Unreasonable demands from customers should not be tolerated

There is no end to the number of customers who place an undue burden on employees with malicious complaints. It is important to be considerate about the words and actions directed toward workers.

The term “customer harassment” has been coined to describe situations in which customers make unreasonable demands of employees in stores or other businesses. The situation is said to have worsened due to stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey, 20% of private companies said their employees had sought advice about extremely disruptive customer behavior.

Among such cases, nearly 60% involved customers repeatedly making the same complaints or employees being forced to spend a long time dealing with a customer, and in more than 50% of the cases insults were directed at staff. Responses that stood out included “extremely unreasonable demands, such as forcing staff to bow on their knees,” and “threats.”

While it is natural for consumers to expect a response if a product or service is inadequate, it is outrageous to take advantage of one’s position as a customer by protesting in an intimidating and unreasonable manner.

It should be kept in mind that if a customer goes too far, it could constitute a crime. With the increase in the number of security cameras, it is becoming more likely that evidence of unreasonable behavior will exist.

Recently, a man who became loud and boisterous after refusing to wear a mask at a convenience store in Shimane Prefecture was arrested on suspicion of forcible obstruction of business.

There was also a case in which a customer was arrested on suspicion of forcing an employee to kneel on the floor and bow. In another case, a customer was charged with defamation after posting an image on social media of a shop clerk on the floor bowing.

In addition to workers at private companies, employees of local governments and hospitals often fall victim to such customer harassment. A sense of entitlement regarding certain services might lead some customers to make excessive demands.

Unreasonable customer behavior can be very stressful for employees, and could possibly lead to mental or physical illness. Employers must pay close attention to such matters to ensure that work environments do not deteriorate.

In February, the labor ministry compiled a manual for companies on how to respond to customer harassment. The ministry said it plans to hold training sessions in the future.

The manual states that complaints should be handled calmly by two or more employees, and stresses the importance of such measures as keeping records of communications with customers as evidence. It also calls for companies to consider reporting incidents to the police depending on the situation. The establishment of a consultation system for employees is also urged.

The Japan Confectionary Better Business Association, an industry group of confectionary makers, has drawn up a policy concerning complaints about foreign objects in products, stating that claims should not be dealt with in the absence of the actual product, in principle.

The association said its members were unified in their response to such customer complaints because many had received requests for replacement products, despite uncertainties about the claims. Industry-wide efforts are likely to be significant.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 30, 2022)