Measures against ‘Customer Harassment’: Devise Ways to Protect Workers’ Dignity

Malicious complaints from customers have become a social problem. Some employees have become ill after being verbally abused by customers. Companies should establish a system to protect employees and others.

Unreasonable complaints are called “customer harassment” in Japanese. Typical examples include customers endlessly berating employees about their dissatisfaction with a product or service and forcing employees to kneel on the ground to apologize.

There have even been cases in recent years that developed into criminal incidents. In one case, for example, customers threatened to kill store clerks when they were told they could not buy medicine at a drug store. In another case, a man made trivial accusations over a bento box he bought and assaulted a store clerk. It is essential to take a firm stand against excessive demands, through such measures as reporting to the police.

According to a survey conducted in 2022 by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) on company employees and others, nearly 40% of all respondents said customer harassment had increased over the past five years. As a result of being harassed, nearly 40% said they became depressed about going to work and nearly 30% said they suffered from physical and mental illness.

The widening economic disparities in society, combined with the sense of stagnation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, are said to have made people increasingly frustrated. The spread of social media has made it easier for people to write bad things about companies and stores, and publicize the names of employees who served them.

In Japan, courteous customer service and hospitality have long been regarded as virtues. It is out of the question to take advantage of this and go so far as to degrade employees’ dignity simply because one is a customer. This is completely unacceptable.

It is important that companies do not allow individual employees to keep complaints from customers to themselves.

ANA Holdings Inc., a major Japanese airline company, has created an employee manual stating that customer harassment cases should be handled by two or more people, and audio or video recordings of complaints should be made with the consent of customers. East Japan Railway Co. has expressed its policy not to deal with unreasonable or excessive demands for services from customers.

It is essential for companies to clarify how to deal with unreasonable complaints. It is also indispensable to establish a consultation service for affected employees.

However, some customer complaints are valuable feedback that can lead to improvements in the quality of products and services. In recent years, there have been more than a few companies that do not accept telephone inquiries, citing reasons such as labor shortages. However, it is problematic if they do not even listen to legitimate complaints by customers.

They must properly discern between excessive or heinous behavior, and accurate criticism.

There have been a number of cases in which people who were company executives, or held similar positions, have behaved in a coercive manner at shops and elsewhere after retirement. Some have unapologetically said they were teaching employees how to serve customers.

Those around them, including their family members, must remind them that such behavior is no longer tolerated in this day and age.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 22, 2024)