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'You fool! Quit your job!': More retail, distribution industry staff abused by customers

Verbal abuse by customers has increased in the retail and distribution industries with many staff members urged to quit their jobs or die even though the problem is often the customer's fault.

    Business owners are struggling to find solutions to the problem. A man in his 40s who works at a department store in Tokyo received a phone call last year from a female customer who wanted to buy a product on limited sale but they had sold out of the item. Although the staff member suggested other stores where the product could be available, she blasted him for more than 30 minutes, saying things like, "Let me talk to your boss." After he hung up the phone, she called the office about 10 times. Commenting on the abuse he said, "I can't forget the phone call and was worried that I might receive calls from her again."

    This is not a rare case. When young workers try to solve problems, their hands often shake and they cry. The man confessed that "there are some workers who quit their jobs because of such tough experiences, and verbal abuse (by customers) has a bad effect on their jobs."

    A complaints officer in his 60s who works at a company that operates a supermarket chain in Tokyo feels that argumentative customers have greatly increased. Most of those with gripes are elderly men who have retired. They pay attention to small things such as greetings by store staff, and complain, saying things like, "Do you know how much money I spend in this store?"

    Other examples of bad behavior include when customers cause a car accident in the parking lot or lose goods they bought in the shop to theft, and seek compensation for damages. The complaints officer said, "We basically take the position that our customers are right but some demands are too much."

    According to a survey by the "UA Zensen" labor union federation for distribution and service workers carried out in June and July last year, some staff members experience extreme verbal abuse with customers barking at them comments like, "You fool!" "Die!" "Quit your job." At least one respondent said they are reluctant to object even if customers touch their waists.

    The survey revealed that about 70 percent of some 50,000 respondents had experienced verbal abuse and other kinds of harassment from customers. Some 28 percent of the victims claimed customers verbally abused them to the extent that it hurt their dignity, while 359 respondents said they suffered mental health issues due apparently to customer abuse. Furthermore, roughly half of those who replied to the survey felt that verbal abuse and other forms of harassment by customers are increasing.

    In response to the survey, the union released a set of guidelines on its website to help staff cope with abusive customers. The measures show how to manage customers depending on the circumstances, such as urging staff members to tell a customer that "we can't respond to your demand" once they have made three phone calls and to keep records of phone calls.

    The union federation is concerned that such customer complaints make the affected industries lose their appeal and lead to a decline in their productivity and want the government to take measures to tackle the problem.

    (Japanese original by Toshiki Koseki, City News Department)

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