Helping Employees Get Past Mask Abuse

Help Employees Get Past Mask Abuse
Imagine we’ve all seen it by now: That one customer who just refuses to wear a protective mask in the store. That’s been one of the biggest surprises of the COVID-19 pandemic to me. It’s pretty straightforward: COVID-19 is mainly spread by airborne particles, people get sick by breathing them in, and wearing a mask reduces the effects of someone either exhaling the virus or inhaling it. Using masks also allows us to return to work and shopping so that we can reopen the economy while providing protection from the virus. The alternative is mandating that everyone stay home to prevent the spread of the virus.

Cue the Rant

What has been particularly dismaying and, frankly, the biggest headache, is how customers treat our employees when they are asked to wear a mask in our stores. Rudeness and verbal abuse are not uncommon.

Our employees, unfortunately, have been forced to become the enforcers of public policy, which puts them in a difficult spot. For example, at one point in Texas, it was the retail business that would be fined if customers were not wearing a mask .
Customers do not seem to realize that it’s not the employee’s fault that masks are required. And frankly, if a customer does not want to wear a mask, they do not have to shop in our stores. As a private business, we determine the health and safety requirements under which we operate. It goes back to the “no shirts, no shoes, no service” standards.

Enough of the rant. On to the Solutions

So, how do we handle it in our stores? The “mask abuse” scenario gives us the opportunity to modify and enhance our customer- service skills. Our company, StrasGlobal, is working through a four-step process.

Communicate to your team. We told our team that we were going to require all customers to wear a mask in the store. This was for the safety of our team, our team’s families and our customers—in that order. We explained that the masks are primarily for the safety of others and not the person wearing it. We want customers wearing a mask so that they don’t infect our team, and we were very blunt about it: “We can replace a customer, but we can’t replace you if you get sick and die.”

Provide a de-escalation alternative. We knew that there would be customers who would not have a mask or would not want to wear one. For those without a mask, we provide disposable ones. For those who don’t want to wear one, we offer to bring merchandise to them outside and offer curbside delivery at some stores. We want to provide alternatives instead of just turning customers away.

Communicate to customers. A large banner in front of the store makes our expectations plain from the start: “Masks are required in the store.” On the front door, we placed signs that read, “For your protection and the protection of our essential staff , we request all vendors and guests wear a mask in the store.”

Once inside, team members are instructed to politely ask customers to put on a mask or “We will be happy to collect your order and bring it to you outside.” If a customer refuses, the team member is instructed to explain that the purpose of the mask was to keep our staff and customers safe.

Listen to your team and be empathetic. Most mask-less customers understand what we are trying to do, but there is a not-insignificant percentage of them who won’t take “mask” as an answer, causing occasional dust-ups in stores. We created extra communication channels for employees to vent . We respond to their comments, confirm our policy, and reassure them that they are doing the right thing.

The issue is exhausting for everyone involved. Now is the time to pull together. We have more obstacles ahead—pandemic surges, economic downturn, civil unrest—and everyone needs to focus on the big picture and not just ourselves.

Published in: CSP Magazine September 2020

Roy Strasburger is the President of StrasGlobal. For 35 years StrasGlobal has been the choice of global oil brands, distressed assets managers, real estate lenders and private investors seeking a complete, turn-key retail management solution from the most experienced team in the industry.

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