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Cranky customers: Workers face rising tide of abuse

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Abuse and violence towards retail workers and service staff has reached disturbing new levels, according to new research by Finder.

A Finder survey of 1,070 respondents revealed 1 in 3 (32%) Australians – equivalent to 6.5 million people – have experienced or witnessed hostility from customers in the past six months.

The research found 4% – almost 812,000 people – have been personally victimised by an abusive customer.

More than 1 in 4 (28%) have witnessed frustration boil over toward staff.

Finder's Consumer Sentiment Tracker shows 76% of Australians are somewhat or extremely stressed about their current financial situation.

Rebecca Pike, money expert at Finder, said tensions are rising.

"Many Aussie households are cash-strapped and we're starting to see some of that strain boil over into abuse.

"When people are struggling to afford groceries, that frustration can escalate further when you add in clunky self check-outs and fewer customer service staff.

"In other settings, rising prices and extra credit card fees are also a trigger for customer hostility."

The data shows 5% of women have copped abuse, compared to 3% of men.

Younger workers were in the firing line, with 8% of gen Z admitting they'd been mistreated in the past 6 months.

Pike said money stress can lead to feelings of frustration and powerlessness, especially if people believe they have limited control over their financial situation.

"But that's no excuse for taking it out on hard-working service workers.

"If you're in a difficult financial situation, try to take a positive step like seeking financial counselling, so a simple trip to the shops doesn't turn into a police incident," Pike said.

Have you witnessed a customer abusing (e.g. shouting, pushing, swearing at) the person serving them in the past six months (e.g. grocery staff, bus drivers etc)?
Yes, I have been abused4%
Yes, I have witnessed it28%
No68%
Source: Finder survey of 1,070 respondents, February 2024

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