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Is the customer always right? Some Vancouver businesses say no

At one cafe in Vancouver, staff are trained to work with customers to resolve problems before they escalate — but also to be unafraid to kick out a disrespectful customer.  (Credit: iStock/Getty Images - image credit)
At one cafe in Vancouver, staff are trained to work with customers to resolve problems before they escalate — but also to be unafraid to kick out a disrespectful customer. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images - image credit)

For many customer service employees, working during the busy holiday season often means dealing with angry and even abusive customers.

But some Vancouver businesses are taking a stand against aggressive patrons.

Triet Duong, co-owner of Mon Pitou, a cafe in the Fairview neighbourhood, says he empowers his staff to stand up for themselves when necessary.

"It's customer service, not customer servants. There is a line that can't be crossed," said Duong, adding aggressive behaviour can be more common during the holidays.

Data provided by WorkSafeBC shows claims for violent acts have steadily increased in the retail sector over the past decade.

Employers are required to have procedures to eliminate or minimize the risk for violence or harassment from customers and clients, according to WorkSafeBC.

At Mon Pitou, this means grabbing the situation by the horns.

Staff at Mon Pitou, a Mount Pleasant cafe, are told to not be afraid to ask disrespectful customers to leave.
Staff at Mon Pitou, a Mount Pleasant cafe, are told to not be afraid to ask disrespectful customers to leave.

When customers are disrespectful, staff at Mon Pitou are told to not be afraid to ask them to leave. (CBC News)

Staff are trained to work with the customer to resolve problems before they escalate, and to not be afraid to kick out customers who are disrespectful.

"We do keep our customer experience high, but there's a smarter way to do it that doesn't involve being a punching bag," said Duong.

He said staff are taught to steer the conversation with confidence; this involves composure, eye contact, and a strong knowledge of the cafe's policies.

Duong shared a recent incident where a guest raised his voice at a barista because he felt he was waiting too long for his drink.

"The barista had the full confidence to ask him to leave because he was not talking to her in a respectful manner, which is a requirement for us," said Duong.

Triet Duong, co owner of Mon Pitou, says he has noticed less incidents with customers escalating to a manager since the cafe implemented its method.
Triet Duong, co owner of Mon Pitou, says he has noticed less incidents with customers escalating to a manager since the cafe implemented its method.

Triet Duong, co-owner of Mon Pitou, says he has noticed fewer incidents escalating to a manager since the cafe started training staff to resolve issues with customers. (CBC News)

Duong said while many other businesses instruct their employees to take a more passive approach, his cafe's methods have resulted in fewer incidents being escalated to a manager.

He says other businesses, especially small businesses like his, could benefit from a similar approach.

"At a bigger block cafe chain, they're still profiting if they're remaking a drink five times," said Duong.

'Crisis' in retail settings

John Clerides, owner of Marquis Wine Cellars in the West End, says he has also noticed an increase in aggressive customers in the downtown business community over the past few years.

"We have people coming into a variety of retail stores, not only stealing, but abusing staff," said Clerides.

He is a member of the Save Our Streets Coalition, a group of more than 30 British Columbian retailers and community groups formed earlier this year to call on the government to address what it calls a "crisis" in retail settings.

In preparation for a potential spike in aggression during the holiday season, he says he ensures his staff are well trained and on alert.

"Everybody has a right to come to work, do their job, get paid, and go home safe and sound," said Clerides.

Vancouver police wrote in a statement to CBC it has been working closely with businesses and their staff "to address ongoing crime and safety issues."