Tips On How To Handle Racist Customers

Racism or negative ethnicity should have no place in a business environment. Negative comments about a person’s skin color, ethnicity or culture is very offensive and unacceptable in any social situation. Sadly you might come across a number of customers, who have adopted the ideology that a particular race, ethnic group, or tribe is inferior. Dealing with such racist customers can be very difficult, especially when their negative remarks are as a result of anger.

What do you do when a customer hurls racist remarks at an employee (you) or other customers? Here are tips on how to handle racist or bigoted customers –

Remain Calm & Professional

This is difficult to do especially if the negative remarks were aimed directly at you, but being able to hold your own will help you build big muscles when it comes to being professional (consider it a big test of your professionalism).

Avoid retorting with rude or offensive remarks, that’s probably what such customers want. Getting into an exchange of words will not help. It will likely make the situation escalate as tempers flare. You wouldn’t want a violent show down like this one –

Draw A Clear Line

Sir John Gielgud
Disapproval

If the customer made the bigoted remark about a colleague or another customer to you, give them a cold stone-faced stare that communicates disapproval. You shouldn’t try to act nice or smile about such comments.
Let the customer understand that if they continue to make such negative remarks, then you are not going to assist them in any way. If there is a superior you should escalate to them. Your employer should be able to make it clear to such customers that the use of racist or bigoted remarks will not be condoned in your place of work.

Other customers might also be watching to see how the situation is handled. This means a weak response to such customers might put them off and create the impression that the brand condones bigotry. This is enough to make them take their business else where. Give such customers a firm and direct response like;

“Sir/Ma’am, I would really love to assist you, but I cannot do so if you continue to make such comments”
Or
“I would be happy to help you get this done, provided you don’t make further negative remarks about me/my colleague/our customer, if you choose to continue I will have to ask you to leave”

If the customer continues to use racist words, tell them to take their business elsewhere or come back when they have their thoughts together. If they become aggressive after that, you can call security. Such customers are toxic not only to your business, but also the civilized society.

Here’s what customer service leaders Recommend

Steve Curtin

“Racism, whether projected by coworkers or customers, causes a hostile work environment for employees. There should be zero tolerance for a hostile work environment.

If the offending behavior comes from an employee, he/she should be suspended pending investigation and, if warranted based on the results of the investigation, terminated. If the offending behavior comes from a customer and is confirmed upon investigation, then that customer should be removed from the premises. Consider refunding the customer’s money and forbidding him/her to patronize the business in the future.

There’s good business and bad business. Customers who create a hostile work environment for employees (whether caused by racist behavior, sexual harassment, etc.) are bad business”

Shep Hyken

“There is no room for racism in customer service. Let me rephrase this. There’s no room for racism anywhere. But, since we’re focused on customer service, let’s stay in that area.
A customer service representative (or anyone) deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. If a customer makes a racist or prejudicial comment, it is important for the company to take a stance and support its employees. Not doing so can erode employee morale and cause customer service reps to become less engaged with their customers. But that’s not the reason a company should take this position. They should do so because that’s the right thing to do.
A racist comment can come from two reasons; hate and ignorance. While I don’t accept ignorance as an excuse, if the comment is not motivated by hate, I would advocate for a different approach. As offensive as the comment can be, from either reason, they should be handled differently.
If the employee is properly trained, they should be able to handle either response. Worst case is that the employee asks the customer to hold while they let a supervisor take over.
Ignorance is an opportunity to educate the customer. Done properly, that can have a positive impact on both sides. Hate is an opportunity for the company to show its employees that they care more about the employee than a sale”

Bill Quiseng

“I believe that racists are ignorant. It is unlikely that we will be able to educate a racist customer even with any extended dialog. So my recommendation would be:

Stay calm. Do not react to their tone or words. Do not take it personally.

Social media expert Jay Baer says, ‘The customer is not always right, but the customer always deserves to be heard’ but a line must be drawn with a blatantly racist customer. Sometimes you have to fire a customer. The rules should be the same for an abusive customer. Forewarn the customer that a continuation of such unacceptable language will lead to the termination of the conversation.Then if the customer persists, end the call”

Jeff Toister

“I don’t serve abusive customers and I advise my clients to adopt a similar policy whenever possible. Racist comments or actions directed toward an employee is a form of abuse. It’s important for employees to politely, yet firmly tell abusive customers that they won’t be served if they continue their behavior. Employees should care for their safety at all times, especially when serving abusive customers in person, and involve a manager or coworker if necessary.
It’s also important that employees don’t add to the conflict. While easier said than done, employees should avoid escalating any conflict by arguing with an abusive customer or engaging the customer in a physical confrontation. This can threaten the employee and customer’s safety and may cost the employee their job.”

Ian Golding

  • “It is important to remember that not all human beings share the same values. If you are in a position of having to interact with a customer who displays a different set of values to your own, the most important thing of all is to remain calm and composed
  • You should never react defensively or aggressively – if feasible, complete the transaction and report the customer and their behavior to management – let them deal with the consequences for the customer
  • If you feel threatened, then you should pause the transaction calmly – walk away – and ask management to intervene
  • The customer is NOT always right – it is important that management recognizes this and refuses to do business in the future with any customer who is offensive, aggressive or inappropriate”

Racism in any form is offensive. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect irrespective of occupation, tribe, ethnicity or skin color. When a customer (or even an employee) makes a racist or bigoted remark, it is important to respond with firm disapproval whether you are a colleague or manager.
Failing to speak up is not a sign of respect, it implies that you agree with such comments. Your silence gives consent.


Don’t be afraid to speak out, but ensure you do so politely. If a customer will not respect the values of your business or your employees and other customers, then you should have the courage to let them go.

Published by

Kelechi Okeke

Kelechi Okeke is a Customer Experience Analyst in a leading financial institution in sub-Saharan African. He helps businesses develop strategies that improve customer loyalty and enhance profitability. He is also a customer service trainer, content developer and graphic designer

2 thoughts on “Tips On How To Handle Racist Customers”

  1. Your article is well written an understood but did you ask for input from minority employees or leaders? I ask this because you’ve got lots of suggestions and tips from leaders that this does not directly effect. Thank you for your efforts but true insight and even better understand may be better served by adding in I formation and experiences from those who deal with it most often.

    1. Thank you Marvella for sharing your thought. I would love to hear more about your experiences, this article is meant to help those who have to deal with Racist customers.

      I hope to hear from you.

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