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, all with the sole aim of getting something for free or receiving 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 the various social media platforms. Though there is no official term for the male equivalent of a Karen, for the purpose of this article, we will refer to them as Kevin. To be clear, there are as many Kevins as there are Karens.
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. It is how you handle your mistakes that will define how your customers perceive your business; a poorly managed situation can spread around like wildfire, whereas a well-managed situation 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 to 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 to understand what happened. By following a structured approach, you will quickly be able to establish the facts in order to find a reasonable and successful outcome. Listening to a Karen or Kevin, you will soon realise that there is a lack of substance, a lot of noise with little to no evidence to support their reaction or the scene that 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 that they receive a full refund. Though they had eaten 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 and not after eating the majority of fries. In this example, 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
The main tactic adopted by a 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 to give in to demands just to put an end to the ordeal; however, this would be a big mistake. What is the message you are sending to the Karen or Kevin? By giving in, you are opening yourself and your business to this type of event from happening again. From the other customers perspective witnessing this charade, by giving in and through your actions, you are confirming that the complaint being made by the Karen or Kevin is genuine and has substance. Instead, this is the point in which you need to control the situation.
1 – Set the tone
Inform the Karen or Kevin that you want to help them but that you are unable to 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 if they are shouting, they will often quieten down in order to hear you. If they are displaying threatening or abuse behaviour, inform them that it is not acceptable and you will not help them until they stop.
2 – Manage the environment
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, taking them to that space would be much better. The priority is to ensure that other customers can purchase their goods and go on with their day. For the Karen or Kevin, just make sure you are willing to understand their position and are listening to what they have to 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.
3 – Explain the situation
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, just apologise for any inconvenience caused and explain that you want to understand the customer's complaint; however, you are unable to do so while they are threatening and shouting abuse. For customers that have witnessed the situation, they will know what is going on and will be sympathetic to your situation. For customers walking into the situation, they will be assured by your composure and professionalism.
4 - Always remain calm and keep your composure
The main point here is that a Karen or Kevin have very little to lose as a result of 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
Any preventative measures, you are able to 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, and it puts 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 and are not advice, as they do not take into account your business and the rules that govern it.
1 - Clear Statement
One phrase often said by a Karen or Kevin is that your store, garage, office etc. is public property. In the majority of countries and cases, this is not true and why most businesses are required to purchase liability insurance. Insurance that protects against the risk that in the event that a customer injures themselves while visiting your business premises, the insurance covers any compensation paid. Business premises are private property, and public property will be the streets and public buildings such as libraries and parks. Private property means you, as a business owner, has 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, any customers that create a scene or become abusive, you can immediately remind them of the business' accepted code of conduct. Your personal likes, dislikes, prejudges etc. should not be included on the sign, the focus is about behaviours and policies.
2 - Shining a light
Another challenge faced by businesses is the recordings made by a Karen and Kevin. These videos often feature both staff and customers without permission or consent from all those involved. Regardless if it is a person or a business, if the footage is going to be shared publicly via social media, all those being film are required to have signed a waiver or given explicit consent. Not only that, but if a video were to go viral and cause reputation or physical damage to a business, the business would be able to pursue individuals through the courts for any damaged caused. Though in many countries, filming without consent is a copyright infringement, most companies and individuals do not go after perpetrators when they publish material.
Often these videos are misleading. You, the viewer only sees 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 begin to show their frustrations. By making it clear that you do not allow filming of staff or customers within your property through clear and visible statements, for anyone that ignores your request, you are within your rights to deploy non-physical measures to stop them filming. It is always crucial that you start by stating that as a policy we do not allow the filming of staff and customers for their own personal safety and asking the person to stop once or twice, however, there are other options to interrupt recordings: -
- Call the police, do not be afraid to involve the police if someone is abusive and displaying threatening behaviour
- 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, on the front of the sign place a 'Do not film' image. When a person begins filming lift the board up 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. Led flashlights interfere with the light of a camera and will make the video/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 to stop being filmed a number of times.
3 - Your footage
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 will be able to hear and see all of the interactions. Any footage you record could later be used and shared with head office or in the worst-case scenario, in any court proceedings. Like with any recordings, you must place signs around your business informing customers that you have recording devices in operation.
The Karen or Kevin will demand to see the manager, making these demands to either angry or 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. To start with, you must empower and ensure every employee are responsible and accountable for giving excellent customer service.
The majority of 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 as though they are the first line of defence in handling customer complaints, escalating only when they are not able to establish a successful outcome. Phrases such as, "You need to speak to the manager" or "This is outside my paygrade" are signs that there is a disconnect with employees with regards to their roles and accountabilities. Let us be clear if you deal with the general public; customer service is part of your role. Staff should be encouraged to listen, to understand, playback and of course, empathise with the customer. If a mistake has been made, businesses could give employees limited cash-back options, such as refunds and compensation up to $10, with anything over that amount being referred to the manager. Some employees may abuse these new powers; however, it likely means you have the wrong employee rather than the wrong process. Monitoring refunds and compensations, you will be able to identify any employees abusing the process quickly. 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, then you are 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 your business.
Karens and Kevins are a huge problem, especially for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs). If you are frequently giving away products free of charge and compensating customers based on a high volume of complaints, something is broken, somewhere in your overall business model and approach. Problems do occur, and mistakes are made, so it is essential that your staff are able to distinguish between a genuine customer complaint and from those career scene-making professionals. It is important to remember that on the extreme end of the Karen and Kevin scale, their actions and intentions are theft and fraud.
Of course, not everyone making a scene has criminal intentions, some might be having a bad day, some with conditions that they are unable to control or simply they have had enough. Whatever the reason, it is essential to remain sympathetic, but at the same time remembering that your primary purpose is to provide a safe environment for all customers and staff.
I wish you all of the best, whatever the approach you choose to adopt.