your employee training.

  • Distance management: keep a safe distance when talking to customers to prevent possible discomfort including the spread of the virus.
  • Positioning matters: monitoring where and how a person stands are clues to the level of respect they show.
  • Tone of voice: observing a person’s voice is an indicator of their frustration level.
  • Word choice: listening for words that connote feelings of insult, disrespect, rudeness, intimidation or threats.
  • Hand movements: watching for fist tightening or other signs of fight readiness are indicators of a possible safety violation.

De-escalation training can make confrontations a rarity. Role-playing scenarios that may lead to confrontation are highly recommended.

The outcome is not in our control, but we are responsible for the process.

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