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What is consumer misbehaviour? And 6 strategies to deal with it.

Posted by Perceptive Insights Team - 09 October, 2017

Every company has its own unique set of customer misbehaviours—but there are a few consistent problem-causers across every industry. Here's how to spot yours, and what you can do once you've uncovered them.

What is customer misbehaviour?

Customer misbehaviour, or consumer misbehaviour, are the actions and attitudes of your customers outside of the accepted norm that damages or disrupts your business in some way.

Smashing a window is a form of misbehaviour, as is threatening or assaulting employees. Theft is an obvious one, though there are more subtle examples too: simply ignoring the rules of your service/workplace/product is considered misbehaviour too.

Professor Christopher Lovelock coined the term "jaycustomers" in 1994 (as opposed to "jaywalkers") to describe the most common misbehaviour archetypes:

  1. The Thief, who will shoplift, use stolen credit cards, sneak into movies, and otherwise aim to avoid paying at all costs—with their own money, at least.

  2. The Rulebreaker, who will happily ignore all warning signs and requests from your employees; often spotted in closed-off sections of the shop, or using your products in a forbidden or unrecommended way.

  3. The Belligerent, the angry, frustrated, sometimes intoxicated customer who will verbally and/or physically abuse your employees.

  4. The Cheat, a cousin of the Rulebreaker, but with more cunning. The Cheat takes a "100 per cent satisfaction guarantee" very seriously, and they may try to fabricate stories about products being "on sale" or otherwise bend the rules to their advantage.

  5. The Family Feuder, who will get into large arguments in public with their friends or family, and can even drag other customers into the fray as well.

  6. The Vandal, who will rip, tear, graffiti, smash, scratch and burn your company property.


Why do customers misbehave?

Some Thieves steal because of poverty, while others will do so because of the thrill

The motives of the Vandal tagging a business or wall with graffiti range from artistic expression right through to pure malice.

The Belligerent customer could be berating an employee to try and get a better deal, or may see employees as easy targets to abuse and enhance their own sense of self-worth.

Some misbehaving customers are simply aware of their role and its power. When their expectations aren't met, they take advantage of their position to threaten or abuse employees, using their anger as a blunt tool to get what they want.

The impacts of customer misbehaviour

The ultimate effect of jaycustomers is damage to your employees, your brand, and your non-misbehaving customers.

For staff, customer misbehaviour can result in problems like:

For customers, the misbehaviour of other consumers can also impact their perception of the quality of your service—if they see a Family Feuder having a loud argument and nobody doing anything to stop them (or someone is, but they are handling the problem poorly), it's easy to see why they might reconsider doing business with you next time.

Lastly, there is the impact of misbehaviour on your business as a whole. 

Thieves shoplifting, Vandals vandalising, Cheats finding new and innovative ways to rob you of your products; there are clear and serious impacts to your bottom line. There's the emotional labour of your staff to consider, and damage to your brand's reputation too.

Related content: Are you killing your employees' motivation?



How to deal with customer misbehaviour

Your staff will likely have already found ways to deal with the impacts of customer misbehaviours, at least on an emotional level. You'll find them venting to each other, offering each other emotional support, or even outright avoiding customers: short-term coping strategies that don't deal with the problem at its core.

This is where management should step in, utilising one of these six common strategies to reduce the occurrence and mitigate the damage of customer misbehaviour.


1. Selective recruitment

Some staff members are simply better suited to dealing with customer misbehaviour. Managers looking for these frontliners should focus on those with expertise in social skills, high levels of public self-confidence, and a generally even temperament. 

These "anti-jaycustomers" are able to keep their cool in a heated argument while also calming a customer who is already angry and/or frustrated. There is an element of "thick skin" required as well, as even the most empathetic, articulate staff member can be worn down over a long period of dealing with belligerent, dishonest and/or abusive customers.

Related content: How engaged workers lead to better ROI


2. Changes to training and induction procedures

Many organisations, particularly smaller ones, neglect training in dealing with customer misbehaviour during formal inductions.

This is despite the fact that customer misbehaviour is a regular occurrence for staff—one study found that one set of call centre workers are subject to verbal aggression at least 10 times a day, for example.

Those companies that did use training employed a variety of techniques, including role play, training recordings, or even just the development of a formalised set of procedures for dealing with abusive customers. Simple consistency can make all the difference for the emotional wellbeing of your staff.


3. Enhanced rewards

Staff members who are exposed to customer misbehaviour will encounter more stressful situations. This work is, therefore, often rewarded: whether that's through extra pay, better shifts, promotions and/or praise.

These additions are designed to make unpleasant interactions more "worth it" for staff. It may not directly reduce the occurrence of customer misbehaviour, but at the very least, it will ensure continued volunteers for front-line positions.

Combined with selective recruitment, this can be an effective way to find and retain staff members who are more suited to dealing with customer misbehaviour.

Related content: How to engage and retain your employees


4. Team make-up and design

As discussed in selective recruitment, certain traits make people more suited to dealing with customers. The same can be said of the make-up of teams.

What these teams look like will vary significantly. Depending on your organisation and your goals for customer misbehaviour, some cohorts may benefit from having older staff members, others younger, some female, others male. 

One common, yet effective, stereotype is the use of middle-aged "Mum"-types at returns desks. People seem to be less likely to abuse these people (who also tend to be diplomatic, articulate and empathetic), or try to defraud the company through false returns.


5. Increased counselling

Staff will develop informal counselling methods themselves; venting to one another and offering mutual support following an unpleasant customer misbehaviour experience. 

What makes this technique different is the formalisation of these procedures. Having an explicit time slot or open-door policy to allow staff to speak with an empathetic manager can make all the difference in staff retention and morale.

This method is thought to be particularly effective for staff who are inexperienced, or in particularly stressful customer-facing positions.


6. Alterations to the servicescape

Lastly, there is the option of adjusting the physical store to better protect staff and discourage misbehaviour. 

Larger counters, visible surveillance equipment, more durable barriers and, rarely, uniform changes, are all designed to make misbehaviour less likely and less severe.

However, research suggests that only the severity is reduced, rather than the frequency, so do not rely on a burly security guard at the front of the store to complete negate the impact of customer misbehaviour.



Customer misbehaviour damages your reputation, harms staff morale, reduces your productivity and strangles your business growth if left unchecked.

The key to managing customer misbehaviour is planning. There should be formal procedures in recruitment, counselling, the servicescape and all other facets of your organisation that centre around reducing and mitigating customer misbehaviour.

Without these structures and strategies in place, you will continue to suffer from jaycustomers—and your business will be unable to reach its full potential as a result.


If you want more strategies to help make your business better, check out our free ebook below on mastering customer experience management.

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Topics: Customer Experience

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