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Business: Strategies for

dealing with Karens and Kevins

Take me to your manager, and you will be hearing from my lawyer are common phrases used by the famous Karen or Kevin. What are the signs of dealing with a Karen or Kevin for businesses? How can you distinguish them from customers with genuine complaints? And what can you do to protect your business?
  Identifying a Karen or a Kevin

Let us start by defining what makes a Karen or the male equivalent, a Kevin. A Karen or Kevin is an individual that typically causes a scene, is loud, often screaming, and abusive. Ultimately, the goal is to get something for free or receive some form of special treatment. The term Karen is a relatively new and recent phenomenon. The term was coined based on the many people displaying specific characteristics and behaviours within videos and messages on various social media platforms. Though there is no official term for the male equivalent of a Karen, we will refer to them as Kevin for this article. When it comes to Karens and Kevins, there is not a monopoly, as there are many men, as well as women, displaying these types of characteristics

Identifying a Karen or a Kevin
It is easy to label any customer that complains as a Karen or a Kevin. However, that would be a huge mistake. No business or service offers a perfect customer experience all of the time, and errors are made from time to time. How you handle your mistakes will define how your customers perceive your business. A poorly managed situation can spread like wildfire, whereas a well-managed outcome builds brand and customer loyalty.

The first step in identifying the type of person and complaint is to listen to what the customer has to say. What is the nature of the complaint? Is there any basis for what they are saying? Speak to all those involved and try to understand the sequence of events that led up to that point. The process should not be a long-drawn-out exercise or a police-like investigation, just listening to all sides and individual perspectives from all those involved. By following a structured approach, you will quickly establish the facts that help find a reasonable, appropriate and successful outcome. Listening to a Karen or Kevin, you will soon realise their argument or point lacks substance. There will be a lot of noise and little to no evidence to support their reaction or the scene they are creating. For example, imagine a Karen or Kevin going to a fast-food restaurant. They order a portion of French fries and sit down to eat them. After finishing the fries, they return to the cash register demanding a full refund. Though they had eaten nearly all of the fries, they left a few small scraps claiming that the fries were burnt. A genuine customer who felt that the fries were unsatisfactory would have immediately returned to the cash register with the fries intact or with very few eaten. In this example, the Kevin or Karen is looking for a free meal at your expense.

Excellent customer service when things go wrong is about listening to complaints and being fair when handling them

  Taking control of the situation
Article - Business strategies for dealing with Karens and Kevins (Poster)
The main tactic adopted by Karen or Kevin is to be loud, causing a scene and making it uncomfortable for other customers and employees. It is natural for business owners to worry about their reputation and give in to demands to end the ordeal; however, this would be a big mistake. What is the message you are sending to Karen or Kevin? You are opening yourself and your business to these events from happening again by giving in to their demands. From the other customers perspective witnessing this charade, by giving in and through your actions, you have confirmed that the complaint made by Karen or Kevin is genuine and has substance. Instead, this is the point at which you need to control the situation.

Inform the Karen or Kevin that you want to help them but that you cannot do so until they stop shouting and explain what has happened. Never shout back or raise your voice to be heard; if anything, do the opposite and speak softly and quietly. The Karen or Kevin will want to listen to what you have to say, so they will often quieten down to hear what you are saying if they are being loud. If they display threatening or abusive behaviours, inform them that it is unacceptable. Telling them that you will not help them until they stop.

If the Karen or Kevin scene is being played out at the cash register, with other customers waiting to pay, ask the Karen or Kevin to move to one side. If you have an office or area that can be used away from the checkout, it would be better to take them to that space. The priority is to ensure that other customers can purchase their goods and go about their day. For the Karen or Kevin, reassure them that you are willing to understand their position and listen to what they say. If the Karen or Kevin refuses to move, immediately call the police and either open up a new checkout or ask a colleague to take payments directly from within the queue. The priority is to minimise the disruption to other paying customers.

If you are concerned about how other customers view the situation and outburst, explain what is happening. Do not go into all of the details, apologise for any inconvenience caused and explain that you want to understand the customer’s complaint. However, you cannot and will not do so while they threaten and shout abuse. Customers who have witnessed the situation will know what is going on and will likely be sympathetic to your situation. Your composure and professionalism will assure any new customers walking into the situation.

The main point here is that a Karen or Kevin have very little to lose due to their outburst. If you scream back and lose your composure, you will damage your reputation. Always remain calm and professional; keep reiterating that you will not accept abusive or threatening behaviour.

An audience and scene are to a Karen or Kevin, what oxygen is to a fire

  Preventative Measures
Article - Business strategies for dealing with Karens and Kevins (Torch)
Any preventative measures you can use will depend on the laws and regulations in the state, region, or country you are located. If you are not familiar with these laws, it is advisable to take some time to look into them. It likely will not take long, putting you in a good position when talking to customers. It is important to note that the measures and the areas covered are just ideas/concepts. They cannot be taken as advice, as they do not consider your business and the rules that govern it.

A Karen or Kevin often state that your store, garage, office, etc., are public property. In most countries and cases, this is not true and is why most businesses are required to purchase liability insurance. A type of Insurance policy that protects against the risk if a customer injures themselves while visiting your business premises, the insurance covers any compensation paid. Business premises are private property, and for definition purposes, any public property will be the streets and public buildings such as libraries and parks. As a business owner, private property means you have rights within the law. Placing a welcome sign at the entrance of your building could outline what you consider acceptable conduct, such as:
  • We do not accept any abusive or threatening behaviour against our staff or customers
  • We do not want any recordings of our people or products without our prior explicit permission
  • Management has the right to refuse entry to anyone who is not abiding by the store’s code or state/country laws
  • You are responsible for any damages caused directly by your actions in or around our property

By displaying a sign, customers creating a scene or those that become abusive, you can immediately remind them of your business’ accepted code of conduct. Your likes, dislikes, prejudges etc., should not be included on the sign, as the focus is on behaviours and policies.

Another challenge businesses face are the countless recordings made by a Karen and Kevin. These videos often feature both staff and customers without permission or consent from all involved. Regardless of whether it is a person or a business, if the footage is going to be shared publicly via social media, all those being filmed are required to have signed a waiver or given explicit consent. Suppose a video were to go viral and cause damage to a business’s reputation, especially where it misrepresented the situation or caused physical damage to the property. In that scenario, the company could pursue the perpetrators and any individuals involved through the courts for any damage caused. Though filming without consent is a copyright infringement in many countries, most companies and individuals do not go after perpetrators when they publish material.

Often these videos are misleading. You, the viewer, only see it from the point when the recording starts, not all of the events that led to that point. The Karen or Kevin could have been hurling abuse for hours and only started to record when the staff or other customers began to show their frustrations. Make it clear that you do not allow the filming of any of your staff or customers within your property through clear and visible statements. For anyone who ignores your request, you are within your rights to deploy non-physical measures to stop them from filming on your private property. It is always crucial that you start by stating that as a policy. Remind those filming that you do not allow staff and customers to be filmed and ask the person to stop once or twice. However, there are other non-physical options to interrupt recordings:
  • Call the police, do not be afraid to involve the police if someone is abusive and displaying threatening behaviour
  • Use artwork such as a moire pattern, which is fine and contains repetitive details or block colours such as white or black behind the cashier. It is essential to avoid displaying any signage or branding directly behind the cash registers, which could feature in a recording
  • Do not engage; reiterate that the person recording does not have your permission to film you and that they are committing copyright infringement. Follow the statement with; I am happy to help you once you have stopped recording and respect my right not to be filmed
  • Create a small cardboard sign. The sign should display a ‘Do not film’ image containing a camera in a red circle with a line through it. When a person begins filming, lift the board over your face
  • Place an Led-torch next to your cash register (non-strobe). If someone continually ignores your request to stop recording, instruct them that you will shine the led torch into the camera lens until they stop. The torch must not have a strobe effect as it could trigger someone with epilepsy and should not be shone into customer’s eyes, only phone or camera. Led flashlights interfere with the light of a camera and will make the video or image unusable
  • Placing your hands in a cross-like motion to cover your face, repeating that they do not have permission to film you and that they are committing a copyright infringement

Any measures you adopt should only be used as a last resort and only after you have asked them to stop filming you many times.

Another option, in addition to your security cameras, is to place small cameras next to the cash register. You can either let the camera record all interactions or only when a customer begins to create a scene. Having the camera close to the cash register will mean that you can hear and see all interactions. Any footage you record could later be used and shared with the head office or in any court proceedings in the worst-case scenario. Like any recordings, you must place signs around your business informing customers that you have recording devices in operation.

Display, explain and enforce company wide policies regarding acceptable behaviours

  Empowering and Supporting Staff
The Karen or Kevin will demand to see the manager, making these demands in the hope of scaring the often petrified employees. The truth is by watching many of the Karen videos online, you quickly see how ill-prepared many of the employees are. Sending someone on an online course or week-long group session does not necessarily embed excellent customer service. First, you must empower and ensure every employee is responsible and accountable for outstanding customer service.

Most people know what good customer service looks like, especially when you get them to empathise and put themselves in certain situations. How would you like to be treated? It is incredible when talking to employees that they often do not connect behaviours in their personal and working lives. Staff should feel like they are the first line of defence in handling customer complaints, escalating only when they cannot establish a successful outcome. Phrases such as ‘You need to speak to the manager’ or ‘This is outside my paygrade’ are signs of a disconnect. A sign that employees do not fully understand their roles and accountabilities. Customer service is part of your role if you deal with the general public.

Staff should be encouraged to listen, understand, play back, and empathise with the customer. If mistakes have been made, businesses could give employees limited cash-back options. You could empower staff with options such as refunds and compensation up to $10, with anything referred to the manager over that amount.

Some employees may abuse these new powers; however, it likely means you have the wrong employee rather than the wrong process. By monitoring refunds and compensations, you will quickly identify any employees abusing the process. Remember, it is all about empowering your staff, especially telling them that they have your support and backing.

The same also goes for chains and corporate head-offices. If you, as a business, have a policy of compensating the majorly of complaints without any investigation, you are fuelling the problem. If you do not speak to your staff to understand what happened but issue compensations. In that case, you are fuelling the situation, allowing the behaviours of a Karen and Kevin to continue at the same time demotivating your teams. Rather than accept a position of responsibility, why not start by believing in your people and business.

Karens and Kevins are a huge problem, especially for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs). Suppose you frequently give away products free of charge and compensate customers based on a high volume of complaints. In reality, something is broken somewhere in your overall business model and approach. Problems occur, and mistakes are made, so it is essential that your staff can distinguish between genuine customer complaints and career scene-making professionals. It is important to remember that their actions and intentions are theft and fraud on the extreme end of the Karen and Kevin scale.

Of course, not everyone making a scene has criminal intentions. Some might be having a bad day, some with conditions that they cannot control or simply have had enough. Whatever the reason, it is essential to remain sympathetic, but at the same time, remember that your primary purpose is to provide a safe environment for all customers and staff.

Creating a safe environment for all customers and staff

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