Steps to Dealing with Aggressive Customers

No matter how carefully you consider various policies at your small business, you may encounter customers who don't agree with your decisions. These steps can help you deal with customers who turn aggressive in your workplace.


The pandemic has brought a new wave of issues into the forefront for small businesses. One of the biggest and most challenging is how to deal with customers who are refusing to follow the rules and pose a risk to employees and other customers. Unfortunately, even asking customers to wear a mask has become a huge and sometimes violent issue. What can you as a small business do to make sure your customers abide by the rules, including wearing a mask or social distancing? How can you keep your employees safe in such a volatile situation?

Let’s begin with how your staff deals with customers. You want to retain these customers because they are important to your bottom line, but you also have a responsibility to keep everyone safe. This is where good training comes in. Training your staff to deal with aggressive or complaining customers/clients can help to prevent or diffuse a potentially violent situation.

RELATED: Good customer service is key to small business success.

Most customers act out based on their genuine feelings or opinions. This comes from an emotional place and it is important to understand that. Today with the pandemic lingering for so very long and how it has been politicized, many people are experiencing higher levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and anger. This may cause some people to transfer their feeling of frustration, anger or anxiety to your staff. While this is sometimes scary and has the potential to become violent, there are steps you can take to prevent an altercation:

Step No. 1: Communicate consistently. Post your rules on safety measures clearly so they can be seen. This includes masks, social distancing and other safety measures you have taken. Put them on your door, on your website, and include them in any social media you use. Send an email blast to your customers and clients. Put them on your menus and on any other communication or marketing pieces you use. If your customers have to make appointments or reservations, remind them at that time of all your protocols. 

Step No. 2: Include your staff in all protocols. In the cases of COVID, have your staff wear masks and follow all rules. This reinforces that you are serious and sends a cohesive message.  

Step No. 3: Never minimize an issue. This will make your customers feel like they are being patronized and puts them on the defensive, which can lead to violence. 

RELATED: Read more by Tim Dimoff

Step No. 4: Don’t argue. Instead of arguing back, simply say you understand and then take action to resolve the issue. This doesn’t mean you are agreeing that they are right or that you are apologizing, it just means that you are telling them you understand their issue and their feelings. But stick to your rules. Don’t make exceptions—that will send the wrong message.

Step No. 5: Come up with a quick resolution. The person who takes the complaint or issue must be able to deal with it and come up with a resolution. It doesn't matter who has seniority. What matters is that the issue is fully resolved.

Training your employees to handle complaints and issues properly, promptly and consistently is crucial—especially during these high-stress times. Acknowledge employees who successfully diffuse issues to reinforce that they did the job well. Happy customers/clients are return customers/clients. 

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at

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  • Next up: Thank you for attending COSE Day at the Capitol!

    Thank you for attending COSE Day at the Capitol!


    Thank you to all those who attended this year’s virtual COSE Day at the Capitol! Thanks to COSE small business members, policymakers in our state’s capital learned more about the critical challenges and opportunities facing small businesses. The day also served as an opportunity for business owners to hear directly from state legislators about their priorities.

    Speakers included Governor Mike DeWine, House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, Senate President Matt Huffman, and a panel discussion featuring Peter Voderberg, Chief of BroadbandOhio, Sheryl Maxfield, Director of the Ohio Department of Commerce, and John Logue, Interim Administrator of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

    In addition, five state leaders received Small Business Advocate of the Year Awards. Speaker of the Ohio House Bob Cupp, State Senator Sandra Williams, State Representative Stephanie Howse, Ohio Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud, and State Treasurer Robert Sprague each received the award, which recognizes those who have sponsored, endorsed, supported, or drafted legislation or led initiatives to advance small business growth throughout Ohio.

    Special thanks go to the event sponsor, Taft Law.

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  • Next up: Urge the U.S. Senate to Extend the PPP Deadline

    Urge the U.S. Senate to Extend the PPP Deadline


    The American Rescue Plan Act – a $1.9 trillion bill – was recently signed into law by the President.  Key provisions were included that will aim to support broadband services, public transit, and small businesses.  Ohio is expected to receive more than $5.4 billion from the American Rescue Plan.

    Meanwhile, and as taxpayers await possible further guidance on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, a bill to move the PPP application deadline from March 31st to May 31st was approved by  the U.S. House of Representatives, passing in a 415-3 vote.  The legislation now moves over to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

    The nearly unanimous vote came after several dozen business groups endorsed the PPP Extension Act of 2021, H.R. 1799, which extends the filing deadline for PPP applications by 60 days and provides an additional 30 days for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to finish processing applications received by May 31st.

    Our partners at the National Small Business Association (NSBA) are among the groups that have endorsed the legislation.  Please click here to take a moment and urge your U.S. Senators to support this legislation.

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  • Next up: What did the American Rescue Plan Include for Small Businesses?

    What did the American Rescue Plan Include for Small Businesses?


    The American Rescue Plan (ARP) is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by the 117th Congress and signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. The measure contained several aid provisions for small businesses, including restaurants and minority firms. Here’s a rundown of what the ARP included for small businesses. 

    Paycheck Protection Program
    The measure will increase funding and expand eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program and will allow forgiveness for additional expenses.

    Program Funding: The measure will increase the program’s lending authority by $7.25 billion, to $813.7 billion, and appropriate the same amount for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to guarantee additional loans.

    Tax-Exempt Groups: The measure will expand the eligibility rules to cover more tax-exempt groups, including 501(c)(5) labor organizations, 501(c)(7) social and recreation clubs, and 501(c)(8) fraternal benefit societies. Religious educational groups that might otherwise be barred under SBA rules would be permitted. 501(c)(4) social welfare groups, such as AARP, the ACLU, Americans for Prosperity, and the National Rifle Association, will still be prohibited. The additional tax-exempt groups cannot employ more than 300 employees per location or spend more than $1 million annually or 15% of their time on lobbying activities.

    Larger Nonprofits: Some nonprofits that currently qualify for PPP loans, such as 501(c)(3) groups, cannot have more employees than the SBA’s size standards for the relevant industry and are subject to the agency’s restrictions for affiliated entities. The measure will replace those rules, allowing 501(c)(3) groups with as many as 500 employees per physical location to participate without further restrictions.

    Online News Publishers: Internet-only news publishers that were previously ineligible can receive PPP loans if they have 500 or fewer employees or a size set by the SBA per location. They must certify that the funds will be used to support local news. SBA affiliation rules and a ban on publicly traded companies will be waived for online news outlets seeking loans.

    Loan Forgiveness: The measure expands PPP loan forgiveness to include payments made for premiums on behalf of individuals who qualify for COBRA health insurance continuation coverage. The change applies to loan forgiveness applications received following the measure’s enactment.

    Restaurant Grants

    The measure provides $28.6 billion for a Restaurant Revitalization Fund to be administered by the SBA. Eligible recipients include restaurants, bars, food trucks, and caterers, including businesses in airport terminals and tribally owned entities.

    Disqualified businesses include those run by state or local governments, companies that manage more than 20 locations including affiliates, live venues seeking grants under the year-end Covid-19 relief package, and publicly traded companies.

    For 60 days following the measure’s enactment, $5 billion will be set aside for eligible entities with gross revenue of $500,000 or less in 2019. The SBA will also prioritize awards for small businesses owned by women, veterans, and socially or economically disadvantaged individuals during an initial 21-day award period. Other grant funds will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Grant amounts will cover the difference between an entity’s revenue in 2020 compared with 2019. Awards will be reduced by amounts received through the Paycheck Protection Program. Aggregate awards made to an entity and its affiliates cannot exceed $10 million and would be limited to $5 million per location. Eligible expenses generally include payroll costs, mortgage and rent payments, supplies, normal food and beverage costs, and paid sick leave. Funds can be used through Dec. 31, or a date set by the SBA that is no later than two years after the measure’s enactment.

    Disaster Loans

    The measure would provide $15 billion for additional advance payments to eligible entities under the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. The SBA will allocate $10 billion to covered entities that did not receive their full eligible advance payments under the year-end relief package. Those entities include recipients with 300 or fewer employees and economic losses of at least 30% over eight weeks compared with a similar period before the pandemic.

    The remaining $5 billion will be set aside to make new supplemental payments of $5,000 to covered entities with 10 or fewer employees that had economic losses of more than 50% during the covered period.

    State Initiative

    The Act provides $10 billion for the State Small Business Credit Initiative. The Treasury Department will set aside:

    $1.5 billion for states to support businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people.
    $1 billion for an incentive program to boost funding tranches for states that show robust support for such businesses.
    $500 million to support small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

    The department can set aside an additional $500 million for states to provide legal, accounting, and financial advisory services. It can also transfer the funds to the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency to provide similar technical assistance. The department must complete all disbursements by Sept. 30, 2030. Any remaining amounts would be rescinded.

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  • Next up: FAQs with Phil: What is Appropriate Small Talk at Networking Events?

    FAQs with Phil: What is Appropriate Small Talk at Networking Events?

    Nobody likes small talk, so why do we do it? Change your networking conversations so you start off with Big Talk instead.


    In this Mind Your Business series, FAQs With Phil, COSE’s own Phil Stella answers some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners have regarding how to communicate effectively*. 

    It usually includes commentary about the weather, leads in to COVID-related topics and ends just as awkwardly as it started. At networking events, in the elevator, while you’re waiting for more attendees to jump on a Zoom meeting—we all dread it. Small talk.

    For this edition of FAQs with Phil, we’re delving into the topic of small talk. I was recently asked the question, “What is appropriate small talk at networking events?” 

    My answer is easy: There isn’t any! But here’s why…

    Small talk really doesn’t work that well. It is trivial, repetitive, and yes, awkward. So, I suggest focusing on the Big Talk instead.

    When you’re attending a business, professional group, or networking event, talk should never be small. You’re there to meet people who can help you or who you can help. So just say no to small talk. It’s all about nothing, kind of like Seinfeld.

    One important reason why small talk needs to be a thing of the past is because our most valuable resource is time. And small talk is a waste of it. 

    You must value your time and theirs, so don’t waste it on trivialities. Instead, politely and creatively start talking about the other person. Ask about the company, the location, their products or services. Inquire about the story behind the name of their company if it’s unusual or ask what they like most about what they do.

    You’ll be striking up a conversation in a more natural, effective way, while still learning about the business and the person you are meeting.

    That’s Big Talk because it’s more important to the other person than the local sports team, how good the snacks are, and—most of all—the weather.

    When people start with small talk for a few minutes and then shift to more business-related content, their strategy looks lame and is totally obvious. So, cut to the crash.

    If you start the conversation first, you can quickly learn enough to determine if you want to know more. At that point, if the other person doesn’t return the professional courtesy by asking about you, don’t assume it’s due to a lack of interest. He or she probably just doesn’t realize it’s your turn. So, wait for them to breath and answer the question they didn’t ask. They won’t realize how you’ve finessed the conversation. 

    So, just say “No” to small talk and “Yes” to starting off networking conversations with Big Talk instead. See if that doesn’t engage other people better and faster, and define you as a great conversationalist.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication,, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

    *If you have a question for Phil, please send him an email at

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  • Next up: FAQs With Phil: Why Do My Employees Stink at Communicating?

    FAQs With Phil: Why Do My Employees Stink at Communicating?

    In part two of this three-part series on workplace communications, we explore reasons why your employees may not exhibit effective communication skills.


    In this new Mind Your Business series, FAQs With Phil, COSE’s own Phil Stella answers some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners and employees have regarding how to communicate effectively*. 

    Looks like we hit a nerve with the first piece in this limited series. We had fun sticking it to bosses who are poor workplace communicators. At least, I had fun. 

    We concluded that their skills are weak because they weren’t an important factor in the hiring process, they didn’t learn them in school and few executives find them mentioned in their performance objectives or evaluations. 

    RELATED: Why is my boss a poor communicator?

    The simple, and often painful, reality is that throughout their careers they got hired and rewarded in spite of their communication skills—certainly not because of them. But, that’s only one side of the workplace communication equation; the other side is employees with weak communication skills. 

    So in this scenario, you’re the boss. And as the boss you run weekly meetings with your staff where you present a rundown of what’s up for the week as well as housekeeping items, and then each per-son gives their own updates. Almost everyone practices active listening during this time, but you have one or two employees who check their phones regularly and seem generally unengaged. Coincidentally—or not—these are also the people who fire off three-word email responses (usually without punctuation) and who have difficulty collaborating with other team members. 

    Before you assume that these employees really are unengaged (or rude), take a moment to consider that they might just stink at communicating. But, why?

    Here are some reasons you may experience weakness in communication skills among employees:

    They didn’t learn it in school. Most high schools offer few, if any, courses in presentation or interpersonal communication skills. The same is true for many college business curricula. With-out that background understanding of why communication is important and how to succeed at it, you get what they learn.

    You’re not making it a priority in the hiring process.
    This is your business and your employees, so you’re probably the one putting together the job description, interviewing and hiring—or at least you’re signing off on it. Many open positions—with the exception of those in sales or other customer-facing areas—fail to prioritize communication skills. If you aren’t assessing how well prospective employees will communicate with you and their coworkers in each of the aspects of the hiring process, you get what you look for. 

    RELATED: Read more by Phil Stella.

    You don’t include it in evaluations. Many employers don’t include written or verbal skills in their performance management system because they don’t see that much value in them—again, unless the positions are in sales or customer service. If you aren’t regularly checking in on your employees’ communication skills and capabilities the same as you do other aspects of their job, you get what you ask for and reward.

    So, if your sad fate is to work in or lead an organization with generally poor employee communication skills, you’re certainly not alone. But, what can organizations do about this scenario? Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. Tune in next time for part III—a summary of simple, but effective, best practices to create organizations that communicate effectively.   

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication,, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.   

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